UNIVERSITY PARK — With two consecutive third-quarter plays, Ryan Shazier helped turn around the fortunes of an Ohio State defense that posted leaky performances over the last two weeks.
Shazier sacked Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin deep in Nittany Lion territory, then intercepted a McGloin pass and returned it for a touchdown on the ensuing third down.
The sophomore’s score gave the Buckeyes (9-0) a lead they would never relinquish and a much-needed confidence boost having surrendered a combined 828 yards and 71 points against Indiana and Purdue.
“I’ve dropped so many picks this year and when I caught the ball it felt amazing just knowing that I helped my team out and it was a big momentum changer,” Shazier said of his pick-six that helped seal Ohio State’s 35-23 win.
The Buckeyes consistently sent silver-helmeted bodies toward McGloin, sacking him four times and effectively eliminating his running game in the process. Penn State finished with just 36 rushing yards.
Shazier, who wore No. 48 rather than his usual No. 10 in memory of his high school friend Gary Curtis who passed away from muscular dystrophy in the spring, led they way.
He finished with seven tackles, two for a loss and added another sack in the fourth quarter to force a fumble Penn State recovered.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer stopped short of calling his outing against the Nittany Lions Shazier’s best game, but said the sophomore from Plantation, Fla. has improved from being an “out-of-control” player with a tendency to overrun tackles.
Buckeye defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was more effusive in his description of Shazier’s game.
“Players make plays and I think that’s the big thing,” Fickell said. “We’ve got to find more ways to get him into positions where he can make more plays and bring him (on blitzes) some more. It’s great to see. We needed momentum and we got it.”
Defensive linemen John Simon and Nate Williams added sacks for the Buckeyes. Shazier said the Ohio State coaching staff planned to pressure McGloin consistently in order to throw off his timing and make him uncomfortable.
As a result of its running game being rendered ineffective, the Penn State hurry-up offense never established a rhythm with which to keep the Buckeye defense on its heels.
“We knew we had to bring some pressure and they responded well,” Fickell said.
After converting senior fullback Zach Boren to linebacker earlier this season — Boren made his third start at linebacker against Penn State — the Ohio State defense is starting to develop chemistry as a unit.
The Buckeyes’ defense slowed down late, however, as the Nittany Lions were able to complete two fourth-quarter scoring drives.
“The guys up front did a great job all day. They played extremely, extremely hard,” Fickell said. “It probably showed at the end there a little bit, they were a little wore out with those last two minute drives, but we’ve got to close things out a little better.”