Buckeyes, Nittany Lions quickly look to showdown
COLUMBUS — No sooner had Ohio State and Penn State wrapped up their latest victories than both were looking ahead to their critical tangle at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
“The crowd is going to be against us, especially against me,” Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor said of a showdown with Big Ten title implications.
“But it really doesn’t matter. I got my family with me, all 75 (teammates) that travel, and we’re going to be ready to rock. I can’t wait.”
That emotion is at the other end of the spectrum from what the No. 15 Buckeyes faced last Saturday. They barely raised their pulse rate in eclipsing overmatched New Mexico State 45-0, holding the Aggies — statistically the worst offense in the Bowl Subdivision — to 62 yards.
On offense, the Buckeyes piled up 559 yards and had seven players amass more individual yards than the Aggies did as a team over 45 plays.
Still, coach Jim Tressel was well aware that about the only thing New Mexico State and No. 11 Penn State have in common is their last name.
“Are we consistent enough right now to be the contending champions for the Big Ten? Not yet,” said Tressel, whose team has won at least a piece of the last four conference titles. “That’s why we’re going to practice like crazy and get ready for the Nittany Lions.”
Those Nittany Lions rattled off three touchdowns in less than 4 minutes to turn a squeaker into a rout in a 34-13 victory at Northwestern.
As quarterback Daryll Clark was leaving the field, he encountered 82-year-old Penn State sage Joe Paterno.
“He called to me and told me that this was a good win,” Clark said. “We’ve got our big one next week. We all laughed about it.”
Neither team can afford many laughs this week. Both are 4-1 in the Big Ten and a game back of unbeaten Iowa, which defeated Penn State earlier in the year and still must play Ohio State.
A loss doesn’t eliminate either team from the league race, but it sure would make things difficult.
A year ago, the teams met under somewhat similar circumstances at Ohio Stadium, with both perfect in league play. The Buckeyes led 6-3 in the fourth quarter when Pryor fumbled on a third-down play. The Nittany Lions, with Pat Devlin taking over for an injured Clark, drove 38 yards and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.
Ohio State had two more possessions, but had to punt after the first. Devlin then guided the Lions to a field goal for a 13-6 lead. Pryor’s deep throw with 27 seconds left was picked off by Lydell Sargeant to seal the game.
Both quarterbacks — Clark from Youngstown, Ohio, and Pryor from Jeannette, Pa. — would like nothing better than to engineer wins that would break hearts back home.
“I think Daryll is the leader of the offensive football team,” Paterno said after his 391st career victory Saturday. “He is a guy that makes us go.”
Pryor, who chose Ohio State over Penn State and Michigan, is expecting a less-than-warm welcome from the fans in Happy Valley. He knows he won’t be a favorite son.
“I’ll probably get booed as soon as I go out to warm up,” he said.
He has no concerns that the Buckeyes will be up to the challenge.
“Just the way we carry ourselves, we feel confident. I’d preach that to any team I’d be on,” Pryor said. “You have to be confident, because if you go into a game thinking you’re going to lose, that’s not how you win. So we go in thinking that we can beat everybody.
“We know it’s going to be a very tough job to do at Penn State, but the way we think, you have to think you’re going to win. So we have to be positive-thinking, just like Penn State will be positive-thinking.”
Buckeyes defensive tackle Doug Worthington might have been speaking for both teams.
“We still have a chance of doing something great in the Big Ten,” he said.
The atmosphere should be something else.
“Penn State is definitely a big game,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “I love their crowd and the challenge of playing against Daryll Clark. From the beginning it’s an electric atmosphere.”
A loss would almost certainly knock a team out of the BCS picture.
“This is as big as they come,” Pryor said. “I’ve been at Penn State a lot. It’s a crazy stadium, but it’s going to be fun. I was there the one day and the whole stadium was just shaking. It’s crazy like that, but I always want to play in tough stadiums against tough opponents. That’s where you measure yourself.”