“They are who we thought they were, and we let ‘em off the hook!”
Those are the now famous words of the late Dennis Green after his Arizona Cardinals team blew a big lead to a heavily favored Chicago Bears team.
Nothing could better describe what happened with Penn State on Saturday night against Ohio State in Beaver Stadium.
For three-and-a-half quarters, outside of a few rough patches, the Nittany Lions outplayed the Buckeyes in every facet of the game.
Again, as it did a year ago, Penn State held a late two-score lead. And, as it did a year ago, the Nittany Lions crumbled and fell Ohio State by one point, this time with a 27-26 scoreline.
Heisman contender Trace McSorley was fantastic.
In the biggest game of his career both in meaning and statistically, the senior went 16 of 32 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball a career-high 25 times for yet another career-high 175 yards.
The much-maligned Nittany Lions defense bottled up and frustrated Buckeyes signal caller Dwayne Haskins for much of the night, holding him to 124 yards through three quarters.
Haskins, however, delivered when it mattered and finished with 270 yards and three scores. He was the beneficiary of some incredible efforts after the catch by his receivers and star sophomore JK Dobbins.
Dobbins ran for just 57 yards on 17 carries, but had another 61 yards on two receptions.
Despite all that, it was the coaching that proved the difference.
James Franklin and his staff put Penn State in position to win with a great game plan, but in crunch time it was baffling decisions that put the dagger in the heart of Nittany Lions fans.
After a Buckeyes touchdown cut the Penn State lead to 26-21, Penn State drove downfield and faced a fourth-and-6 with around 4:30 remaining in the game.
Rather than leave the ball in the hands of his offense, which produced 492 total yards, Franklin decided to punt.
While Blake Gilikin stepped up and pinned OSU at its own two, the Buckeyes were back out to the 39 one play later on a Dobbins catch and run.
Two minutes after the punt, the Buckeyes had a 27-26 lead.
Then, with Penn State driving with just over a minute in Buckeyes territory, Franklin used the second of his three timeouts just after an Ohio State timeout on a fourth-and-5 with 1:22 to play.
Perhaps the biggest miscue proved the fatal one, as Penn State then handed the ball to Miles Sanders for a loss on 2 on the fourth down play, essentially ending the game.
Penn State is ready to make the step to the next level. The play on the field showed as much. Now the coaches need to take that step with them.
The Buckeyes were who we thought they were, and Penn State let them off the hook.