Ohio State was on the ropes against Purdue on Saturday.
A loss for the Buckeyes meant sole possession of first place in the Big Ten Leaders Division for Penn State. So it was obvious which team Penn State players were rooting for, right?
Not so fast.
“We wanted Ohio State to win. It sets the stage,” senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. “Coach [Urban] Meyer is going to have that team readied and prepared to come into Beaver Stadium next weekend so we’ve got to rise to the occasion.”
Penn State and Ohio State both won Saturday to set up a showdown in Beaver Stadium next weekend. Both teams are 3-0 in conference play and are arguably the two best squads in the Big Ten.
While the Nittany Lions slaughtered Iowa, Ohio State — which is now ranked ninth in the AP poll — had to rally late without star quarterback Braxton Miller to down the Boilermakers in overtime. Miller, a Heisman Trophy candidate, left the game with an apparent head injury and did not return. His status for next week’s contest is uncertain.
The Lions and Buckeyes are both ineligible for postseason play and neither can play in the Big Ten Championship game. However, they can still win the Leaders Division, and players know the magnitude of this contest.
“It’s going to be a huge game,” senior defensive end Pete Massaro said. “They had an emotional victory [Saturday]. We’re going to have to have a great week of practice and really come out swinging next Saturday.”
Last season, Penn State left Columbus with a 20-14 win for its first victory against Ohio State since 2008. The last time the Buckeyes visited Beaver Stadium was in 2009, when they beat Penn State, 24-7.
This season’s game is scheduled to kickoff at 5:30 p.m. and will be a full-stadium whiteout. It also will pit Bill O’Brien against Meyer, who are both in their first years at their respective schools. One coach will get his first Big Ten loss handed to him Saturday.
“I think we’ve got a very, very difficult challenge ahead of us with one of the best teams in the country in Ohio State,” O’Brien said. “In my opinion, Ohio State is a top 10 football team. …They’re an undefeated team and they got a great coaching staff with a fantastic head coach in Urban.”
Penn State’s and Ohio State’s victories to stay atop the division differed in fashion. While the Buckeyes sneaked past Purdue at home, a victory was basically never in doubt for the Lions in Iowa City.
Day to remember
Offense: RB Bill Belton
It sure looked like Penn State’s bye week paid off for Belton. The sophomore tailback injured his ankle in the first week of the season, and though he came back against Illinois on Sept. 29, his health remained a question.
But his ankle wasn’t an issue against the Hawkeyes. Belton looked comfortable on his 16 carries, as he sliced through Iowa’s defense for 103 yards and three touchdowns — both of which are career highs.
Defense: DE C.J. Olaniyan
In the third quarter, Olaniyan took down Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg in the backfield for a loss of 10 yards. It was Olaniyan’s first career sack and one of four the Lions tallied against Iowa.
The redshirt junior had three tackles Saturday and now has a total of 12 in seven games.
Day to forget
Offense: WR Alex Kenney
Nine Penn State players caught at least one pass Saturday, and Kenney was not one of them. The speedy wideout was held without a catch and didn’t even touch the ball on special teams.
Kenney hasn’t made a reception since the Illinois game and still has not found the endzone this season.
Defense: CB Da’Quan Davis
Penn State’s defense had a shutout intact for nearly 56 minutes, so it’s likely no defender wants to forget the game. However, on the only touchdown the Lions’ defense allowed, Davis missed a chance to wrap up Iowa wideout Keenan Davis in the open field.
Did you notice?
Penn State’s tight ends (Kyle Carter, Garry Gilliam, Jesse James and Matt Lehman) combined for 147 receiving yards in the first half.
In 13 games last season, the Lions’ tight ends (Andrew Szczerba and Kevin Haplea) totaled 122 receiving yards. That is not a typo — on Saturday, Penn State’s tight ends had 25 more receiving yards in 30 minutes than the team did in the entire 2011 season. Carter led the way against the Hawkeyes with six catches for 85 yards, while James had 52 yards and scored his second career touchdown.
Though Sam Ficken had one kick blocked, he actually had the better day of the game’s two kickers. Iowa’s Mike Meyer, who was a mid-season All-American and entered Saturday’s contest with a streak of 13-straight made field goals, missed attempts from 49 and 37 yards.
Ficken hit a 34-yarder in the second quarter and is now 4-for-11 on field goal attempts this season.
O’Brien on playing football at Penn State: “I believe when you play football at Penn State, you have a hell of a lot to play for. I believe you have 1,000 lettermen to play for, a tradition to play for, a student body to play for, you have each other to play for.”
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