Nittany Lions have offensive weapons.

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 11/18/2011 2:51 PM

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Nittany Lions Have Weapons on Offense

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State and Penn State met on the football field for the first time in 1912. It was one of the most violent and lopsided games these two rivals would ever play.

The Buckeyes were 5-1 on the season and heavily favored against the visiting Nittany Lions, who were experiencing their first real success as a program. It was expected to be a one-sided game in Columbus at the corner of High Street and Woodruff Avenue, and it was, but not the side most expected.

Penn State quarterback Gene Miller  was nicknamed “Shorty” because, well, he was short; as in 5-5 and 145 pounds. He was also called “The Meteoric Midget,” because, well he could practically fly.

The future College Football Hall of Famer stunned the Buckeyes with a 30-yard touchdown run to give the Nittany lions a 16-0 lead to close out the first quarter. They would go on to win 37-0 in game where then-Ohio State coach John Richards eventually pulled his team off the field because of the brutality and bloodshed.

Thus began a storied rivalry between two football powerhouses, although the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions would not meet again until 1956. That was Joe Paterno’s seventh season as an assistant coach under Rip Engle, who had been his coach at Brown University.

That means Saturday’s matchup at Ohio Stadium will mark just the second time in history that these two schools have met in a game that didn’t involve Paterno, who was unceremoniously removed from his position as head coach after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke in State College.

The Buckeyes will also have a different coach on their sideline, as interim Head Coach Luke Fickell looks to improve upon his 3-1 record against Penn State as a player, not to mention his 7-2 record as an assistant coach under Jim Tressel.

“Don't ask about that one, please,” Fickell joked about Ohio State’s 63-14 loss at No. 1-ranked Penn State in 1994.

Since they began play in the Big Ten back in 1993, the Nittany Lions are just 6-11 against their neighbors to the west, but they were an even 4-4 before Fickell arrived as an assistant at Ohio State in 2002.

“Ever since they came into the Big Ten it was a huge bonus. Obviously two schools, and the history that goes back and forth,” Fickell said.

“We can both claim to have the greatest history in college football and this, that or the other thing, the greatest fans, the largest university. We might be No. 1 and 2 with the largest alumni associations in the world. There are a lot of big similarities and things, but truly on the field, we're very similar as well.”

Never was that more true than during the 10-year span under Tressel. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have been as similar as any two programs in the country over the last decade, with the exception of the fact Ohio State has played for three national titles and won one.

“But there are a lot of similarities in the teams, lot of similarities in their histories, regardless of the things that people want to talk about the negative things,” Fickell said.

“There are a lot of similarities in all the positives from their university to our university from their football program to our football program.”

Both programs have been through a lot in recent months, but they have also had a lot of success on the field. The Buckeyes or Nittany Lions have won or shared every Big Ten championship since 2005, with Ohio State winning seven-straight and sharing two of them with Penn State.

They have also done it with a similar style, leaning heavily on their stout defenses to carry them down the stretch.

“They’re defensive oriented. Their defense is playing good football right now,” OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes said.

“I think they rely a lot on their defense, but who doesn’t. Defense wins championships.”

They also rely a lot on their running game, which is led by sophomore tailback Silas Redd.

“Penn State is Penn State, they’re going to do what they do, so I think they kind of mix it around and be as balanced as possible but make the game as physical as possible,” Haynes said.

“The thing you notice about them is whether they’re up or down, they’re still going to try to run the football.”

That has certainly been the case in 2011. The Nittany Lions rank just ninth in the conference in rushing offense, but Redd has run for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

His success on the ground also opens up some things for Penn State in the passing game.

“The thing about it is, they try to lull you to sleep with that run game and then they’ve got the speed in the receivers outside to throw it over your head,” Haynes said.

“Penn State has always in the past thrown it deep a little more than other teams we face. They sit there and they run it, they run it and then try to get one over your head on play-action.”

The Nittany Lions rank eighth in the Big Ten in passing offense—four spots ahead of Ohio State—but they should benefit from the return of senior Derek Moye. The 6-5, 210-pound wideout from Rochester, Pa. missed two games in the middle of the year because of a broken foot, but he is coming off a 4-catch, 78-yard performance against Nebraska.

He has two 100-yard games on the season, but the Lions also have some weapons in Justin Brown—a 6-3 junior out of Delaware—and Devon Smith—a 5-7 junior out of Maryland.

“They’re going to gain some yards,” Haynes said.

“It’s going to happen because they’re a good football team.”

The biggest question for Ohio State will be whether they can keep Penn State’s offense out of the end zone. The Nittany Lions are currently ranked No. 11 in the Big Ten in scoring at just 21 points per game. The Buckeyes are not much higher—just 25 points per game—but Penn State has won four games this year with 16 or fewer points.

That’s the reason they are an 8-2 football team playing for a legitimate chance at being in Indianapolis for the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game next month.


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