Collier: Loss to Ohio State a slice of Paterno -- from O'Brien

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On the first anniversary of Joe Paterno's final weekend as football coach at Penn State, his successor looked to have every intention of honoring his memory, or most certainly his play calling.

Bill O'Brien seemed to want his red hot Lions to cool their jets and beat Ohio State the way Penn State did in, say, 1978, flogging them with defense, getting a big play in the kicking game like Mike Hull's blocked punt for a touchdown late in the second quarter, and hoping that no one on the other sideline would figure things out.

The primary problem with that: Urban Meyer is not Woody Hayes.

It took Meyer all but a minute of the first half before he could coax Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes attackers to score a touchdown, but it took less than 80 seconds after the intermission before Ohio State had a second, then a third and fourth before the end of the third quarter.

In the meantime, the so-called NASCAR offense for which Penn State had been getting so much buzz had apparent gearbox trouble from the start, as O'Brien called for handoffs on four of the first five first-down plays, and five of the first seven.

The only difference between O'Brien and Paterno at that point was that Joe never wore a headset.

And that inside handoff to Bill Belton on a fourth-quarter 2-point try? Pure, vintage Joe.

"I didn't do a very good job tonight as head football coach and I have to do a better job for this football team," O'Brien said on the far end of his first Big Ten loss. "I'll dive into that tape tomorrow."

Bill please, no more dive plays.

NASCAR needn't worry about any copyright infringement. This was throwback, low-gloss Penn State football, so this morning NASCAR isn't to be confused with anything but what it's always been, a colossal waste of fuel.

Ohio State's relentlessly impressive 35-23 victory would have rammed into focus the notion that the Buckeyes aren't unbeaten and ranked in the Top 10 for nothin', except, of course, they are.

It's all for nothing, as it is for Penn State, because after a week of serious hype for this matchup, no one ever surpassed its best description -- Battle of the Banned. Both schools are prohibited from postseason honors by the uneven hand of the NCAA, but Saturday night's episode inside a rapidly-deflating 107,818 at Beaver Stadium was likely more significant to Penn State.

With a chance to rebound even more dramatically and conspicuously from the sickening scandal that broke a year ago this week, O'Brien's Lions couldn't provide the rocket boost needed to eject Penn State from its fouled atmosphere.

Jerry Sandusky was still highly visible in prison garb effigy among the tailgaters. Graham Spanier's replacement as university president, Rodney Erickson, was still booed lustily during a halftime academic honors ceremony for absorbing both the flawed Freeh Report and the preposterous NCAA sanctioning without a peep of protest.

"Honestly, you come to Penn State to be able to win games like this," said John Urschel, the graduate math genius guard. "We didn't string plays together tonight. Their front seven was very strong. John Simon is a great defensive end. Johnathan Hankins a great tackle. It's just a very tough loss.

"As a guard, it's hard for me to speak to the problems we had on the edge, but we have to look at it and figure out a way to go forward. There are a lot of games left."

Urschel's probably being a little charitable with all that. This Ohio State defense couldn't stop Indiana from ringing up 49 points. Couldn't stop its past three opponents from putting up 109. But Penn State, which had run up at least 35 in every conference game, was saved only by some late cosmetic spasms from getting walloped, 35-10.

Lions quarterback Matt McGloin, everyone's favorite exhibit of O'Brien's miracle whip quarterback recipe, threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns, but those numbers were only eyewash for the crippling interception he threw to Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Shazier took it in stride at the Penn State 17 and rolled home for the touchdown that gave Ohio State the lead it would never relinquish.

"Matt McGloin's a tough guy, a real competitor, and he's taken really good care of the football," O'Brien lamented. "The guy just made a great play."

The head coach sounded like his next words to McGloin would be the old "it's-not-you-it's-me" bit.

"Offensively I could have done some better things," O'Brien insisted. "I could have adjusted better. I could have had a better game plan. I'm going to do a better job."

No one's done a better job for Penn State around here in the past year than Bill O'Brien. But with Saturday's jarring metaphorical sack, the job will get harder, the road back longer, and the memories will somehow stay persistently fresh.

genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com


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