Earlier this week I was invited on the student-run radio show Motown Mornings to make a prediction for the Penn State-Ohio State clash at Beaver Stadium.
I'm not one to usually predict scores, in fact yesterday morning I was feeling a bit like I might have jinxed the game by predicting that Penn State would pull off a 30-27 win. The actual score was 35-23 for Ohio State.
I was in the right neighborhood on total points scored. But not on the final outcome.
There were, however, a couple of key observations I made on that interview that turned out to be true.
First, I was worried about Ohio State's close calls against Indiana (where OSU won 52-49) and Purdue (where OSU won in second overtime). I predicted that those close calls would cause Ohio State to be very motivated to fix whatever weaknesses caused those close calls.
Second, I stated that the Penn State offense needed to score early and often on Saturday. Which they didn't do. In fact, the Penn State offense didn't score until the fourth quarter. Penn State's first touchdown was the result of a blocked punt, and a Sam Ficken field goal added three points in the third quarter.
And finally, I stated that Penn State needed to score at least 30 points in order to beat Ohio State. The team fell short on that as well, scoring 23 points versus Ohio State's 35 points.
A participant behind me in the stands started complaining that he and his buddy had wasted $200 only to see Penn State lose.
Wow. Would they really have wanted to stay home? Didn't they realize that a game is played to see who wins? That there are no guarantees? Especially when an undefeated team coached by a very talented Urban Meyer is the visiting team?
I realize that $100 per ticket was a lot of money, especially considering that the seats were worth about $70 apiece.
But they had just experienced one of the most fantastic environments in college football in the fourth largest stadium in the world for normal attendance: a night game of 107,818 very loud fans all dressed in white and on their feet for most of the game tremendous noise to try to help Penn State win this game.
At times the stands shook more than I have ever experienced at Beaver Stadium, thanks to the student section to our right.
Heeding Coach Bill O'Brien's plea for students to abandon their "Diet Cokes" and be in the stands at kickoff, the students were in fact on time and very boisterous and entertaining throughout. Proving again why ESPN has declared it the best student section in the country.
Diet Cokes? Really Coach O'Brien? Don't you realize that Penn State is a Pepsi school? LOL...
There were great emotional highs: the first half defense, the blocked punt, the made field goal. There were raucous celebrations in the stands. It was fun at times.
There were also great emotional lows: four sacks of Matt McGloin, missed blocks, dropped passes, strange penalties, a failed fake punt. And as the game progressed it became very clear that Penn State's defense couldn't contain Ohio State's offense and the Penn State offense couldn't overcome all the adversity to make a fourth quarter miracle happen.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was brilliant and interesting in
how he executed the offense and overcame the noise factor in the second
half through unusual hand
signals. Miller's passing statistics were unimpressive. His ability to
run was hard for our defense to stop. He earned 134 rushing yards of
OSU's 234 rushing yards total.
The Penn State team lost the game. But they didn't quit. They were beat by a better team last night.
It appears that Ohio State did in fact figure out its defensive weaknesses. Or perhaps the team figured out Penn State's offensive weaknesses.
Penn State hung with Ohio State in the first half in a defensive battle. Essentially, in the second half, Penn State was beat up on the line of scrimmage, play after play after play.
With a paltry 28 net yards rushing, the OSU defense shut down Penn State's running game. That statistic is skewed quite a bit though by four sacks of quarterback Matt McGloin, which accounted for 37 rushing yards lost.
But still, it's hard to win a game against a tough Big Ten team if all that can be relied upon is passing.
And speaking of passing, quarterback Matt McGloin didn't have much time to throw. The Ohio State defense blitzed and blitzed, and the Penn State offensive line kept missing its blocks. And sometimes, when Matt McGloin did get off a pass, receivers wouldn't hold on to complete.
Sometimes these days as a Penn State fan you just hold your breath and wonder what Coach O'Brien is going to cook up on fourth down. He took a huge risk in the third quarter with the score 14-10 in favor of Ohio State when he ordered a pass rather than a punt on the OSU 43 yard line.
It was the sort of play that would have been deemed brilliant if it worked, simply because it's unexpected. Punter Alex Butterworth did throw an adequate if wobbly pass into wide receiver Derek Day's hands. But the ball wasn't caught, giving Ohio State a short field to work with for a touchdown.
So there was some swearing in the stands instead.
Again, Penn State was beat by a better team, but in my estimation, it was a privilege to be there, win or lose.
One aspect of last night's game I was very glad to see was that all three Big Uglies were there. The three Duda brothers, John Paul and
David, were below us in their funny masks and uniforms dancing and entertaining the
Several times in the past difficult months I have been asked by my students and others - mostly young people - what would happen to the guy who posed with the Uglies as Joe Paterno.
That person would be Ralph DiFranco, a very dedicated Penn State fan who lives near Columbus Ohio. I had spoken with Ralph at the Ohio State game last year, and he told me he might don the Paterno mask for special appearances only.
Sadly, a lot has happened since then. But I do hope he has the opportunity to do that someday.
The Penn State-Ohio State was the right moment for Ralph's debut appearance as Coach O'Brien! Whom any Penn State fan has also learned to love and respect this year.
I ran into Ralph on the way back to our car. He showed me his special mask and outfit he has made that includes cleft chin,
bushy eyebrows, earphones, and all. I had the opportunity to take his photo.
He told me that it has been a difficult adjustment this year, but that the Big Uglies were back to support the team. Although he also confessed that the cleft chin on his mask needs a bit of work...
I think it's quite brilliant! But then, I don't have to wear it, as he does...
And so, the Big Uglies are back, Coach O'Brien has a lot of work to do to prepare for an away game at Purdue this weekend, and there's this pesky problem of Hurricane Sandy headed directly for Centre County, Pennsylvania.
Last I checked, Accuweather was predicting that the eye of the storm would basically pass overhead.
Before the game yesterday, I ran into Dave Joyner, the Interim Director of Athletics for Penn State, in the grocery store. I had already calculated that it's over 500 miles to drive to Purdue.
I suggested that if he is going to hire a bus to get the cheerleaders and pep band there, we might want to join. I'm not sure if our flights from State College will happen on Friday. It depends on how this whole weather system evolves and the airlines' ability to adjust.
Should be an interesting week, where other issues besides football will dominate.
For all the readers of this blog on the East Coast, please stay safe!