Braxton Miller's second-half effort helps Ohio St. stay perfect at PSU
Despite struggling early on, Braxton Miller ignited the Buckeyes in the second half
Ohio State defense also displayed improvement; Ryan Shazier notched a pick-six
After winning at Penn State, Urban Meyer's team is 9-0 with a Heisman contender
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Penn State crowed roared and Saliva's "Click, Click, Boom!" blared from the Beaver Stadium speakers after defensive end Sean Stanley cracked Ohio State's Carlos Hyde behind the line of scrimmage. Trailing 14-10 with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions needed a stop on third-and-goal from the one-yard line.
The problem was Hyde didn't have the ball.
Quarterback Braxton Miller faked out the entire student section, most of the press box and certainly the stadium DJ before dodging two more Nittany Lion defenders and leaping over two more into the end zone to give Ohio State a 21-10 lead. If it wasn't the sweetest one-yard run of the year, it may have been the most pivotal in the Buckeyes' quest for an undefeated season.
"Oh we work on that, we have a drill," Meyer said with a wide grin after the game. "It's called 'make seven people miss and dive across.'"
Miller was far from perfect, but Ohio State's record still is after its Heisman hopeful dominated the second half in the Buckeyes' 35-23 win over Penn State. Despite his early hiccups, Miller's two third-quarter touchdown runs and backbreaking 72-yard touchdown pass to Jake Stoneburner likely solidified his Heisman candidacy barring a November collapse.
"I was just missing some easy throws to start, I was really excited," Miller said. "The game eventually slowed down. I just love this atmosphere, it's easy to get into it."
And he made the momentum-shifting play that nobody else in college football could make.
"Braxton is like a video-game player," offensive lineman Marcus Hall said. "He's the guy you get when you create a player. He does amazing stuff to make our job so much easier."
Miller spent the beginning of Saturday's game overthrowing receivers, absorbing hits from Penn State linebackers and struggling to lead the Buckeyes past midfield. He appeared fazed by what Meyer called "a big-league atmosphere." Playing in front of more than 100,000 white shirts with a mere smattering of scarlet and gray, Miller struggled with the noise and an aggressive Nittany Lions' defense.
But like he has done all season, Miller executed a pivotal play at a critical time late in the first half.
Down 7-0 with 2:10 remaining in the second quarter, Miller took the shotgun snap, faked a handoff to running back Rod Smith and waited for a breath before following his blockers and charging 33 yards downfield to the Penn State six-yard line. Hyde, who Hall described as "our Jerome Bettis," scored the first Buckeye touchdown just three plays later.
Miller's halftime numbers were otherwise dismal (4-of-12 passing for 45 yards; 13 carries for 26 yards before the big gain), so he and his two running backs decided to shrink the game and run through a strong Nittany Lions' defense.
By the end of the third quarter, Miller had almost doubled Penn State's team rushing yardage. By the end of the game, he had tripled it.
The win sends the Buckeyes to 9-0, a feat that certainly impresses, if not surprises, Meyer. "You find out a lot about your team on the road because it's a gladiator-type mentality," he said. "It's us against the world and our guys seemed to thrive on that."
When a reporter suggested that the Buckeyes have yet to compile a "complete performance" this season, Meyer politely bristled at the implication.
"You know, I'd disagree with that," Meyer said. "We're 9-0. It's good to be 9-0. Maybe you guys could help tell me how many teams have gone 9-0. We've got to work on some things, we have to get better. But we ran for 250 [yards] and they ran for 35."
The loss is a deflating one for a Penn State. Coach Bill O'Brien's squad played admirably in its biggest game of the year, but Miller's creativity and a key second half turnover sapped the energy from an otherwise rowdy crowd of 107,118.
The Nittany Lions missed two chances to rile up the fans in the first quarter after McGloin missed a wide-open Allen Robinson and defensive back Stephen Obeng-Ageyapong dropped a near-certain pick-six. Linebacker Mike Hull finally jolted the raucous crowd, and he did it twice on the same second-quarter drive: First Hull sacked Miller back to his own 11-yard line; then he blocked a punt three plays later. Michael Yancich recovered the ball in the end zone to give Penn State a 7-0 lead, the only one it held all night.
But just as Hull energized the Nittany Lion faithful in the first half, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier silenced it in the second. First, the sophomore charged unblocked to sack McGloin back to the Penn State eight-yard line. On the next play, Shazier dropped back into coverage and intercepted McGloin, subsequently returning it 27 yards for a touchdown. Penn State had possession with the score tied 7-7 to start the second half; Shazier gave the Buckeyes a lead they wouldn't surrender a mere 79 seconds later.
Shazier, who changed his number in memory of a late friend, was part of a Buckeye defense that displayed markedly better tackling and persistent pressure on McGloin. Meyer characterized Shazier as a freakishly talented but often undisciplined player who has made significant strides. "I love Ryan, but plays out of control sometimes," Meyer said. "But last week, he was beautiful. I would think he played his best game this week. He's playing his best football right now."
Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell agreed that his unit showed improvement. "I did think we tackled better today, but that's directly correlated to confidence," Fickell said. "Guys were attacking, guys were going four to six seconds, guys were running, there were still missed tackles, but there was always somebody there to finish the job."
Dubbed the "Ineligibowl" and "Banned Bowl" by pundits, Saturday's game featured the two frontrunners of the Leaders Division in a game nobody thought would matter given Ohio State's sanctions and Penn State's scandal-ridden offseason. But thanks in large part to Miller's dazzling play, the game's result now has national significance. Though the Buckeyes may not play in January 2013, Meyer's team remains undefeated with a quarterback in the thick of the Heisman hunt.