In the face of unprecedented adversity, the ranked Penn State Nittany Lions continue to put their best foot forward as they pull into Columbus for this Saturday's pivotal Big Ten Conference showdown with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
With interim head coach Tom Bradley leading the way, the Nittany Lions can claim at least a share of the Big Ten's Leaders Division title with a win over the Buckeyes. They will win the crown outright and earn a spot in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game if they win this week, and on November 26 at Wisconsin.
Penn State's season took a serious turn last week when legendary coach Joe Paterno was relieved of his duties in the wake of the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the once-proud institution. Playing its first game since 1965 without Paterno as the man in the charge, the Lions put forth a valiant effort in last Saturday's final home game of the season, but fell to Nebraska in a 17-14 final. The loss snapped what had been a seven-game win streak for PSU.
Even as the controversy continues to swirl, Bradley's mission is clear, "All I have thought about is doing the best job that I possibly could for these student-athletes here at Penn State. That's all I've been worried about is just making sure that I do the best job that I can. We owe it to them. That's all I've been worried about. I don't have time to think about the other things right now."
As for the Buckeyes, a team that has had to deal with its share of turmoil this year as well, they saw their recent three-game win streak come to an end last Saturday as they dropped a 26-23 overtime decision at Purdue. Ohio State, which will play its final game of the regular season next week against bitter rival Michigan, is coached by Luke Fickell and the team is 6-4 on the year and an even 3-3 in conference.
Ohio State is the third member of college football's illustrious 800-win club that Penn State will have faced this season.
Ohio State owns a 14-12 edge in the all-time series with Penn State, and the home team has won 13 of the 18 meetings since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten back in 1993. However, the visiting team has won three of the last four encounters.
Penn State QB Matt McGloin threw for 193 yards, WR Derek Moye had four grabs for 78 yards, and RB Stephfon Green rushed for 71 yards and two second-half TDs, but those efforts weren't enough as the Nittany Lions' comeback bid against Nebraska fell just short. PSU outgained NU, 375-331, but a 5-of-16 effort on third-down conversion attempts and the fact that they reached the red zone only twice was another sign of the offensive woes that have plagued the Lions for much of the season.
As they have all year long, the Nittany Lions played solid defense last week, limiting the Cornhuskers to 331 yards and allowed them to reach the red zone just twice. Penn State was particularly tough against the pass, yielding a mere 143 yards and only 5.3 yards per pass attempt. LB Nate Stupar led PSU's defensive stand with 13 tackles, while Gerald Hodges added nine stops.
For the season, Penn State is averaging just 21.0 ppg, but when you give up only 12.9 ppg, you don't need to score a ton to win. RB Silas Redd has stood out from the crowd on offense, rushing for 1,059 yards and seven TDs, while McGloin has thrown for 1,386 yards with seven TDs against three INTs. He is however, completing only 54.1 percent of his passes, and WR Derek Moye leads the receiving corps with 34 grabs for 592 yards and three scores. Hodges heads the defense with 86 tackles, which is almost 30 more than his closest teammate. DT Devon Still has amassed 16.0 TFL to pace the unit, which has come up 24 sacks and 23 turnovers in 10 games.
Ohio State failed to establish any kind of offensive rhythm in last week's loss to Purdue, amassing just 295 total yards, compared to 363 for the Boilermakers. QB Braxton Miller completed a mere 8-of-18 passes for 132 yards, although he did toss a couple of scoring strikes to RB Jordan Hall, who finished with three grabs for 58 yards. The OSU ground assault was led by RB Dan Herron, who tallied 62 yards on 18 carries, while Hall added 46 yards and Miller another 43 yards with a score.
The Ohio State defense held Purdue to just 3.1 yards per rush attempt, but registered just one sack on the day, and came away with only one turnover. While clearly not their most productive effort of the season, the reason the Buckeyes lost wasn't entirely the defense's fault. Still, they did surrender 234 passing yards, and the Boilermakers were successful on half of their 18 third-down conversion attempts. Christian Bryant led the OSU defense with nine tackles, and the unit as a whole made six stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Like their counterpart in this clash, the Buckeyes haven't exactly lit it up offensively, averaging 25.3 ppg behind 317.6 total ypg. They have been much more efficient running the ball (200.5 ypg), and 17 of their 30 TDs have been scored on the ground. The pass generates just 117.1 ypg, and Miller is completing just 50 percent of his tosses with eight TDs against three INTs. No receiver has more than 12 catches (Jake Stoneburner), and the rushing attack features three guys (Carlos Hyde, Miller and Herron) who have gained at least 480 yards and accounted for 13 TDs. The offensive line has surrendered 33 sacks thus far.
The OSU defense permits just 18.9 ppg, with foes rushing for only 119.3 ypg and passing for 197.9 ypg. Andrew Sweat is the team's leading tackler at the moment, having logged 68 stops, while John Simon has six sacks. Overall, the Buckeyes have come up with 22 sacks and only 15 turnovers.
Despite last week's disappointing outcome, Fickell liked the way his team kept coming, "This team isn't built to be a team that comes from behind. But we battled and kept our head up. I liked the way we fought back in the game."