Penn State throws away shot at upset

No. 1 Buckeyes turn 2 late interceptions into touchdowns to blow game open

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Kiichiro Sato, Associated Press

Ohio State defensive lineman Joel Penton, bottom, and Jay Richardson, top, sack Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli in the third quarter.

By Ray Fittipaldo
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Penn State walked away from another game feeling as if it could have had a different outcome. A play here, a play there, and the Nittany Lions are still celebrating this morning after beating the No. 1 team in the country.

But the problems that have plagued Penn State all season once again led to its demise yesterday against the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. The bitter, 28-6 loss leaves the Lions searching for answers, mainly how they seem so close but remain so far away from being a good football team.

Ohio State (4-0) made big play after big play in the second half to turn away the game Nittany Lions (2-2) before 105,266 at Ohio Stadium.

"I thought we played hard," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said afterward. "We were competitive to the end. We still have to learn how to make some plays. We had our chances to win it. We just couldn't do it."

What's missing?

The most glaring problem is the lack of big plays from an offense that continues to pile up impressive statistics, but can't score points.

In a game that was even statistically, Ohio State made three big plays. Penn State made none.

Three opportunities seized by Ohio State. Countless opportunities wasted by Penn State. That was the difference.

Penn State had more first downs than Ohio State, more rushing yards and bundles of wasted chances.

Don't be deceived by the 22-point margin of defeat. Penn State had the ball near midfield and was driving for the tying score with 21/2 minutes remaining when Malcolm Jenkins picked off an Anthony Morelli pass and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown.

It was not the only missed opportunity of the day. The Lions had the ball with a chance to go up by two scores early in the second half, but missed a field goal. They let Troy Smith out of their grasp one time, and he made a huge, game-turning play.

And, finally, with the ball a foot away from the goal line and the chance to pull within a field goal with eight minutes to go, they were called for illegal procedure.

"I don't think anything is wrong with the offense," receiver Derrick Williams said.

"You need big plays. We have to look at ourselves and see who is going to make the big play."

"It's a question of consistency, discipline, kids used to playing under pressure, that sort of thing," Paterno said.

Jenkins' interception sealed the game, but the turning point came early in the second half. Penn State led, 3-0, at halftime and intercepted Smith on the second play of the second half.

Linebacker Dan Connor returned the interception to Ohio State's 25, but, instead of seizing control, the Lions self-destructed.

Penn State ran three plays, gained a yard and missed a 42-yard field goal.

"Anytime you miss points in a game this close, it's going to hurt you," Paterno said.

Ohio State immediately took advantage of the mistake. Smith led Ohio State to its first touchdown drive, which was capped by Antonio Pittman's 12-yard run with 9:06 remaining in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth, Penn State was about to sack Smith for a big loss near midfield, but he turned away from pressure and gunned a 37-yard strike to Brian Robiskie for a 14-3 lead with 12:56 left.

"You can't give up big plays in a game like this," Paterno said. "He made a super play. He put it right on the money. We had Smith, and he threw that baby right on the button. That was a big play in the ballgame."

Penn State did not go quietly.

The Lions took the ensuing kickoff and marched 79 yards to the Ohio State 1 with about eight minutes remaining. A touchdown and 2-point conversion would have made it a three-point game. On fourth-and-goal, guard Rich Orhnberger jumped offside, and Paterno elected to kick a field goal that made the score 14-6.

The defense forced a three-and-out to give the offense another opportunity with 6:02 left. Morelli drove the Nittany Lions from their own 8 to the 44.

On a second-and-7, he attempted to loft a ball between zones, and Jenkins easily intercepted the pass, then returned it for 6 points.

Morelli had another pass returned for a touchdown on the next series.

"There's nothing wrong with the offense," Morelli said. "We're just making too many mistakes. We're killing ourselves. We drive the ball up and down the field. We just shoot ourselves in the foot."

The first half was characterized by great defense from both teams. On its first five possessions, Penn State managed one first down and 35 yards from scrimmage.

Ohio State was not much better. The Buckeyes had six first downs and 99 yards on its six first-half possessions.

It would have been a scoreless tie at halftime, but Kevin Kelly was roughed after missing a short field-goal attempt. After the penalty, he booted a 21-yarder for a 3-0 advantage at halftime.

Jay LaPrete, Associated Press
It was a tough day all around for Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who spent part of the game in the locker room because of illness.
Click photo for larger image.

More Coverage:

PSU Notebook: Buckeyes frustrate Morelli

Ron Cook: Even before it ended, Paterno was feeling bad

Big Ten Roundup: Wolverines turn loose their own Super Mario

NEXT OPPONENT

Team: Northwestern.
Record: 2-2.
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, at Beaver Stadium.
Rank: Unranked.
Friday night: Lost to Nevada, 31-21.
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald, 2-2, 1st season.
Points for: 73.
Points against: 74.
Series: Penn State, 8-3.
Comment: The Wildcats are still reeling from the death of coach Gary Walker in June. New coach Pat Fitzgerald is only 31 and has been on the job less than three months. ... RB Tyrrell Sutton has 347 yards (5.7 ypc). ... Redshirt freshman QB Mike Kafka is a weapon with his arm and legs. He had 233 yards of offense vs. Nevada, but also threw three INTs. ... Wide receiver Shaun Herbert (18 catches) is a favorite target.

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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