Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The telling sign of Ohio State football’s defensive impact on the game against Penn State was evident in the Beaver Stadium grandstands.
PSU’s white-clad supporters, regarded by some as the loudest, most intimidating fans in college football, were silent and still after 45 minutes of play and with the Buckeyes leading, 28-10.
The last 15 minutes of the game saw a defensive lapse as well as the PSU fans briefly return to their pom-pom waving selves as the Nittany Lions attempted to claw back into the game.
The Buckeyes would eventually close out a 35-23 win at PSU’s Beaver Stadium on Saturday despite 13 fourth-quarter points for the hosts, a blight on what still might be regarded as the OSU defense’s strongest outing of the season.
OSU has allowed 61 fourth-quarter points in 2012 – immediate evaluations of the final period of play from an otherwise outstanding night against PSU elicited a mixed bag of reactions from players and coaches.
OSU (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) stifled PSU (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten) through three quarters, limiting the hosts to 201 yards through the air, 21 on the ground and just three points (PSU’s first touchdown of the game came on an end-zone recovery after a punt block).
As a result, PSU’s towering football fortress, which held 107,817 mostly fans on this night, was eerily quiet. OSU’s defense had stolen the show.
During the final 9:49 of the game, that same defense creaked and buckled. The Nittany Lions added 13 points to tighten the gap, which nearly set the stage for the type of dramatic finish the Buckeyes have faced increasingly often in 2012.
It was that performance that earned the defensive unit a half-compliment from first-year coach Urban Meyer.
Meyer split game-closing praise between the defense and offensive lines, saying the defense’s effort toward finishing the game was only a little more comfortable than prior games this season.
“I thought our defense closed it out,” Meyer said. “Once again, the whole world knows you’re running the ball, and to close it out running the ball … just shows you how far this offensive line has come.”
At the outset of the third quarter, sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier notched a sack and a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown on back-to-back plays. The touchdown put OSU up, 14-7.
After PSU added three points on a 27-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Sam Ficken, OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller added two third-quarter touchdowns – his 11th and 12th of the season – to extend the lead to 28-10.
OSU allowed only 36 yards on the ground against PSU but it’s passing defense wavered, allowing Nittany Lions senior quarterback Matt McGloin to throw for 126 yards and two touchdowns during the final 9:49 of the game.
OSU redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby recovered the onside-kick attempt that followed PSU’s second fourth-quarter touchdown to squelch the Nittany Lions threat. The damage that had already been done was enough to turn OSU’s opinion of its own defensive effort.
Buckeyes redshirt senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams said he was sickened by the second PSU score of the final quarter.
“Honestly, I feel kind of sick to my stomach. We let them score on the last drive, that’s unacceptable,” Williams said. “Other than that, I’m proud of our guys. (I’m) proud of our offense. It’s a total team win. I’m a little sick to my stomach on the last drive. We didn’t close it out the way we should have.”
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell agreed, saying that the defensive line grew tired and it showed on the Nittany Lions’ late scoring drives.
“We’ve got to close things out better,” Fickell said, “but when you’re up three touchdowns you’ve got to keep bending and make the clock run.”
Then there’s the 10 total points – only three of which can be pinned on Fickell’s defense – and 236 yards of total offense through three quarters that had Beaver Stadium all but shut down for the weekend as the fourth quarter began. OSU also had four sacks to go along with Shazier’s pick-six interception.
The OSU defense did what it was asked to do, Fickell said, and things are starting to click.
“I know our guys played really, really hard,” Fickell said. “They did some things we asked them to do … Guys are starting to get a little more comfortable.”
OSU will continue Big Ten Conference play Saturday at Ohio Stadium against Illinois. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.