October 25, 2008

Penn State assumes undeserved role as contender

COLUMBUS, Ohio Back and forth they went.

Ohio State pushed. Penn State pulled. And so it went, for more than three grueling hours.

This was a roll-up-your sleeves, black-and-blue classic. It ended Penn State 13, Ohio State 6. It was Big Ten football, with plenty of old-fashioned blocking and tackling.

More important, it kept Penn State steaming toward an unbeaten season and a date in the BCS title game.

And that's unfortunate.

It's foolish to think a Big Ten team has any business on college football's biggest stage. But the No. 3 Nittany Lions now are poised to play for the championship in Miami. After being off next week, they travel to Iowa, then play host to Indiana and Michigan State. A 12-0 regular-season record is well within reach.

Sure, Penn State's run to 9-0 looks good. The offense has been spectacular, showing balance and explosiveness. The defense is fast, aggressive and opportunistic. And these Lions are resourceful, winning Saturday despite starting quarterback Daryll Clark leaving early in the fourth quarter after getting knocked loopy.

Backup quarterback Pat Devlin engineered the game's only touchdown with 6:25 remaining, barreling through a pile of players on a 1-yard scoring plunge. What else would you expect in a game such as this?

Penn State's defense did its part, limiting the Buckeyes to 287 yards, including just 61 on the ground. And Penn State generated two turnovers, including a fourth-quarter fumble by Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor that the Lions subsequently turned into the touchdown.

PENN STATE 13, OHIO STATE 6
WHAT HAPPENED
Penn State was outgained, 287-281, but it didn't commit a turnover and ran better than Ohio State. And that was the difference. The Nittany Lions churned out 160 yards on the ground and limited the Buckeyes who lost a fumble and threw an interception to 61.
STAR PLAYER
Penn State RB Evan Royster led all rushers with 77 yards on 19 carries, giving the Nittany Lions room to open an aerial attack that generated 121 yards on 12-of-20 passing.
TURNING POINT
Ohio State had the ball and a 6-3 lead early in the fourth quarter when QB Terrelle Pryor was hit by SS Mark Rubin and fumbled. LB Navorro Bowman recovered at Ohio State's 38. Penn State proceeded to march in for the only touchdown of the game on QB Pat Devlin's 1-yard TD plunge for a 10-6 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
KEY INJURIES
Penn State QB Daryll Clark got his bell rung early in the fourth quarter and didn't return to the game. That's why Devlin was in on the game-turning drive.
ETC.
This was Penn State's first win in Columbus since 1978. The Nittany Lions had been 0-7 at Ohio State as a member of the Big Ten. Pryor passed for a career-high 226 yards, going 16-of-25 with a pick. This was the first time this season Penn State was held to fewer than 20 points. Ohio State has scored nine total points in its two losses. This is the 10th time Penn State has started 9-0 under Joe Paterno. .. Penn State is off next week, then plays its last road game of the season Nov. 8 against Iowa.
And then there's Joe Paterno. The coaching legend now weaves his magic from the press box. Maybe he's on to something. Could this unexpected run set up an unbelievable ending for Paterno the 81-year-old winning his third national championship, then retiring? It would be a fitting bow around a career that has been more embattled than euphoric this decade.

But this team and this conference doesn't deserve another chance at college football's biggest prize. Besides, Paterno is used to fashioning an unbeaten team, then getting left out of the championship party. That has happened four times: 1968, 1969, 1973 and 1994.

So, please, don't give us Penn State on Jan. 8, 2009, in Dolphin Stadium. Give us life, give us liberty, give us hope for a good game. That means give us Texas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia or USC. Heck, we'll even take Texas Tech and its diabolical offense and kooky coach. They all have been more impressive than and likely would beat any Big Ten team.

Even a perfect Penn State.

We pray that America won't have to watch another Big Ten belly-flop in the BCS title game. The Buckeyes have perfected that dive the past two seasons.

Look at the hideous history. First, there was Florida 41, Ohio State 14. Next, there was LSU 38, Ohio State 24. There is no need for a trilogy. If you've seen one slasher flick, you've seen them all.

Need more evidence that the Big Ten doesn't belong? Have you watched this season? The Big Ten's best non-conference win was Wisconsin's 13-10 triumph over Fresno State. The league had one chance to show the world it was big time and Ohio State was utterly annihilated by USC 35-3.

Michigan is a mess. Wisconsin is weak. Iowa and Illinois are iffy. Michigan State is mediocre. Northwestern? Minnesota? Please.

Now, because the Big Ten has returned to its own sand box and it's a small one we are supposed to believe the school that built the biggest sand castle in the Midwest deserves access to college football's VIP room?

Ohio State has proven that's not the case.

Penn State's mastery of the Buckeyes and a soft schedule shouldn't get them past the BCS bouncer.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




 

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