Buckeyes bracing for hostile Penn State crowd

Published 2:14 am Wednesday, November 4, 2009

COLUMBUS — Two teams, both looking for a signature win, and neither can afford a loss.

That’s what is on the line when No. 15 Ohio State travels to No. 11 Penn State in a showdown that may not determine the Big Ten champion but will almost definitely decide who it won’t be.

“We know how important all these games are,” Buckeyes wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. “It’s come to a point in a season where we have to win out and we have to play well in November to be a great team.”

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Each team has played one ranked opponent this year and lost. The Nittany Lions (8-1, 4-1) fell at home to unbeaten Iowa, 21-10, in their Big Ten opener. Since then, they have won five in a row.

Ohio State (7-2, 4-1) lost to Southern California 18-15 way back on Sept. 12. The Buckeyes followed that by winning six of seven games, the lone setback a stunning 26-18 defeat at Purdue.

The Buckeyes follow up the game against Penn State with one at home against Iowa (9-0, 5-0). So they still control their own destiny in their quest to capture a fifth consecutive Big Ten title.

“Maybe fans out there think Ohio State hasn’t beaten anybody, a great opponent,” Buckeyes linebacker Austin Spitler said. “And neither has Penn State. But we’re going to find out Saturday who the best is between Penn State and Ohio State.”

To beat the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes will have to play perhaps their best game of the season and do it in the most hostile environment.

“There’s so much energy and electricity,” coach Jim Tressel said about the atmosphere in Beaver Stadium. “It’s a fun place to play. There’s noise. There’s excitement.”

Sometimes, the Nittany Lions faithful might carry that to the extreme. That becomes evident when visiting teams almost have to run a gauntlet down a walkway underneath the stadium to get to the field.

“It’s something. They’re throwing stuff at you, spitting on you, yelling everything you can think of at you,” Spitler said, smiling. “But it doesn’t bring you down, it really fires you up and gets you going. I think it’s a positive in a way for us.”

The focal point of most of that venom figures to be Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. He was heralded as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit while playing his high school ball in Jeannette, Pa. — about a 65-mile drive from Happy Valley. Pryor narrowed his final choices down to Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon and Penn State before deciding to be a Buckeye.

Pryor knows he’ll be a marked man. He was already talking about it moments after the Buckeyes polished off overmatched New Mexico State 45-0 last Saturday.

“I’ll probably get booed as soon as I go out to warm up,” he said. “I’m happy here, and we’ll be ready to go.”

Tressel said on Tuesday that he didn’t feel the need to prepare Pryor for the fans.

“I’m sure he’s very aware of that,” Tressel said. “I’m sure as we go through the preparation for the week, we’ll talk a lot about poise and patience because that’s what you have to do. You have to be a poised guy. … That’s what being part of a great environment is all about.”

Besides, the visiting team has won the last two games in the heated series.

“The last time they came here (in 2007) it wasn’t very fun, because it was a night game and they really put it to us,” Penn State linebacker Sean Lee said. “We weren’t even able to make their offense punt (in a 37-17 loss). … But the atmosphere at both stadiums, especially Beaver Stadium, is unbelievable. It’s something you dream of as a young kid, and finally as a fifth-year senior, now that I’m healthy, it’s going to be great.”

A season-ending knee injury to kicker Aaron Pettrey, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, puts a damper on some of the excitement for Ohio State.

Pettrey was blocked on a first-half kickoff last week, tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right (kicking) leg. He was scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday.

In his place, the Buckeyes will go with 26-year-old former Major League Soccer player Devin Barclay, a former walk-on who beat out scholarship kicker Ben Buchanan for the No. 2 spot behind Pettrey. Barclay missed two of his three field-goal attempts in his college debut last week after Pettrey went out.

Buchanan, sick last week, is expected to battle him for the job this week.

“We were very comfortable with Aaron from anywhere,” Tressel said of Pettrey’s range. “These guys aren’t quite there.”