Let’s take a look back at the Ohio State/Penn State rivalry since I stepped on campus in 2004, and why it has been arguably the best rivalry in that span…
#21 Penn State (8-2) at Ohio State (6-4)
Final Score: Penn State 20-14
Penn State was coached by someone other than Joe Paterno for just the second time since 1965. Coming off their second loss of the season, to Nebraska, Penn State jumped out quickly in Columbus scoring 10 in the first quarter. Interim head coach Tom Bradley utilized the Wildcat successfully against the Buckeyes, while Braxton Miller was limited for the most part. Both teams would go scoreless in the second half, though the Buckeyes would make a late push after stopping Penn State on fourth and goal from the one. Penn State would end up 9-4, losing to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl, while Ohio State finished 6-7, losing to Florida in the Gator Bowl.
Penn State (6-3) at #9 Ohio State (8-1)
Final score: Ohio State 38-14
This game was a tale of two halves, unfortunately for the Nittany Lions. After Ohio State kicked a field goal, Penn State would respond with two Matt McGloin touchdown tosses, putting the Nittany Lions up 14-3 in Columbus. Ohio State would find their running game and (pre-O’Brien/Fisher) McGloin would regress. The third quarter featured a rushing TD and a pick six for the Buckeyes. There would be more bad luck in the fourth for the Nittany Lions when a tipped pass fell into Dane Sanzenbacher’s hands for a touchdown, followed by the second pick six of the day. Penn State would go scoreless in the second half, registering only 3 of 13 third down conversions. Ohio State would end up 12-1, beating #8 Arkansas in the BCS Sugar Bowl, while Penn State would go 7-6, losing to Florida in the Outback Bowl.
#16 Ohio State (7-2) at #11 Penn State (8-1)
Final Score: Ohio State 24-7
Penn State was looking to have a solid season with a likely BCS run until a rain-soaked White House was turned upside down against Iowa. Despite that, a top 20 matchup in State College with Ohio State looked like a great chance to push for a BCS spot. Pryor and Clark would trade touchdown runs, with only a Devin Barclay field goal as the difference in the first half. Before the close of the third, Pryor would hook up with Posey for a 62-yard touchdown on a poorly covered route by Penn State. Penn State was again held scoreless in the second half. The difference in the game would be Ohio State’s ability to run the ball, racking up 228 yards to only 76 for Penn State. Ohio State would end up 11-2, beating #7 Oregon in the BCS Rose Bowl, while Penn State finished 11-2, beating #12 LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
#3 Penn State (8-0) at #9 Ohio State (7-1
Final score: Penn State 13-6
This game was as tight as any in the series. Both top-ten teams were almost even in yards, Ohio State 287 to Penn State 281. The telling stat of the night would be turnovers, as Ohio State committed two, both costly. Driving in the fourth with a lead, Pryor – on third and short – tried to break a run outside and was famously stripped by Mark Rubin. After an all-out effort, Penn State would recover, and score a touchdown on the next drive, putting them up 10-6. Penn State would kick a field goal on their next possession, forcing Ohio State to drive the field in hopes of scoring a game-tying touchdown. With under a minute left, Pryor would toss an ill-advised pass up for grabs which was intercepted by Lydell Sargeant, sealing the victory at Ohio State for the first time since 1993. Penn State would end up 11-2, losing to #5 USC in the BCS Rose Bowl, while Ohio State finished 10-3, losing to #3 Texas in the BCS Fiesta Bowl.
Penn State (6-2) at #1 Ohio State (8-0)
Final Score: Ohio State 37-17
After sporting a top-ten ranking, Penn State dropped early games at Michigan (14-9) and at Illinois (27-20). They would not fair better against the top team in the nation – who would later also drop a game to Illinois. Penn State was outmatched from the beginning, and was outgained by almost 200 yards. A kick return touchdown with 3 minutes to go in the game by A.J. Wallace did little to help the Nittany Lions. Ohio State would end up 11-2, losing to #2 LSU in the BCS National Championship Game, while Penn State finished 9-4, beating Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl.
Penn State (2-1) at #1 Ohio State (3-0)
Final Score: Ohio State 28-6
This one was a lot closer than the score would indicate. Penn State would take a 3-0 lead into the locker room at half, despite a scoreless first quarter. After Troy Smith eluded two should-have-been tackle-for-loss attempts, he tossed a jump ball that was secured by Brian Robiske in the end zone, giving Ohio State a 14-3 lead in the fourth. Penn State would drive with no luck as Anthony Morelli would throw two pick 6’s within 90 seconds of each other to ruin any comeback attempt for Penn State. Ohio State would end up 12-1, losing to #2 Florida in the BCS National Championship Game, while Penn State finished 9-4, beating #20 Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.
#6 Ohio State (3-1) at #16 Penn State (5-0)
Final Score: Penn State 17-10
This game would turn out to be the best game I’ve ever attended. After waiting hours in the rain, I would end up in the 12th row with a bunch of my friends to watch Penn State prove to the world they were back. A top notch defense would do its job as a Michael Robinson led offense, complete with skilled freshman, did just enough to get the win. I’m not sure if there has been a crowd as fired up as the one that provided a White Out that evening. Penn State took a 14-10 lead into half, and a Tamba Hali sack fumble on Troy Smith would ice the game for the undefeated Nittany Lions. Penn State would end up 11-1, beating #22 Florida State in the BCS Orange Bowl, while Ohio State finished 10-2, beating #5 Notre Dame in the BCS Fiesta Bowl.
Penn State (2-5) at Ohio State (4-3)
Final Score: Ohio State 21-10
This year was by far the worst for both programs collectively, though Ohio State did fair better than 2011. The two offenses were ranked among the worst in the Big Ten. Ohio State passed for a mere 69 yards while Penn State mustered only 59. The difference in the game would be two non-offensive touchdowns, one punt return and one interception return. Ohio State would end up 8-4, beating Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl, while Penn State finished 4-7, not selected for a bowl game.
In summation, since 2004, Ohio State is 5-3 versus the Nittany Lions, holding a higher ranking in all meetings except two, twice holding the #1 national rank. The series is currently 14-13 in favor of the Nittany Lions (not including any vacated wins by either school). This has been a highly competitive series overall, and have had some great games in the last bunch of years, including down-to-the-wire finishes in 2005, 2008 and 2011. More often than not, the winner of this game takes at least a piece of the conference title – this year is no different – as the winner will stay undefeated in Big Ten play.
Ohio State comes in undefeated; however, it is fair to say the teams are trending, slightly, in opposite directions. Ohio State comes off a close call at Indiana and a shaky, overtime win at home against Purdue. Penn State comes off an easy, dominating performance in Kinnick, winning five in a row after dropping their first two. Both teams have shown resolve this year: Ohio State has many close victories, while Penn State scored 22 unanswered in the fourth against a then-undefeated Northwestern team.
This game is huge, there is no downplaying it. For Ohio State, this may be their toughest test of the season (visiting Camp Randal is up there also), and will be their fiercest opponent yet. If they can get a win in a rocking Beaver Stadium, they could be looking at an undefeated season in year one under Urban Meyer. That would no doubt set the Buckeyes up for a nice run in the next few years. For the other side, this may be the most important game in years. Nittanyville (formerly Paternoville) has a record number of campers. It has been reported that Penn State has maxed out their available recruiting passes; some say 80-100 recruits were contacted for a visit. If Penn State could send Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes home with their first loss of the season, it would no doubt send a message to recruits, fans, national media and more that Penn State will continue to be competitive under Bill O’Brien.
The professionals in the desert have set this game, for the most part, as a pick em – that tells you a lot about this matchup between an undefeated team and one that sports losses to Ohio and Virginia. Penn State can start Halloween weekend off right by containing Braxton Miller’s running and forcing him to be a pocket passer. Ohio State will need to defend much better than they have this year if they want to survive the 2012 White Out.
Follow Craig Dauman on Twitter!