PSU vs. Ohio State: Nittany Lions' Kelly kicking up storm

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Kevin Kelly has enjoyed a record-setting career at Penn State, but the senior kicker has only made one winning field goal.

He is looking to deliver another signature kick.

"I would definitely like that opportunity again, to go out and make a kick when I need to," he said. "Maybe this week will be that chance."

Kelly and No. 3 Penn State (8-0, 4-0) will tackle No. 10 Ohio State (7-1, 4-0) tonight in a Big Ten showdown for first place at Ohio Stadium.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno realizes Kelly could play an important role in helping his team snap its seven-game losing streak on the road against the Buckeyes.

"I think our kicking game has been good, and I think, obviously, Kevin has been a big part of that," Paterno said. "He's a fine kicker, and I think he's feeling really good about himself. It'll probably come down to something with the kicking game.

"It will have a lot to do with the outcome of the game."

Kelly's only previous winner came in his freshman year. He booted a 29-yard goal in the third overtime to sink Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Earlier, he had missed field-goal tries of 29 and 38 yards that would have won the game.

Since then, Kelly has been much more consistent.

Kelly is Penn State's all-time leader in scoring (376 points), field goals (70) and field goals in one season (22). And he has kicked at least one field goal in a school-record 28 consecutive games.

A week ago, Kelly accounted for 14 points against Michigan -- three field goals and five extra points -- to become the leading scorer among kickers in Big Ten Conference history.

He ranks third in career field goals and needs three more to pass Ohio State's Mike Nugent (72) for first on the all-time list.

Kelly's 166 extra points are tied for third place and 11 shy of the career mark of 177 held by Ohio State's Rich Spangler.

Still, Kelly doesn't consider himself the best kicker to play in the Big Ten.

"Just looking right now at it, there are so many good kickers that have been in the Big Ten and so many great programs," Kelly said. "To be on top of this is pretty cool.

"I have made the most of my opportunities, but I'm nowhere near the best kicker in history."

Entering this season, Kelly had connected on just nine of his 24 field-goal tries from 40 yards or longer, and there were some questions about his leg strength and accuracy. He has improved dramatically this season, making 12 of 14 field goals and all 43 extra-point attempts for 79 points. He also is averaging 67.3 yards on 59 kickoffs, with nine touchbacks.

"He just takes it more seriously," wide receiver/kick returner Derrick Williams said. "He's just been doing a great job of helping us out and making those points count."

Kelly, 5 feet 7, 164 pounds, has hit 4 of 6 field goals from 40 yards and beyond, including 50- and 52-yarders. He was just 1 of 7 from 50 and beyond before this season.

"I've kind of just tried to take every kick as its come," Kelly said. "I don't think I've changed anything. I've been thinking about why all of a sudden I'm kicking better. I'm not really questioning it too much, though.

"I'm just going to keep kicking. I've done pretty well this year from outside 40 yards. I just need to keep it up. I love the extra points and I'll take the field goals, too, but it really has been one point at a time."

Scouting report

Matchup: No. 3 Penn State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten Conference) vs. No. 10 Ohio State (7-1, 4-0), 8 p.m. today, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio. Nittany Lions favored by 2 points.

TV/Radio: WTAE-TV; WEAE-AM (1250) and Penn State Sports Network. Game also can be heard at www.GoPSUsports.com.

Penn State: Has won 39 of its past 48 games overall. ... QB Daryll Clark has thrown only two interceptions in 180 pass attempts. ... Nittany Lions are 41 of 44 in the red zone, with 32 TDs and nine FGs.

Ohio State: Coach Jim Tressel is 80-17 in eight seasons at Ohio State. ... Buckeyes are 126-101-12 all time when facing a ranked opponent. ... TB Chris "Beanie" Wells (pictured) has 13 career 100-yard rushing games.

Hidden stat: In seven games at Ohio State since 1993, Penn State has managed a total of five TDs.Game




Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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