When Sean Stanley lit up Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde in the backfield, Penn State’s student section went wild.
The problem was Hyde didn’t have the football.
Before anyone knew what happened, Braxton Miller faked the handoff to Hyde and danced past three Penn State defenders and into the endzone for a 1-yard touchdown. The student section didn’t have a response to that.
“It was hard to read whether they would run or pass because it was so fast,” defensive end Deion Barnes said. “I caught it a couple times, missed two sacks on that. It was hard to read.”
After Miller missed several passes in the first quarter — many of which Penn State failed to intercept — he switched to the play action ground attack with Hyde. Together, the two rushed for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 35-23 win over the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
Penn State’s own rushing assault was not nearly as effective. Tailback Bill Belton failed to followup on his 103-yard, three-touchdown performance at Iowa, and Zach Zwinak didn’t come close to matching his 100-plus yard games against Northwestern and Illinois.
Zwinak and Belton combined for only 68 rushing yards, and neither had a touchdown.
“When you look back after the game, it’s ‘if we did this’ or ‘if we did that,’ but it didn’t happen,” Zwinak said. “We already know. We’re already looking to the film for this week. Coach is going to watch it. On Monday, we’re going to start getting back into it and fix our mistakes.”
Belton added that the Buckeyes’ front seven was probably the best they played all season. Linebacker Ryan Shazier’s seven tackles, two sacks, forced fumble and interception return for a touchdown led the way.
Shazier had dedicated his performance Saturday to his friend and the former manager of his high school team, Gary Curtis. Curtis passed away in the spring from muscular dystrophy, and Shazier changed his number from 10 to 48 for the contest.
Ohio State defensive lineman John Simon said he was so caught up in the game, he didn’t realize the degree of his defense’s potency against the Lions until after the Buckeyes won.
“I did not know that until the locker room, and that’s a great job by our front seven, defensive line and linebackers, and even our safeties and corners coming up making some big hits,” he said. “We forced the ball lateral. So it’s a total team effort, and that’s a great accomplishment for us.”
Zwinak and Belton struggled to find gaps in the trenches on a day that the offensive line couldn’t contain the Buckeyes’ pressure. Neither had a double-digit rush, nor did they average more than 3.5 yards per carry.
“We really didn’t get into a grove with offense, and we didn’t string plays together very well,” guard John Urschel said. “Ohio State has a very good defense, and they attack. The front set of them are very strong, and we just weren’t very productive tonight.”
Coach Bill O’Brien said Belton and Zwinak still head a running-back-by-committee system that also includes Michael Zordich, Derek Day and Curtis Dukes. He added that Belton’s resurgence against the Hawkeyes did nothing to change that plan heading into last Saturday.
“You got to give a ton of credit to Ohio State,” O’Brien said. "They did a great job. [Defensive coordinator] Luke Fickell [...] did a great job of getting their guys ready to go.”