As soon as Penn State players filed in to the media room at Beaver Stadium following their wild, four-overtime victory over Michigan two weeks ago they were asked a simple enough question.
Could they ride the momentum generated by the thrilling homecoming win against the Wolverines for 14 days?
Would they rather play Ohio State immediately rather than take a week to rest? It didn’t matter, they didn’t have a choice. A second bye week would soon be upon them and that date with the unbeaten Buckeyes would loom on the horizon for what seemed like an eternity.
Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but the Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-3) failed to carry any positive momentum into Ohio Stadium where they were throttled 63-14 on Saturday night. It was the second loss following a bye week for Penn State this season. After beating Kent State 34-0 on Sept. 21, the Nittany Lions were idle on Sept. 28 before they traveled to Bloomington to play Indiana on Oct. 5 and lost 44-24.
In the last three games, Penn State — which had never given up back-to-back 40-or-more point games — has surrendered 147 points with 107 of those coming after bye weeks.
Penn State players weren’t ready to blame the recent loss to the Buckeyes on a lack of focus during the latest off week.
“We had good preparation. Same as we do every week,” senior center Ty Howle said. “We were on the same schedule and we’ve got to play better.”
Luckily, Penn State has no more bye weeks this season. Howle and his teammates will have a chance to right the ship in less than a week when Illinois (3-4, 0-3) visits Beaver Stadium. Like Penn State, Illinois has had some defensive deficiencies over the last three games.
The Fighting Illini have given up 137 points in their last three losses to Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Meanwhile, Penn State still has a chance to finish respectively with games against No. 22 Wisconsin, Nebraska and a rising Minnesota squad that garnered four votes in the recent AP Top 25 poll. The three teams are a combined 16-6 and 7-4 in the Big Ten so far.
“You’ve got to put it behind you,” Howle said. “You look at it, coming into this game we had six one-game seasons and this (one-game) season is over and we’re focused on Illinois. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and get that one done.”
With scholarship limitations forcing Penn State coaches to travel and play younger players, the Nittany Lions were able to get a few of them their most extended playing time this season.
Importantly, sophomore quarterback Tyler Ferguson played in just his fourth game and got ample snaps to get a feel for playing in a big environment. Ferguson entered in the third quarter and completed 7 of 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Ferguson got a chance to play after Christian Hackenberg suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder that Bill O’Brien said would be evaluated later this week.
True freshman linebacker Brandon Bell stepped in and made a career-high five tackles while redshirt freshman wideout Jonathan Warner played in his second game and sophomore defensive end Evan Schwan appeared in his third. Freshman defensive back Anthony Smith also played for Penn State.
Penn State was outclassed in nearly every phase of the game and was not ready to play with the Buckeyes.
The Nittany Lions gave up the most yards (686) in program history. The previous high, gained by Boston College in 1982 was 656 and Penn State won that game 52-17. The 63 points scored by Ohio State were the most Penn State had given up since 1899 when the Duquesne Athletic Club scored 64.
Although a few flags may not have made a difference, the referees missed a glaring penalty in the opening quarter that should’ve been called.
On third-and-16 from the Ohio State 14, Braxton Miller faced pressure from Deion Barnes who drove right tackle Taylor Decker backward off the snap. But Barnes, who nearly shoved Decker into Miller, single-handedly collapsing the pocket, couldn’t get free of Decker who had a hold of Barnes by his jersey under his right arm. Decker held on to Barnes’ jersey for three seconds, stretching it away from his shoulder pads and keeping the Penn State defensive end off Miller who rolled out of the pocket and scrambled down the sideline to set up a better position for a punt.
The hold forced Barnes to turn and give chase and set him up for a vicious crack-back block from 315-pound right guard Marcus Hall.
Luckily for Penn State, Barnes got up and was not injured.
Day to Remember
Bill Belton has improved game by game and continued to demonstrate he is Penn State’s most complete running back. While Hackenberg misfired three times on Penn State’s opening drive, Belton showed off his impressive burst and cutting ability as he broke tackles on six carries for 27 yards.
He kept Hackenberg upright on a second-down pass play when Ohio State’s Tyvis Powell blitzed from his corner spot. Belton stepped up into Powell and cut his legs out, sending the Buckeye flipping onto his head.
Belton’s 22 carries were good for 98 yards, the best output from any running back against Ohio State this season.
Day to Forget
It was another one of those games for Penn State’s secondary as Miller continuously eluded pressure and hit open receivers all night long.
Penn State’s secondary was out of sorts from the opening drive when Miller completed passes of 14, 10, 6, and 35 yards to quickly steer his offense into scoring position.
Miller averaged 14 yards per completion while backup Kenny Guiton completed two passes for 26 yards. Miller hooked up with his wideouts for big scoring throws of 25 and 26 yards and 14 Ohio State first downs came through the air.
Key Play You Already Forgot
After Allen Robinson picked up 16 yards and a first down on a screen pass on Penn State’s opening drive, the Nittany Lions had a chance to set themselves up nicely for a touchdown with a first down at Ohio State’s 17-yard line. Penn State hurried to the line and tried a similar pass to Felder with Ohio State cornerback Brandon Roby playing nearly 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.
But Hackenberg’s throw down the line fell into the turf and a first-down play in the red area was wasted.
“At that point we were just playing for pride and we’re just working our butts off out there. As soon as that game ended we were thinking about watching the film, putting it behind us and moving on to the next week.” — Mike Hull on Ohio State taking a 49-7 lead with 8:52 still to play in the third quarter.