Fitting End For 2011 Team, Seniors
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Luke Fickell said his team wasn’t built to play from behind, and they proved him right yet again Saturday in their 20-14 loss to Penn State (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten).
With the game on the line and victory still within reach, the Buckeyes (6-5, 3-4) faced a 4th-and-5 at the Penn State 36-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
A touchdown would still have won the game—assuming they could kick the extra point through the uprights—but they would never get that chance.
Senior right tackle J.B. Shugarts was flagged for a false start, which left Braxton Miller’s fourth-down scramble a yard short of the first-down marker.
It was a fitting end on Senior Day for this team and this group of seniors, who ultimately came up short in the end.
“It hurts because those guys came in with me but I redshirted,” junior Orhian Johnson said.
“You want to do everything for the seniors, as we do every year, but it just hurts we couldn’t get them the win tonight.”
Ohio State was actually the better team for most of the game, outscoring the visiting Nittany Lions 14-10 over the final three quarters. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes put themselves in a 10-0 in the first quarter for the third straight week.
“Well, another slow start is certainly not what we wanted,” OSU head coach Luke Fickell said after Ohio State’s second-straight loss.
“We have to do a better job coming out of the gate. Falling behind 10-0 for the third week in a row, that put us in a bind. … All in all, to fall behind 10-0 again like we have for three games now – not that the guys didn’t keep fighting because they did – but we have to do better.”
The Buckeyes won the toss and elected to defer, which gave Penn State the ball to start the game. Much like Indiana and Purdue, the Nittany Lions started fast. They drove down the field, going 80 yards in just five plays, as tailback Stephfon Green capped the drive with 39 yard touchdown run.
Green took a handoff out of the “wildcat” formation and went 39 yards up the middle of the Ohio State’s defense. He would have been untouched on his way to the end zone of not for diving tries by linebackers Storm Klein and Ryan Shazier.
“It caught us by surprise at first because we hadn’t seen it all year,” Shazier said of Penn State’s wildcat.
“Once we settled down we adjusted and covered out gap. We did much better with it later in the game.”
Anthony Fera connected on a career-long 43-yard field goal with 1:59 to play in the first quarter and the Buckeyes were being outgained 119-58. A large chunk of the 58 came on Miller’s 39-yard pass to senior DeVier Posey, who was playing in his first game of the season after serving a 10-game suspension.
“He came out ready to play,” fellow senior Mike Adams said.
“I think he showed that. It’s great to have another leader out there on the field during the game.”
Unfortunately for Ohio State, this senior class has not always done the best job of leading. They had four key players—including Posey and Adams—suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, and of course Terrelle Pryor was not even around to celebrate Senior Day.
It was a tough way to go out for a group that had such high expectations coming in four years ago. Even senior center Michael Brewster struggled in his 48th-consecutive start. He made a number of drive-killing bad snaps to Miller that led to negative yardage.
“I wish we could have a few of those back. I’ve had some snap problems in the past and it’s something I’m always continuing to work on,” Brewster said.
“I felt like the ball was a little slick but it’s not an excuse. It’s something I’ve got to continue to work on and get better throughout my career.”
Miller got the Buckeyes on the scoreboard in the second quarter with 24-yard touchdown run out of ‘Pistol’ formation. Miller kept it on an option right and made PSU cornerback D'Anton Lynn look downright silly in space. Boom Herron and Posey threw blocks that allowed Miller to get outside and almost walked in to the end zone at the end.
Miller would connect with tight end Jake Stoneburner on a 7-yard touchdown pass later in the second quarter after Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin was intercepted by Orhian Johnson on a tipped pass by C.J. Barnett.
The pulled the Buckeyes to within 17-14, but that was the closest they would get.
Fera closed out the first half with a 46-yard field goal to give Penn State a 20-14 lead, and that would eventually be the final score.
In the second half, the Buckeyes fumbled the ball at their own 11-yard line on a botched exchange between Jordan Hall—who was in the wildcat—and Boom Herron. Penn State drove the ball down to Ohio State’s two-yard line, but the OSU defense finally stood strong. They stuffed the Nittany Lions on four straight plays, including a fourth-down dive by tailback Silas Redd, who was pulled down short of the goal line.
“The goal is for the linebackers to block penetration and fill in the holes,” said defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, who played most of the game despite injuring his knee a week ago.
“That's what I did and what stopped them from scoring.”
It was a huge momentum play for the Buckeyes, or at least it should have been. Five players later, tailback Carlos Hyde gave the ball right back on a fumble. It killed any positive momentum in Ohio State’s favor, and the Buckeyes would not get back on to Penn State’s side of the field until that fateful drive that ended with Miller’s 9-yard run on 4th-and-10.
"We really had them on their heels there," said senior left tackle Mike Adams.
"We all planned on driving the ball 99 yards for the score. Turnovers are something we never want to have. That's one of our goals every week, no turnovers.
"To kill a drive like that, football is a game of momentum. That was one time where we definitely had the momentum on our side and we needed to keep it. It didn't work out."
The Buckeyes got one last shot after forcing Penn State to punt with 43 seconds on the clock, but 65 yards was just too tall an order for this OSU offense, especially after Miller was flagged for intentional grounding on first down at the OSU 35-yard line.
Miller did finish with a career-high 105 yards on the ground to go with 83 yards on 7-of-17 passing. Herron added 76 yards on 18 carries and Posey finished with four catches for 66 yards.
Ohio State has now lost five games in a season for the first time since 2001 which was Jim Tressel’s first season in Columbus. The Buckeyes can avoid a 6-6 season with a win at archrival Michigan next Saturday in regular-season finale. The Buckeyes finished 6-6 in 1999 and were not invited to play in a bowl game that year.
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