UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State senior linebacker Gerald Hodges wore a Superman T-shirt following Saturday night’s 35-23 loss to Ohio State.
Asked about somebody else with freakish talents, Hodges referred to the comic book hero.
“He’s not Superman,” Hodges of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, “but he’s a great athlete.”
Struggles corralling Miller should motivate Penn State’s versions of Superman.
One week after allowing just 20 rushing yards at Iowa, the Nittany Lions surrendered 234 against the Buckeyes, who moved from ninth to sixth in the Associated Press Top 25. Miller led Ohio State with 134 yards on 25 carries.
The timing of Miller’s biggest plays frustrated a defense that entered the weekend allowing 15.7 points and 113 rushing yards per game. Miller rushed for 75 yard and two touchdowns in the second half.
One number peeved Penn State’s prideful defenders above all others: 35. The point total, which is deceiving because Ohio State scored seven points on an interception return for a touchdown, represented the highest output against the Nittany Lions (5-3, 3-1) this season.
The number will be stored in some memories when practice resumes today.
“Our defense has very high standards and we really try to shut out an offense the best we can,” junior middle linebacker Glenn Carson said. “I think we’re a good defense at setting the bar high, which is something we should do.”
Ohio State’s offensive line featured some giants, tackling 232-pound running back Carlos Hyde required multiple players and Miller can elude even the best linebackers. Carson said the Nittany Lions weren’t at their best, especially during a third quarter in which Ohio State scored 14 offensive points in less than three minutes. The stretch included an eight-play, 85-yard drive that took just 2:15.
“I think it was some scheme stuff and just making plays,” Carson said. “It was one guy here, one guy there just blowing assignments. It was really a team thing where we weren’t all on the same page in the third quarter.”
By the end of the quarter, Penn State trailed 28-10. The score was 7-7 at halftime.
Seeing a game quickly slip away represented an odd experience for the Nittany Lions. Penn State held second-half leads in season-opening losses to Ohio University and Virginia. The Nittany Lions trailed Northwestern 28-17 entering the fourth quarter, but two key special teams plays — a muffed punt and a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown — helped the Wildcats build their lead. The Nittany Lions scored 22 fourth-quarter points to prevail 39-28.
Penn State trimmed Ohio State’s lead to 28-16 with 9:49 remaining, but Jake Stoneburner found an open seam in the middle of the field and Miller hit the tight end for a 72-yard touchdown to open a 21-point lead with less than seven minutes remaining. The play was the longest surrendered by Penn State’s defense this season.
“That hurts you when you have a team score 35 points against you, regardless of how the 35 points are scored, regardless of the situation,” cornerback Adrian Amos said. “You just don’t like to see that on the scoreboard. We have goals that we want to accomplish. That’s not one of our goals to have a team score 35 points.”
The Nittany Lions’ next chance to achieve their defensive goals comes this weekend at Purdue, which fell at Minnesota 44-28 this past weekend. The Boilermakers (3-5, 0-4) haven’t won since outlasting Marshall 51-41 on Sept. 29.
Purdue used three quarterbacks against Minnesota: thrower Robert Marve, scrambler Rob Henry and hybrid Caleb TerBush. No member of the trio incites Superman references, so perhaps a trip to Indiana offers a remedy for Penn State’s most lopsided loss under Bill O’Brien.
“We have a bunch of warriors on our team,” Carson said. “We have a lot of guys who have been through a lot. We have no doubt we are going rebound from this.”
Notes: Defensive end Sean Stanley posted a career-high seven tackles against Ohio State. The senior had five tackles on four occasions. Senior linebacker Michael Mauti tied a career-high with 13 tackles while Hodges led the Nittany Lions with a season-high 14.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.