Many (especially in and around Central Ohio) had plenty of valid reason for trepidation with respect to Braxton Miller's overall health going into one of the biggest games of the season for Ohio State. After suffering all intents and purposes whip lash a week prior after a brutal tackle by Purdue corner Josh Johnson, Braxton Miller entered Saturday night's clash with a number of questions surrounding how effective he would be. It took a while for Miller to get into a comfort zone and display his usual brilliance, but once he did, there was no stopping the Buckeyes prolific sophomore as Ohio State rolled to a 35-23 win.
Miller completed only 7/19 yards for 143 yards after the slow start, and despite an interception, did have a long touchdown throw to Buckeyes senior wide receiver Jake Stoneburner. But as per usual, the real area Miller was able to impose his will came on the ground. Miller had 25 carries for 134 yards, including a long 33 yard scramble, and two touchdowns. Penn State's Matt McGloin certainly couldn't match Miller's prolific running exhibition, but did show how far he's come under the tutelage of new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien. McGloin completed 27 of 45 passes for 327 yards and 2 TDs while throwing just one interception. In the now vacated 2010 showdown, McGloin threw two pick-6's and last season accounted for just 88 yards and another INT.
Helping carry the load for the Buckeyes and move them to 9-0 was running back Carlos Hyde, who added 53 rushing yards and a TD. Stoneburner led the Buckeyes in receiving with two receptions for 86 yards including that 72 yard touchdown reception.
The game started not particularly according to form for either teams, but did fit the template of many of the Big Ten's most Big Ten contests of recent memory. The 2008 Ohio State-Penn State "classic" comes to mind as the sort of defensive first affair that would yield quarters of this garden variety, but the matter of fact is that maybe Penn State aside, Ohio State wasn't exactly playing gang busters defense like those two teams were. Bend don't break still doesn't break, I suppose. Until it does, which conveniently for Ohio State, wasn't tonight.
After a slow start which saw six punts between the two teams in the game's first 13 minutes, a twenty two yard completion from Braxton Miller to tight end Nick Vannett seemed to break Miller out of an otherwise sluggish start. Miller had only completed three of his previous eight passes for just over 20 yards prior to the catch. Unfortunately the next play would be an ugly incompletion to an unsuspecting Jeff Heuerman, the second such near interception on the evening involving Miller and the tight end. A sack by Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro would end the half accordingly, leaving Miller just 4/10 for 45 yards with only 5 carries for 11 yards and both teams scoreless.
Penn State seemed inspired to start the second quarter right. With play constructs and execution not far removed from O'Brien's tenure with the New England Patriots, McGloin found one of Penn State's four regularly involved tight ends, Matt Lehman, for a momentum defining play. After a near Bradley Roby interception, however, the Lions would be forced into another punt situation. The Buckeyes would keep things consistent, finding their average starting field position at the time to be their own 17-yard line after five series. Following a brutally butchered direct snap from Corey Linsley to tailback Carlos Hyde, Ben Buchanan would come on for Ohio State's fifth(!) punt of the evening.
With 7:30 to go in the first half, Matt McGloin had 108 passing yards. He had but 88 in the previous matchup between the two teams in all 60 minutes. Penn State continued a year long trope in which when faced with a fourth down from about their own 35 on, they go for it. But a solid take down by former fullback/h-back turned middle linebacker, Zach Boren, would turn the ball over on downs to Ohio State.
Braxton Miller would go on to be sacked by Penn State's Mike Hull almost immediately and after another lackluster drive, Penn State would be looking to be on the receiving end of their sixth punt in just a quarter and change. But after showing flashes of getting to Buchanan's long stride and mechanical kick execution, Hull would reprieve his glory from the beginning of the drive when he'd get a pair of hands on the ball. The ensuing bounce would be fallen on by fellow linebacker Michael Yancich, giving Penn State the game's first touchdown of the game and a 7-0 lead after a Sam Ficken PAT.
Ohio State's very next drive would seem not particularly different from its successors when Miller would be sacked by senior Penn State defensive lineman James Terry. What seemed to be another four and out getting Buchanan on the field for the seventh time that evening would be negated when a defensive holding penalty would give Ohio State new life. After seizing the momentum (and surviving an ill advised Braxton Miller throw into double coverage desperately trying to make something happen to a streaking though covered Devin Smith), Miller would take matters into his own hands and rush for an explosive 33 yard gain. After a Carlos Hyde power run, and a stuffed attempt at the goal line, Hyde's third effort at the end zone would get it across the plain and help Ohio State to even things at 7 all. Perhaps most notably, on the series, Braxton Miller would become Urban Meyer's first ever 1000 yard rusher. Penn State would resume possession of the ball taking a knee to bring things to half-time, 7-7.
Despite a fumble on the second half opening kick, Penn State would recover and start at their own 11. Ohio State would soon be getting their second sack of the night with the #48 clad Ryan Shazier taking Matt McGloin to the turf. Shazier, who ordinarily dons #10, wore 48 to honor his late friend, Gary Carter, who passed after a battle with muscular dystrophy recently. Shazier would further pay tribute to Carter's memory by seizing a McGloin pass on the very next play and take to the house to give Ohio State a 13-7 lead. A Drew Basil successful point after try would up the lead to 14-7.
Penn State would take over determined to answer to keep the tide from turning in Ohio State's favor. On the heels of an excellent driver of their own, Matt McGloin would find Brandon Moseby-Felder who would dodge a cadre of hapless Buckeyes setting Penn State up for a 1st and goal. A blitz by Nathan Williams and John Simon would also see a hold called on Penn State's Ty Howle (who got Orhian Johnson's jersey) and help take Penn State out of striking distance. The Lions would have to settle for three, making it 14-10 Ohio State.
Ohio State'e next drive would not immediately show signs that Braxton Miller was back to the standards he last exhibited against Nebraska. After starting inside their own 11 for the fourth time on the evening and a series of Carlos Hyde mixed effectiveness runs, Braxton Miller would be burned by the law of averages when a careless throw against his body would find its way to the waiting hands of Penn State defensive back Adrian Amos.
The Buckeyes were prime for the challenge, however. Ohio State's third sack of the evening would follow shortly with Nathan Williams, who saw a good deal of time on the evening at the linebacker position, getting to Matt McGloin. Despite being just 109th in the country on tackles for a loss going into the game, the Buckeyes seemed primed for their best defensive game since their 17-16 win over Michigan State. Facing another fourth down and punt situation, Bill O'Brien would roll the dice and call for a fake punt. Ohio State corner Adam Griffin streaked across the field and knocked the ball away from the would be receiver forcing another turnover on downs for the Lions. Urban Meyer would later go on to say that the play would change the course of the entire game and credit wide receivers coach Zach Smith for having identified the play before it even happened.
Braxton Miller and company would look up to their old tricks on the series to follow. After hitting Evan Spencer to get off the snide, Miller would nearly have a touchdown pass if not for a herculean effort by Penn State DB Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. The Buckeyes' Heisman candidate signal caller would quickly find Spencer again and after a Carlos Hyde run to the three and a subsequent stuffed Hyde goal line attempt, Miller would make arguably the play of the game, benefitting in no small order from a Reid Fragel non-call hold, but seemingly teleporting out of the reach of opposing defenders before athletically diving into the end zone. Just three minutes later Miller would again score on a touchdown run, giving Ohio State a 28-10 lead. While being Meyer's first 1000 yard rusher is no small honor, Miller also became just the third Big Ten quarterback ever to accomplish the feat, with Indiana's Antwaan Randle-El and Michigan's Denard Robinson (who'd done it twice previously) the only others. It's easy to forget that Miller still has three more games to go on an already phenomenal 2012.
With an early loud crowd now seemingly all but completely deflated, backups like freshman Adolphus Washington would begin to creep into the action in the late third/early fourth. Matt McGloin and company failed to show any quit, however, and even converted a few late fourth down conversions on a long prevent defense ripe drive. McGloin would take advantage of Zach Boren's continued learning curve exploiting the newby LB on both a fourth down and another play that ended in a touchdown pass. After a failed two point conversion, Ohio State's lead would be diminished to 28-16.
With the lead now just a two score margin, Nittanyville and the PSU crowd seemed reenergized and the Buckeyes twice faced third downs that if not converted on could've given Penn State the opportunity to make it a one score game. On the second such play, Braxton Miller found a streaking wide receiver Jake Stoneburner, who'd gotten behind his man to the point where he wouldn't be caught. After going 72 yards and the ensuing kick, the Buckeyes would break the lead open to a nearly insurmountable 35-16 margin. Penn State would answer again, this time with another late respectable drive capped by a 20 yard McGloin to Kyle carter touchdown pass and catch. A failed onside kick would doom PSU however, and cement the final score as 35-23, Ohio State.
Safety Christian Bryant would lead the Buckeyes defensively with 6 individual tackles on the night. Ryan Shazier's two sacks and first career pick 6 were critical for Ohio State as well. Shazier and Boren would each have 7 total tackles for the game. A suddenly somewhat revitalized Ohio State defense allowed but two "garbage time" offensive touchdowns to Penn State in what were essentially prevent situations. The Buckeyes also held Penn State to just 36 yards rushing on the night.
Penn State was roughly around their season average of 60% on 4th down going 2-4 on the night, but were held to just 5-for-17 on third down (which to be fair, Coach O'Brien has recently spoken of as being very second down like given their philosophies). The win moved Ohio State into sole possession of the lead in the Big Ten Leaders Division with a 5-0 conference record. Ohio State's 9-0 start matches the second best start by a first year Buckeye coach in Ohio State's long storied football history. And speaking of history, Braxton Miller moved into a second-place tie all time with Cornelius Greene in terms of single-season rushing touchdowns by an Ohio State quarterback with 12 on the year.
At the end of the day however, 9-0 is the name of the game. The Buckeyes may have continued playing up and down to their opposition on the whole, but for this week (though hopefully not this week alone), that amounted to them playing quite up.