Penn State faces Ohio State in a hyped match of ineligibles

Posted: October 22, 2012

IOWA CITY, Iowa - On a Penn State team that portrays a modest public image, senior Stephon Morris is candid and outspoken. In postgame interviews, the cornerback's soft voice is overshadowed by his colorful quotes.

But when the 5-foot-8 Morris sprinted off Kinnick Stadium's field on Saturday night after Penn State's 38-14 dismantling of Iowa, he was perhaps speaking for his entire team.

"Lets go!" Morris shouted to nobody in particular as he darted into the tunnel. "It's Ohio State week, baby!"

Get ready for a week of hype, expectations, and hoopla in Happy Valley. It's the matchup of two postseason-ineligible teams - the Mark Emmert Bowl, if you will - and that means it's that much more important for this Penn State team and its fans.

Urban Meyer and the No. 9 Buckeyes (8-0, 3-0 Big Ten) face Penn State on Saturday - under the lights, at a planned "whiteout" by fans at Beaver Stadium.

Ohio State is the highest-ranked Big Ten opponent the Lions have faced at home since 2007, when the Buckeyes were No. 1.

"It'll be a great test for us," said senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill, one of Morris' teammates who is plain, understated, and to the point. "And we're up for the challenge."

There will be no bowl game this season for Penn State, which is tied atop the Big Ten's Leaders Division with Ohio State. The winner of this game positions itself to take home the division title, one of the only tangible awards either team can capture this season.

Coach Bill O'Brien thinks there's more on the line.

"When you play football for Penn State, you have a hell of a lot to play for," the rookie head coach said.

The Lions (5-2, 3-0) have already weathered the initial hit of Emmert's unprecedented, crippling NCAA sanctions. They've weathered an 0-2 start, when many fans were fretting about a season that would spiral from embarrassing to disheartening.

But from there, Penn State began to win. At first, O'Brien and his crew became a nice little story. The little engine that everyone discounted began believing. Now, the Lions are a freight train plowing into their biggest game of the season. Penn State received a season-high 18 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this week.

Against Iowa, at a stadium where the Lions had not won at since 1999, Penn State stomped the Hawkeyes for 504 yards on offense.

"They know at the end of the day, there's only five games left," O'Brien said after the game. "There's only five games left. So what are you going to do? 'OK, we're going to be flat today, and then the last four, we'll get up'?"

Over the five-game winning streak, quarterback Matt McGloin has 1,331 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and one interception.

The Buckeyes narrowly escaped Purdue on Saturday. Ohio State trailed by eight points with a minute to go.

Penn State fans know the Buckeyes are vulnerable. Nittanyville - a student-run organization that camps outside Beaver Stadium before home games - will pop up its tents Monday night.

The group has activities planned all week - visits from players, games of trash-can football, designing banners - leading right up until Saturday evening's game.

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