Welcome to Columbus - Nice to Beat You

Welcome to Columbus - Nice to Beat You

When John Cooper complained about his Buckeyes being forced to travel to State College two years in a row back in the 1990s, his words fell on deaf ears. Not only because the games and dates were already etched in stone by the Big Ten brass, but also because it was a transitional period for the conference after Penn State had been added as the 11th member in 1993 and there was a need to tweak the league’s schedule layout.

Approaching two decades later, the favor is now being returned.

Last season in Columbus, Matt McGloin shocked both teams, not to mention the 100K-plus fans at The Horseshoe, by leading Penn State to a 14-3 advantage at intermission. We all know how that ended. It’s certainly possible that Devon Torrence is still running after his interception late in the third quarter – and Travis Howard for that matter. That game also included the only two touchdown passes ever thrown (and/or caught, of course) by a Penn State team in Columbus since the Nittany Lions entered the league.

The fact of the matter is that Ohio Stadium is a very tough place for opposing teams, particularly those who choose to use a conservative offensive philosophy in road games on a regular basis.

Interestingly enough and in a bit of ironic timing (again, we’ll get to the “other stuff” at a later date; the focus at the moment is on the current football team), there is a new head coach in place just in the nick of it to make the necessary changes to said philosophy. The only problem? Well, let’s be blunt: the quarterbacks on this team stink. It’s perfectly acceptable to applaud McGloin for his heart and desire, but he has yet to show that he can be a consistently strong passer.

Tom Bradley would love to pull a non-Joe Paterno (yes, he does understand that term that begins with the letter “O”) on Saturday, but with a running attack as the only consistent reliable threat to score offensive points, it’s a safe bet that the normal PSU road passing game, which consists of sideline routes and the occasional fly pattern usually overthrown by 10 yards, will once again rear its head if only due to sheer necessity. The personnel under center is just not there to try much more than that.

Would it kill this team to get the tight end involved, by the way? If Andrew Szczerba can’t catch a beach ball in a white room with no distractions, then get him the hell out of there and give one of the kids a shot. Kevin Haplea might have good hands. Might. But how would anybody know?

Truth be told, the Penn State-Ohio State game has grown into a strong annual rivalry, as it should. Both programs are among the top 10 all-time in the history of the sport, and although the Buckeyes are certainly several spots closer to the top of that list than are the Nittany Lions, it should come as no surprise that a significant and mutual respect level as been attained, and rightly so.

Looking back at the unbelievably talented teams which regularly underachieved at the tail end of the season under Cooper – who by all accounts might go down as the best recruiter in the history of the conference – it is not hard to figure out why the Bucs have come out on top more often than not in this series. But the utter domination by OSU at home against the Nits is as embarrassing for Penn State fans as it undeniable.

The defense will need its best performance of the season to win this one, and/but the sad part is that this is Ohio State’s worst team since 2004. In another blow to many egos in Lasch Building (at least those still standing), the gentlepersons in Las Vegas (yes, there are in fact females involved in the process) gave the Bucs a touchdown. It’s not hard to blame them, though – anybody with a hint of football intelligence is keenly aware that this particular group of starting 11 on the offensive side of the ball comes by points as easily as Herman Cain does brain cells.

It’s hard to predict anything of or about this team after the myriad of distractions, but one thing is certain: a defense that’s been incredibly tough all season will once again focus on stopping the run. Boom Herron has been inconsistent, but as quarterback Braxton Miller has begun to come into his own, the enormous percentage of the load which Herron carried for the first half-dozen games has dropped a bit.

 width=Still, as in Devon, and underrated Jordan Hill are probably the best defensive tackle duo in the conference, if not the entire nation. Still, as in still, the issue to focus on for Penn State to win in this stadium is the second half. It’ll be a cold, nasty atmosphere and the need to keep those two and the rest of PSU’s defense fresh is critical - yet another reason why this is not quite the time to get away from consistently pounding Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes. In fact, the smart money would be placed squarely on the backs of those horses; Penn State can win this game if McGloin attempts less than 10 passes. Bradley should instruct Galen Hall to feed the ball to Redd and Dukes for a combined 35-40 times, if not more.

That’ll be a fun game to watch, huh? Well, in case you haven’t been watching all season, there is no “fun” associated with this group. At this point, it’s just about winning. If the final score needs to be 3-2 in order to escape with a victory, then so be it. As painful as 6-4 in ’04 (or 10-7 in ’11, for that matter) was to suffer through, try to think of this one as a means to an end.

Speaking of the end, don’t concern yourself just yet with the divisional tie-breaking rules as it relates to who will represent the Leaders Division in the title game if a stalemate comes to pass. (If you have five hours to spare along with a microscope, check out the official rules on the conference’s website. Week 14 of the NFL’s “…can clinch at least a tie for a playoff berth if…” has nothing on this sucker.) That picture will become much clearer on Saturday night. Those who consume themselves with the prize too early and neglect to focus on the task at hand are often disappointed.

Just ask Coop – he’ll tell you. In spades.