Nittany Lions finally have some fun
After all the distractions of the past two weeks, Penn State summoned up one of its best performances of the season.
The Nittany Lions' 20-14 victory over Ohio State was a means to a very large end: Playing Wisconsin on Saturday for a shot at the Big Ten title game.
But it was also more than even that.
''I'm so proud of this team,'' said running back Stephfon Green, who rushed for two touchdowns in the victory at partisan Ohio Stadium. ''We overcame a lot. We came into a hostile environment and beat a real good team.''
It has been an emotional time for everyone at Penn State. A former defensive assistant coach was arrested two weeks earlier and charged with molesting several young boys. Longtime coach Joe Paterno, the winningest Division I coach of all time, was fired in the wake of the charges, the university president and AD lost their jobs and the NCAA is looking into the athletic program's actions.
Last week, in the first game without Paterno, Penn State lost 17-14 at home to Nebraska.
While offering their thoughts and prayers to the alleged victims, the players also recognized the scandal has been hard to block out.
''Anywhere you go people ask you about it,'' quarterback Matt McGloin said. ''People have stopped asking about the games. They're just asking about the off-field issues. It's great to get out on the practice field and now play the game. We're able to not think about anything and just play.''
Penn State (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten), stymied by its lack of offensive production all year, scored 20 points in the first half. Considering that the Nittany Lions haven't scored that many points in six of their games, it was quite an explosion.
Then, just like they had most of the season, they relied on their defense. And it came through, shutting out the Buckeyes (6-5, 3-4) in the final two quarters.
Ohio State's six second-half possessions ended in two fumbles, two punts and two failed fourth downs.
For the most part, the Nittany Lions defense bottled up the Buckeyes' freshman quarterback, Braxton Miller, who is most dangerous when a passing play breaks down and he speeds into open field.
''One of the things that helped us is that one of the things we've seen the last few weeks is running quarterbacks,'' interim coach Tom Bradley said. ''We really had an advantage there that this wasn't the first time we were preparing for a running quarterback.''
Jay Paterno, Penn State's offensive coordinator and the son of the deposed coach, said he saw a sign early in the third quarter that things might end up going the Nittany Lions' way. On third-and-7 at the Ohio State 32, Miller dropped back and lofted a long pass toward receiver Corey Brown, who was streaking downfield next to the Penn State bench and had a step on two defenders.
Even though the ball was slightly underthrown, it dropped right into Brown's hands - and then slipped through to the ground.
''When No. 10 dropped the ball down the sideline, I said it was our night,'' Paterno said.
It sure was. Now they have to get ready for yet another big, emotional showdown. The Nittany Lions, who locked up a share of the Big Ten's Leaders Division title with the win, are headed for Wisconsin on Saturday. The winner gets a spot in the first conference championship game in Indianapolis on Dec. 3.
For the first time in a while, the players were able to lift their heads a little.
''I don't think we were trying to prove a point,'' said McGloin, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 88 yards with an interception but avoided any major gaffes. ''We just went out and played our game and had fun.''
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