Big Ten: Columbus 0809

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite the dominant victories, the emerging stars and the climb up the national rankings, No. 3 Penn State continued to generate a mixture of doubt and curiosity.

 Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
 Penn State improved to 9-0 by knocking off the Buckeyes Saturday night.

How would the Nittany Lions respond to adversity? Not first-half adversity against a significantly inferior Michigan team. Real adversity. The kind that comes on the road against a quality opponent with the clock winding down.

Head coach Joe Paterno was the most curious. He liked his team and its potential. But he couldn't get a true gauge on how good the squad could be until it was placed under extreme pressure.

A fourth-quarter deficit at Ohio Stadium certainly qualified, not to mention having starting quarterback Daryll Clark standing on the sidelines with a head injury.

"We've got a good football team," Paterno said definitively after Saturday night's 13-6 win against No. 9 Ohio State.

Defensive end Josh Gaines knew the truth about Penn State before the season began. And though the Lions didn't face adversity on the field until Saturday night, they had faced plenty off of it.

(Read full post)

Pryor faces first bout with failure

October, 26, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor reacts to his performance during the Buckeyes' 13-6 loss to Penn State Saturday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The play called for a typical quarterback sneak: No frills, up the middle, lower your shoulder and go.

But Terrelle Pryor isn't a typical quarterback. He's an atypical freshman who can do atypical things. So when he saw a chance to make a play, he went for it.

He had never failed before, so what could stop him now? On third-and-inches from midfield, with Ohio State leading 6-3 early in the fourth quarter, Pryor saw the middle bunching up and bounced outside.

"I thought I was scoring a touchdown," he said. "I was looking at the end zone. I was going to beat No. 9 (Penn State safety Mark Rubin). Then he punched it out. "

"It was the worst feeling of my life."

It was a feeling Pryor likely has never felt. He had taken some heat during his first five collegiate starts, but he hadn't committed a critical turnover or lost a game. He hadn't fumbled. The nation's top recruit had backed up his hype.

Last week, Pryor's teammates questioned whether Ohio State should bring back Todd Boeckman or go to a two-quarterback system. Pryor responded with a Friday night challenge to coach Jim Tressel -- bench me if I struggle -- and a Saturday afternoon spectacle against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.

He continued to show beyond-his-years poise against Penn State, converting key third downs and hitting Dane Sanzenbacher and Brian Robiskie down the field. Even without much help from Chris "Beanie" Wells, Pryor made his share of plays.

But his decision on the quarterback sneak cost him dearly. Penn State recovered the fumble and drove for the game-winning touchdown.

"I think he saw a couple gaps or penetration, perhaps, I don't know," Tressel said, "and tried to slide outside. I think the helmet hit the ball or something hit the ball and it was unfortunate."

Offensive quality control coach Nick Siciliano accompanied Pryor to his post-game news conference and sat as the distraught quarterback answered questions.

"He continues to be a great player," Robiskie said. "Right now, he feels the loss is on his shoulders, but he knows he played a great game. It is up to us seniors to build him back up."

Ohio State's quest for a third trip to the BCS title game is officially over, and the Buckeyes need Penn State to lose twice to have a shot at an unprecedented third consecutive outright Big Ten title.

The goals have shifted, and for a senior-laden team, moving forward won't be easy.

"This is not what we saw for ourselves," punter A.J. Trapasso said. "This is not how we saw our season panning out."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Penn State quarterback Pat Devlin (7) celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown with receiver Brett Brackett (83) in the Nittany Lions 13-6 in over Ohio State Saturday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The disappointment in Pat Devlin's voice was unmistakable.

He had just lost Penn State's quarterback competition to Daryll Clark after a tightly contested race through the spring and summer. The former Pennsylvania high school superstar, who reneged on a commitment to Miami to play for Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions, suddenly faced an uncertain future.

When Devlin joined a conference call with reporters, he knew the questions were coming, the ones about transferring.

"People are going to wonder," Devlin recalled Saturday night. "I don't know how rumors start, but people get these ideas in their heads."

Fortunately for Penn State, the idea of transferring never went through Devlin's head.

"Just because you're disappointed doesn't mean your confidence goes away," Devlin said.

The sophomore displayed that confidence in crunch time Saturday night. He relieved Clark and led Penn State on two scoring drives in the final 10:38, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a sneak behind center A.Q. Shipley.

Devlin didn't complete a pass -- Ohio State was flagged for pass interference on a post route to Derrick Williams -- but he had the touchdown run and picked up a first down on Penn State's final drive to kill more clock. Most important, he avoided a mistake.

"I've said that since Day 1, I have a lot of confidence in Devlin," Paterno said. "Devlin's a good football player. He had a lot of poise and knew what was going on. He milked the clock, he did everything we wanted him to do. "

"[Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno] and I helped him out, to make sure he knew he was one play away."

Clark sustained an apparent concussion on a 7-yard run late in the third quarter. He remained in the game and finished the drive, which ended with a missed field goal, before being replaced.

"I don't think he knew where he was," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. "It was a medical decision all the way."

Added wideout Deon Butler: "You can tell when someone's zoned out. They're looking somewhere, but they're really not there. He was fighting, but you could tell."

The morning of game day, Jay Paterno showed the offense film of Illinois' game-winning, clock-killing, run-oriented drive at Ohio State last year. He had done a similar thing in 2005 at Northwestern, showing players tape of a perfectly executed two-minute offense.

Penn State rallied to beat Northwestern in the final minutes with the two-minute drill. And on Saturday, the Lions outlasted Ohio State with run plays and good clock management.

"I'm going to try and pick a tape next week that has a blowout on it," Jay Paterno said.

Like his father, Jay always had faith in Devlin's poise, which was only reinforced through the competition with Clark. Devlin had appeared in all but one game entering Saturday night, completing 21 of 41 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Knowing Pat, you just know that he's waiting for this opportunity, waiting for a chance to prove himself and show that he can play, too," said wide receiver Graham Zug, Devlin's roommate. "He did that tonight."

Final: Penn State 13, Ohio State 6

October, 25, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A tightly contested game came down to the first team that made a major mistake.

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pyor was the guilty party, and Penn State capitalized. The Nittany Lions won at Ohio Stadium for the first time as a member of the Big Ten and remain in line for a run at the BCS title game. The defense was fabulous, the running game stepped up at the end and backup quarterback Pat Devlin performed in place of stater Daryll Clark.

Ohio State won't be making a third trip to the big one -- we knew that before kickoff -- and could miss a BCS bowl entirely.

I'm heading down for interviews, but check back later for more updates.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Penn State got the turnover it needed and when the offense took the field, the unit was led by a new quarterback.

The Nittany Lions replaced starter Daryll Clark with Pat Devlin, who capped a 38-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard sneak behind center A.Q. Shipley to put Penn State up, 9-6.

It wasn't entirely clear why Clark was replaced, but it was a gutsy call to say the least, and it paid off with a touchdown.

A Penn State coach spoke to Clark after the switch, and the junior didn't look pleased as he watched from the sideline.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Through its first eight games, Penn State had put up 298 points in the first three quarters. Tonight, the Nittany Lions have been contained, though they're showing some signs of life.

Daryll Clark is beginning to find some gaps in the Ohio State defense, though Penn State just seems a bit out of sync. Without a consistent running game, the Nittany Lions will need Clark and senior wideouts Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood to emerge. The big plays just aren't there tonight for the Lions, who trail in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.

Ohio State continues to convert key third downs and mounted a 13-play, 72-yard drive that ate up 7:28 before another Aaron Pettrey field goal. Buckeyes wideouts Dane Sanzenbacher and Brian Robiskie are stepping up and finding gaps for freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has made several big-time throws (13-for-18, 174 yards).

Neither team has much of a running game, so this one could be won through the air.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are actually points on the board, so this update might be marginally more interesting than the last one.

I know the Big Ten isn't exactly the Big 12, but this feels more like an SEC game at the half. Several ferocious hits have been dished out on both sides of the ball, and besides two blown coverages, the defenses continue to dominate.

Unless one of these teams finds a running game in the second half, this contest likely will be decided by special teams and field position. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has been a master at both throughout this career, but Penn State is moving the ball a bit better than the Buckeyes. Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells entered tonight with an excellent big-game track record, but he hasn't gotten much going so far (10 carries, 11 yards).

Penn State's swarming front seven has clogged rushing lanes and forced Ohio State to run outside. If there's a troubling trend for Penn State, it's third-down defense. Ohio State has converted three third downs of seven yards or longer, as well as a second-and-19 on the final drive of the half.

Terrelle Pryor has gone 9-for-14 passing, but two of his completions went for 53 and 33 yards. Penn State completely blew its coverage on the 53-yarder to Dane Sanzenbacher (4 catches 76 yards), but the Lions' held from there.

I've been very impressed with Ohio State's defensive line so far. Evan Royster is averaging just three yards per carry, nearly five below his season average. Aside from a blown coverage that allowed Daryll Clark to find Graham Zug for a 49-yard gain, the Buckeyes have looked tough.

Laugh all you want, but the first-half game balls go to the four specialists: punters Jeremy Boone and A.J. Trapasso and kickers Kevin Kelly and Aaron Pettrey. Expect more big plays in the second half, but these four could decide the game.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Do you like defense? If so, stick around a while.

For all the talk about Terrelle Pryor and Daryll Clark, big-game Beanie and the Spread HD, both defenses have dominated this one so far. Thaddeus Gibson adds a major playmaking presence to Ohio State's defensive front, which has shut down Evan Royster and limited runs up the middle. Penn State's defensive line is doing the same thing with Chris "Beanie" Wells, as defensive tackle Jared Odrick and linebacker Navorro Bowman tallied tackles for loss. Wells has six carries for five yards. Not good.

Some interesting developments on offense, despite no points. Penn State is using Derrick Williams a lot in the backfield, and the senior wideout gained 13 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Ohio State curiously started senior Maurice Wells but replaced him with Chris Wells on the second play. Pryor continues to be at his best on the run, but he's having a rough time finding open targets down the field.

This game could very well be decided by special teams, and both punters (A.J. Trapasso and Jeremy Boone) have looked impressive so far. Yes, I just praised the punters.

Paterno back in the press box

October, 25, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno just made his way into the visitors' coaching booth in the press box, where he will remain for the fourth consecutive game.

The 81-year-old Paterno used a cane but seemed to be moving much better than he was two weeks ago at Wisconsin. He cracked a smile as he saw a line of reporters waiting for his entrance, saying, "Geez, this looks like ..." before trailing off. Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, who entered the booth with the other assistants ahead of Paterno, joked, "They're not waiting for us, right?"

Paterno is battling a hip injury and plans to see a doctor next week, when Penn State has a bye.

It's game night at Ohio Stadium

October, 25, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Greetings from the banks of the Olentangy, where the stadium JumboTron is showing Ohio State's national championship win over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Craig Krenzel was a beast in that game.

This has been the first true carnival-like atmosphere I've seen this season. Ohio State fans followed Jim Tressel's advice and wore scarlet to the game. The parking lots surrounding the stadium are filled with scarlet and some blue-and-white. Several members of the Cleveland Glenville High School football team, which produced Ted Ginn Jr. and other Buckeyes standouts, were milling about one of the parking lots. Brutus the Buckeye also was making the rounds. And for the second time this season, I was recognized outside a stadium, this time by a Penn State fan who said he reads the blog daily.

OK, onto the game.

First, the all-important weather report. The forecast calls for chilly temperatures (45-53 degrees) throughout the game, but thankfully no rain. Most of the wet stuff cleared out of here last night, though it wasn't a fun flight from Chicago.

Penn State enters the game 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings. The Nittany Lions have won all eight games by 14 points or more and rank among the top 25 nationally in rushing offense, total offense, scoring offense, rushing defense, total defense, scoring defense, pass defense, turnover margin and kickoff returns. In other words, this might be the most complete team in the country. We'll find out tonight.

Ohio State comes in at 7-1 and ranked No. 9 in the BCS standings. The Buckeyes have won five straight since their disastrous loss at USC and played by far their best game of the season last week at Michigan State. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor hasn't lost as the starter, and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells seems to be getting stronger after missing three games with a right foot/toe injury. The defense also has stiffened in the last two games, rising to 12th nationally in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed.

And finally, here are some things I'll be watching tonight:

Quarterback play and pressure: Both Pryor and Penn State's Daryll Clark haven't looked like first-year starters so far. Neither has lost a game and both engineered big wins on the road. Pryor seems to welcome pressure, whether it was the be-a-man challenge from Wells before the decisive drive at Wisconsin or teammates speculating about a two-quarterback system last week. The freshman's ability to limit mistakes and keep his cool will loom large tonight. Clark has brought a swagger to the huddle and answered questions about his passing ability (152.7 quarterback rating). But Ohio State is the best defense he's seen this season, and his poise on the road will be tested.

Special teams: This is a truly fascinating component of tonight's game. Tressel coaches special teams better than arguably any coach in the country, and the Buckeyes are always solid in the third phase. But it's hard not to give Penn State the edge with senior return man Derrick Williams, who ranks fifth nationally in kick return average (32.2 ypr). The Lions also boast one of the nation's top kickers in senior Kevin Kelly. The team that prevails in special teams likely will be the one walking away with a W.

Offensive line play: Several pundits have targeted Penn State's offensive line as a potential weakness. I just don't see it. The Lions rank sixth nationally in sacks allowed, and their primary running back (Evan Royster) averages 7.7 yards per carry and 111.6 yards per game. Ohio State's front seven will provide a stern challenge, but Penn State's veteran line should be up for it. The Buckeyes offensive line certainly stepped up last week, but this group has underperformed most of the season. Lions defensive Aaron Maybin will be tough to contain, and the Buckeyes need big games from tackles Alex Boone and Bryant Browning.

Intangibles: The stat has been stated throughout the week, and its bears repeating: Penn State has never won at Ohio State as a member of the Big Ten. These current players have nothing to do with that streak, but it could play a role. Ohio State hasn't played a home night game since 2005, when it fell to Texas. But the Buckeyes are 6-1 in home night games since 1959.