clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Lion Tales: Ohio State

Penn State has sparked a special season in Columbus before

NCAA Football: USA TODAY Sports-Archive Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The first time I ever watched Penn State play at Ohio Stadium was in 1993. It wasn’t enjoyable.

Neither was 1996 or 1998 or 2000 or 2002 or 2004 or 2006.

Penn State finally won at the Horseshoe for the first time in Big Ten play in 2008. But let’s pause for a moment to remember that Joe Paterno’s teams didn’t always play scared or conservative, nor were they always mistake prone in Columbus.

That’s right. In 1978 (well before this blogger was born), on its way to a No. 1 national ranking and a bowl game shot at a national title, Penn State was downright dominant on one glorious day in Columbus.

And ffterwards, Paterno was downright smug.

Today’s Lions Tales takes us back to the September ‘78 and a 19-0 win against the No. 6 Buckeyes.

Ranked preseason No. 3 and coming off an impressive 11-1 season in 1977, Penn State struggled out of the gate.

The Lions eeked out a 10-7 win against Temple in Veterans Stadium and saw themselves drop two spots in the polls following a nondescript home win against Rutgers.

But much like Penn State of today, a trip to Columbus marked a chance to move up in the rankings and establish the Lions as a true national championship threat.

Against an Ohio State team that was playing its season opener, Penn State’s defense was stingy and the offense opportunistic as they spoiled the debut of young phenom Art Schlichter.

The freshman certainly didn’t bet on Penn State’s defense being as stringy as it was, forcing eight turnovers and Ohio State was held scoreless for the first time since 1976. Afterwards, Paterno was filled with bravado.

“We never felt they could move the ball on us and I never thought we were in any danger,” he said to the Washington Post after the game. “They weren’t going to run on us. I knew that,” Paterno said, “(Matt) Millen and (Bruce) Clark are two of the best defensive linemen in the country and this is our strongest defense physically since 1969.”

Matt Bahr had four field goals and Matt Suhey scored the game’s lone touchdown.

Following the win, Penn State jumped to No. 3 and the Lions never dropped out of the top five, eventually working their way to No. 1 for the first time in school history following a November win against Pitt. Though the Lions ultimately fell short of a national title in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, 1978 marked the high water mark for the program until 1982’s national title.

Meanwhile, Ohio State’s season was spoiled on opening weekend, but came to a horrid conclusion in December. It was in that year’s Gator Bowl that famed coach Woody Hayes punched a Clemson player and was subsequently fired.

Penn State has won just twice in Columbus since that day in 1978, but this might just be the best defense they’ve traveled to the Shoe since then, too.