UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State threw a whiteout crowd, up-tempo offense and a bold trio of linebackers at Ohio State.
None of it made a difference.
The Buckeyes scored 21 third-quarter points on their way to a 35-23 victory before 107,818 fans Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
With the victory, Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten), opens a 1 ½-game lead over Penn State (5-3, 3-1) in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Neither team is eligible to participate in the conference title game because of a NCAA-mandated postseason ban.
The third quarter doomed the Nittany Lions.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier intercepted a Matt McGloin pass and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the quarter.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who rushed for 134 yards on 25 carries, scored twice later in the quarter. Miller also threw a game-clinching 72-yard touchdown pass to Jake Stoneburner with 6:11 remaining.
Nobody took the loss harder than Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, whose team entered halftime tied 7-7 with the ninth-ranked Buckeyes. The loss ended the Nittany Lions’ winning streak at five games. Penn State visits Purdue and Nebraska the next two weeks.
“It starts with me,” O’Brien said. “I didn’t do a very good job as the head football coach. I have to do a much better job with this football team.”
Suffocating defense, protecting the ball in key spots and clever playcalling led to the midseason surge. The three factors, coincidentally, represented Ohio State’s template for success Saturday.
Ohio State held Penn State to 36 rushing yards, Shazier’s interception handed the Buckeyes a 14-7 lead and Urban Meyer unleashed Miller in a variety of creative ways in the second half.
Miller’s first touchdown run, an electrifying 1-yard dash, gave Ohio State a 21-10 lead with 3:30 left in the third quarter. The run demonstrated the challenges Penn State faced against Miller, a multi-talented sophomore who played the entire game after enduring a jarring hit last week against Purdue.
Starting from a shotgun formation, Miller faked a handoff to Carlos Hyde. Defensive end Sean Stanley dropped Hyde, Miller glided around linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti and jumped past Glenn Carson as he reached the goal line.
Less than three minutes later, Miller scored on another 1-yard yard, increasing the lead to 28-10.
“There were plays right there we needed to capitalize on,” Hodges said. “But as a team, we should have made those plays. It would have turned the game around.”
After a noisy, yet scoreless, first quarter, the game started opening up in the second quarter.
Sophomore linebacker Michael Hull enhanced his mega-play reputation, by blocking a punt in the second quarter. Michael Yancich recovered the ball in the end zone to give Penn State a 7-0 lead.
Ohio State also took advantage of a play on a punt, this time a debated defensive holding call against Penn State, to prolong a second-quarter drive. Hyde ended the march by scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run with 34 seconds left in the second quarter.
Both teams squandered big-play opportunities in the first quarter.
On Penn State’s first drive, Allen Robinson sprinted behind the Buckeye secondary but Matt McGloin’s throw bounced in front of Robinson.
On the following drive, Ohio State’s Corey Brown ran a seam route through Penn State’s zone defense. Miller, though, overthrew Corey Brown at the Nittany Lion 20.
Neither team scored in the quarter as the teams combined to average 3.4 yards per play. Both teams punted three times.
Penn State hasn’t allowed a first-quarter point through eight games. For the first time since a season-opening loss to Ohio University, the Nittany Lions couldn’t extend the stout defense into the second half.
Most of Ohio State’s big offensive plays came on the ground, as Miller completed 7 of 19 passes for 143 yards. Miller, Hyde and Rod Smith combined to rush for 234 yards.
“The whole defense had our ups and downs,” Hodges said. “Everybody was focused out there. The ball didn’t bounce our way.”
McGloin completed 27 of 45 passes for 327 yards. He threw touchdown passes to Matt Lehman and Kyle Carter in the fourth quarter. Zach Zwinak led Penn State with 42 rushing yards. The Buckeyes sacked McGloin four times.
“We really didn’t get into a groove with the offense,” guard John Urschel said. “We didn’t really string plays together, Ohio State has a very good defense. They attack. Their front seven is very strong. We just weren’t very productive today.”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.