“College football – and Big Ten competition - doesn’t get much better than this,” I thought to myself as Northwestern’s 17-10 win against Iowa was announced at the beginning of yesterday’s game. The entire stadium – packed to maximum capacity – let out a collective roar. The stakes for the Penn State-Ohio State game had just gotten even bigger than they were before.
An outright Big Ten title was now possible for either team. All Ohio State needed to do was beat Penn State this week, then win against Iowa and Michigan. All Penn State needed to do was beat Ohio State, hope that Ohio State would beat Iowa at the Horseshoe, and win against Indiana and Michigan State.
The stadium was at its “Greatest Show” best. Most of the students did arrive on time, although there were still mystifying gaping holes in the student stands at kickoff. Regardless, the Penn State crowd was noisy and pumped, led by the boisterous students, who truly earned the label of the best student section in the country this week.
The weather for an early November game was nearly perfect. We wore just sweatshirts for most of the tailgating, a winter coat and hats when the sun went down, but clear skies for a change. We were all in a good mood. Happy Valley was happy indeed. It was a fine day of tailgating followed by a much-anticipated Big Ten battle between two good football teams with great traditions.
Most sports pundits had predicted a Penn State win in a close defensive battle. We were prepared for a tough game, but Penn State fans expected victory. After all, we had Darryl Clark leading an explosive offense, and the best Big Ten defense. Ohio State was ranked second in the Big Ten on defense, and Terrell Pryor had shown some inconsistencies in past games. Even our special teams were favored, because Ohio State’s kicker had been injured the week before. Besides, we had the home field advantage. With the student section there in force, noise would be a factor for Ohio State. Everything pointed to a Penn State win. We would prevail. Ohio State was beatable this year. It would be fun, for a change, to beat Ohio State twice in a row, something we haven’t accomplished yet in the Big Ten era.
Credit Ohio State for overcoming the odds. Credit their defense for rising to the occasion and dominating our offensive line. Darryl Clark didn’t have a chance to show how good he is. He could not get anything going against an Ohio State defense that was always in his face, causing him to rush into every play he made. Credit Ohio State’s offensive line as well for preventing big defensive plays by Penn State. This game was won by Ohio State on the line of scrimmage - both sides of the line of scrimmage. Credit also Ohio State’s special teams for making big plays and achieving huge field position advantages. They exposed all the weaknesses of our special teams that had been murmured about throughout the season.
They beat us, purely and simply. We didn’t beat ourselves. They were the best team on the field yesterday, and perhaps they will prove to be the best team in the Big Ten by the end of the season. The game yesterday also proves the old adage that offense may score points, but defense – and special teams – wins games. Blue and white blood gushed from major arteries as Ohio State dominated every aspect of the game.
So we saw an 11-1 regular season and a bid to a BCS bowl, possibly even the Rose Bowl, disappear before our eyes. Now it will be at best a 10-2 regular season, possibly worse than that if the team doesn’t bounce back from this tough loss and win the rest of its schedule. Orlando, Tampa, or San Antonio is the best we can do for a post-season trip. The best we can hope for is probably the Capital One Bowl. Not bad, but when your expectations are higher than that, it hurts.
At Penn State, we still have a good team this year. It’s just not as good as we had come to expect. I’m not going to get down on the team, though. I am sure that there is no fan out there that feels worse than the student-athlete football players at Penn State do about losing yesterday’s game. And it’s at times like these that we do have to remind ourselves that they are student-athletes out there on the field who are doing the best they can. They didn’t quit. They were just overwhelmed.
Before and after the game we tailgated behind the West Stands with our friends Charlie and Lindley, avid Penn State fans who live in Memphis Tennessee and come to only a few games each year. Their tailgates are always a lot of fun, and for the Penn State-Ohio State game, the tailgate included a number of their personal friends who are Ohio State fans.
So not only was the Blue and White blood pouring out all over the place as we licked our wounds from solid defeat, we also watched the Scarlet and Gray blood in these OSU fans swell them up with pride for what Ohio State had accomplished.
Good people, Ohio State fans. Although they were very happy – shall I say ecstatic? – they didn’t rub it in. Good people, Penn State fans. They swallowed their pride and hugged their Ohio State friends after they won. We shared some hot soup together, even some cute buckeye-shaped chocolate and peanut butter confections. And of course we shared a drink or two, either in celebration or to ease our pain.
We talked about each team’s prospects for the rest of the season, the key plays of the game, Terrell Pryor’s mistake free game. We had a good time with them, both before AND after the game. I even asked for a photo of one of the OSU fans lighting a victory cigar. Why not? May as well have some fun with photos.
College football doesn’t get much better than this, if you’re an Ohio State fan. As for us Penn State fans, it couldn’t be worse, because we lost the two biggest games of the season at home. We’ll have to wait for other chances in other seasons to experience the euphoria of a tough win against ranked competition at home.
That’s the mean reality right now, as we digest what happened and read all the criticisms of Penn State and its schedule, etc. during the coming week.
In the meantime, let’s hope that the Penn State team learns from its mistakes and rebounds from this very tough loss. They can’t quit now. Nor should us fans quit on them.
That’s what bleeding blue and white is all about. Support the team, win or lose.
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