Game shows gap between programs is wide
COLUMBUS, Ohio – If this was a boxing match, it would have been stopped.
If it was a high school game, the mercy rule – which comes with a 35-point lead – would have been invoked by halftime.
No such luck.
Penn State arrived as a two-touchdown underdog, and the Nittany Lions left realizing the gap between them and the top of the Big Ten is considerably wider than that.
The final score was 63-14, but Saturday night’s game was over in the first few minutes as it was apparent that Penn State could not cope with Ohio State’s incredible speed.
“Give them all the credit,” Bill O’Brien said. “They have a helluva team.”
Clearly, the road to the conference championship runs through here, and because Penn State is in the same division as the Buckeyes (the Leaders Division this year, the East Division next year), that goes for getting to the Big Ten title game, too.
So at least the Lions know what they’re up against for the foreseeable future.
Ohio State extended its winning streak to 20 games as Urban Meyer remained undefeated since succeeding Luke Fickell. While Penn State hung around a year ago at Beaver Stadium, eventually losing 35-23, Meyer has now further planted his stamp on the Buckeye program.
And his message is obvious: He’s taking no prisoners.
Leading 35-7 late in the first half, Meyer called a pair of timeouts during a 52-second touchdown drive that extended the Buckeye lead to 42-7. Then Ohio State tried a squib kick that Meyer clarified to ABC at halftime was not intended to be an intentional onside kick.
He also challenged a spot on fourth down that reversed a first down Penn State got late in the third quarter with the Buckeyes winning 49-7.
Ohio State did substitute liberally in the second half, and O’Brien said he didn’t think Meyer was running up the score.
But he did say, “We’ll remember some things.”
While the squib didn’t look good, get used to Ohio State piling up points. The Buckeyes, in part because the Big Ten doesn’t have another great team, could well be on the outside looking in to this year’s BCS championship picture, their fate in the hands of how Alabama, Oregon and Florida State negotiate the rest of their schedules.
Next year, when the field expands to include four semifinalists, Meyer’s motivation will be just as high in trying to impress the playoff committee.
That will only compound the challenge for a Penn State team that was exposed in all areas here.
Put the defense at the top of the concern list. The unit was blown off the edges and grasped at air throughout the night. Its linebackers were slow; its secondary was confused and allowed Ohio State’s receivers to get wide open.
Linebacker Mike Hull said the breakdowns could be attributed to, “some miscommunication and coverage busts. Not everybody was getting the call.”
Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller will make a lot of defenses look bad. The problem for the Lions is their defense has looked bad most of the year, having allowed 34 points to Central Florida, 44 to Indiana, 40 to Michigan (in four overtimes, granted, but only six in the extra periods) and now 63 against O-State.
Offensively, the Lions could not protect Christian Hackenberg, who was intercepted twice and sacked four times and performed like the freshman that he is.
And when Penn State finally did score, cutting Ohio State’s lead to 28-7, the special teams promptly gave up a 49-yard kickoff return.
It wasn’t O’Brien’s best night, either, as the Lions were forced to call a timeout on the first snap of the second half.
As usual, he pinned the blame on himself and said he didn’t have the Lions ready to play their best game.
But the disparity that unfolded here is beyond the field: It’s also tied to recruiting, and Penn State underachieved in that department for several years leading up to O’Brien.
The Lions did beat the Buckeyes to a commitment from a decorated tight end recently and, as the saying goes, it’s not the Xs and Os but the Jimmy and Joes.
Ohio State had several players from Pennsylvania who made an impact in this game, including two by the name of Corey Brown. To help tell them apart, the press box announcer differentiated them by specifying receptions or tackles by “Pittsburgh Brown” and “Philly Brown.”
The Browns, not to mention Noah Spence (Harrisburg) and Jordan Hall (Monroeville) could have definitely helped Penn State on Saturday night.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.