Pursuit of perfection
OSU defense wreaks havoc at Penn State, but job is never finished
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The collective unit had effectively already helped clinch yet another win.
That didn't spare Urban Meyer's headset from some punishment after the defense gave up a late touchdown.
Individually, Ryan Shazier had been a force in the backfield, turned the game with an interception return for a score and gave Ohio State one more prolific outing at linebacker.
That didn't keep him from getting an earful after a missed assignment that tightened up the final margin of victory.
But even with a victory in the bag that solidified Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) as the best team in the Big Ten and made it a clear favorite to collect a division trophy next month, the coach wasn't done working. If the Buckeyes are ultimately going to get to the level they want to reach down the road, they offered a reminder in the closing minutes of a 35-23 decision over Penn State (5-3, 3-1) that they won't ever be accepting any late lapses -- regardless of the score.
"Coach [Meyer] was going wild," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "We're never satisfied. Sometimes that's a hard way to live your life, but at this point in time with the group of guys we've got, we've got to learn from every mistake.
"And if you don't learn from winning, you're eventually going to learn from losing. We don't want to learn from a loss; let's do it while we're winning."
That's all the Buckeyes have done this season, and before finding one late teaching point they rode their defense to the latest of their nine victory celebrations.
Ohio State ramped up its man coverage packages, putting the pressure on its playmaking secondary to slow down an efficient passing game. The Buckeyes responded with nine passes broken up.
The coaching staff dialed up the highest amount of blitzes they've thrown at an offense all season. The Buckeyes delivered four sacks and appeared to fluster Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin at times, including one costly throw straight at Shazier that was breezily returned 17 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
Shazier cranked up the emotion by changing his jersey number to honor a lost friend. That worked just as well as the schematic changes, as he poured out everything he had from sideline to sideline with seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble to go with his trip to the end zone.
That perhaps didn't all add up to a complete performance by Ohio State's high standards, but it was plenty effective.
"We have to keep playing to the final whistle," Shazier said. "They got on me because it was my fault. I knew I was supposed to carry the seam, and I lost eye control and they scored a touchdown. I just can't let that happen anymore.
The race for the Leaders Division title isn't over yet either, though the Buckeyes are firmly in control of it now.
The bid for a perfect season has three games left as well, though the way Ohio State is rolling, it doesn't figure to have many problems getting a 10th win next week against hapless Illinois (2-6, 0-4).
But the Buckeyes proved once again that they won't be taking anything for granted, as Meyer's headset and everybody within earshot late in the fourth quarter could attest.
"That's really nonsense," Meyer said. "I mean, we knew it, and we said over the headsets, they're going to throw a bender against Cover Two and we just didn't carry it.
"We'll work on it."
Maybe that's nitpicking.
But perfection doesn't come easily.