While the 2008 Ohio State game doesn't quite stack as high as its 1994 and especially 2005 brethren, the game is never the less important in the grand scheme of things when it comes to Penn State and the Big Ten. Any time you can make Terrelle Pryor pay for his mistakes, it is a great day.
If you are like most Penn State fanatics(and I assume most of us are), you can recall with great detail, your exact location, beverage, seat, and company of every major Penn State football game or breaking news. For this game, I was at my future in-laws house sitting in my lucky spot on the coach biting my nails and yelling like a maniac at the TV, or basically a typical Saturday during Penn State's away games. What I don't recall with great detail is where I was when the Anthony Morelli era ended and the Daryll Clark era began. Did it begin during the Alamo Bowl with his version of Michael Robinson's 2002 Nebraska Performance? Or was it his Spring and Summer long battle with former Prep star Pat Devlin? Clark's ascension to the first seat on the blue bus is a big reason why I'm writing about this game.
Prior to arriving in Columbus, Penn State was putting up some serious offensive numbers (through the first 8 games), averaging just over 45 points per game, which rivaled the storied 1994 offensive juggernaut team's first 8 games led by Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter (48 points per game). The 2008 teams defense was actually giving up fewer points per game, 11.7 compared to 19.12, although the '08 team did play Coastal Carolina and the '94 bunch wasn't yet into the era of non D-1A cupcake diets.
Clark was like a Robinson-lite on the field, utilizing his arm and his bruising running style to make things happen for the Nittany Lions. Two weeks prior to the OSU game, Clark introduced Wisconsin to his signature fist pump en route to a 48-7 thumping in Madison. The next week, Penn State paid back Michigan for 2005 and beat the Wolverines 46-17, their first win in ten games. All of this set the tone for another crucial Ohio State game, with this one being played in Columbus, a place Penn State had not won in since joining the Big Ten back in 1993. All of that would change on October 25th, 2008 in a very typical Tressel-ball vs. Paterno-ball match up.
Watching Penn State vs. Ohio State is always the most nerve racking game to watch (for me at least) each season because regardless of how many points each team put up in prior weeks, the game plan always changed to a Conservative, project the ball, get the field position edge, wait for the big play to happen approach. More times than not, Penn State was on the bad end of that big play.
After neither team did much of anything in the first quarter, the third ranked Nittany Lions were able to get on board first against the tenth ranked Buckeyes when Neshaminy High School's own (go Skins!) Kevin Kelly connected on a 31-yard field goal. Ohio State matched Kelly's feat and tied the game up 3-3 at the half. The Buckeyes would go on to take the lead with just over 3 minutes left in the third quarter when they connected on another mid-range field goal to make it 6-3. This is where things start to get interesting.
If you recall, Penn State marched down the field and missed a 48 yarder, one of only four Kelly misses all season. Pryor and the Buckeyes took over with less than 12 minutes remaining, drove to the Penn State 41 and landed in a third and 1 situation. What happened next is one of those, the whole stadium knows what player is coming next (Pryor QB sneak) and Penn State needed to figure a way to stop it. Well luckily for the Nittany Lions, Pryor provided an assist for the defense. Thinking he saw some daylight, Pryor bounced the play outside to his right where Michael Phelps-killer, Mark Rubin was waiting. Rubin punched out the ball, a scramble ensued and NavorroBowman came out with it. In Lou Prato's book, "Game Changers" Mark Rubin explains exactly what happened on that memorable play:
I just tried to squeeze tight and make a play. I just wanted to make a sure tackle. I knew it was third-and-short, so I didn't want to let him get the first down. I just tried to square up and push him back. I'm not going to lie, I just happened to punch it out.
And you know the rest of the story. Pat Devlin came in for the concussed Daryll Clark and led the team for the game winning score, a one yard Devlin run. At the time, most fans thought Paterno pulled an ineffective Clark. It wasn't until later that it came out he suffered a concussion on the previous series. While the concussion did not doom the team in Columbus, two weeks later in Iowa City would be a different story. But that is for Worst Games, not Greatest, so we'll leave that for another series of posts.
The game ended in what can now be considered foreshadowing given everything that has come to light in the past six months. Pryor desperate to make a play made the wrong decision and throw up what may or may not have been a pass attempt and was intercepted by cornerback Lydell Sargeant in the end zone. Game. Set. Match.
This game was part of a magical season for our Nittany Lions who earned their third ever Big Ten title. Despite what we now know about Pryor, Tressel and many of the Buckeye players, it does not tarnish the win one bit. It is always good to beat a Buckeye, even when they are cheating.
And not to be forgotten, this was also the Deon Butler - we are not normal, we are legends pre-game speech game.
We are Penn State! We not normal. We are Legends. People will tell their kids about us. alright? WE ARE NOT NORMAL! We are Penn State. They don't have the tradition to hold our...
Yes we are Deon. And no they can't.
Lou Prato's Perspective
I can't help but think that this game will be more and more memorable as the years pass, primarily because of the key Ohio State fumble that led to the 13-6 victory and the player who lost the ball, Terelle Pryor. Pryor is now a pariah in Columbus as many hardcore Buckeye fans blame him for the downfall of Coach Jim Tressel and the major black eye on the reputation of "THE Ohio State University." Yes, the win was significant because it kept Penn State undefeated and in line to play for the national championship as well as being the first victory in Ohio Stadium after seven straight defeats since joining the Big Ten in 1993. Unfortunately, the stunning last minute loss at Iowa two weeks later ruined the national title aspirations, and the follow up defeat to a "shady" USC team in the Rose Bowl spoiled what could have been another great season. But because Pryor was so highly recruited by Penn State before choosing to play for the Buckeyes and because he insulted the NittanyLion Nation with some of his ill-chosen remarks in the recruiting process, he-rightfully or wrongly--turned into, arguably, the most disliked opposing players of the Paterno coaching era.
So, when the talented but brash freshman quarterback screwed up as he tried to make a first down on a third-and-one at the OSU41-yard line with ten minutes left in the game and his team leading 6-3, Penn State fans were delirious by his failure and embarrassment. Pryor disregarded Tressel'scalled play for a quarterback sneak because he thought he saw an opening to the right. Penn State had a safety blitz on, and in one motion Mark Rubin hit Pryor and with his left hand stripped the ball out of Pryor's loose grip. The ball took a couple of crazy bounces before linebacker Navorro Bowman fell on it at the 38-yard line. While we fans in the Horseshoe were cheering wildly we were surprised to see the team's little used but touted second team quarterback, sophomore Pat Devlin, come on the field for Daryl Clark, who we later learned had a concussion. Devlin won the hearts of the Nittany Lion Nation when he led the drive for the touchdown, and it was ironic, and certainly gratifying to Penn State fans, that Devlin scored on the type of play Pryor botched-a quarterback sneak.
Is it unfair and heartless to be so vindictive or unsympathetic about the public humiliation of a 19-year-old youth? Let your conscious be the judge. But there is no doubt many Penn State fans were quite happy when Mark Rubin stripped the ball from Pryor late October night, and they now are more than delighted by what has occurred in the last few months to Pryor, Tressel and THE Ohio State program.