Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller lived up to the hype of a Heisman Trophy candidate, and a 17-yard interception return by linebacker Ryan Shazier touched off a 21-point third quarter that gave the Buckeyes the momentum needed to defeat the Lions, 35-23, Saturday night before a crowd of 107,818.
The game that people dubbed "The Inelgi-bowl," a reference to the fact that both teams cannot play in the Big Ten championship game because of NCAA sanctions, turned into a one-sided contest in the second half, and Ohio State (9-0 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) left town in first place in the Leaders Division.
The Nittany Lions (5-3, 3-1) never established their running game, gaining only 32 yards on the ground counting four sacks totaling 37 yards in losses against Matt McGloin.
They were unable to keep up the pace they had shown in their first three conference games when they were averaging 90.3 offensive plays and 37.3 points. They ran 74 plays but 28 of them came in the fourth quarter, after the game was out of reach, when they scored their only two offensive touchdowns.
Worst of all, a team that had averaged 4.6 penalties coming in was whistled for nine on Saturday night, with two of them aiding Ohio State touchdown drives.
As is his custom, O'Brien blamed himself for the loss.
"We made mistakes but we win as a team, we lose as a team," he said. "It starts with me. I'm going to go and dive into that tape and figure out things that I can do better to help this team do better and hopefully our staff will do the same thing and our kids will do the same thing. But we did some uncharacteristic things tonight and I think I need to do a better job."
Miller did just fine. There was speculation during the week that the 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore wasn't 100 percent because of a vicious tackle in last week's Purdue game that left him with a sore neck.
But Miller showed no discomfort, and provided much discomfort for Penn State. He rushed 25 times for 134 yards and scored on a pair of 1-yard runs in Ohio State's productive third quarter. He also wrapped up his team's scoring with a 72-yard TD pass to Jake Stoneburner.
"He's a great athlete," Lions linebacker Gerald Hodges said. "He's been doing a great job all year. He made plays all day and that's what he's supposed to do. He came back from injury and did what he had to do."
The first half was a battle for field position. The Nittany Lions could have drawn first blood but O'Brien ignored a field goal try with the ball on the Buckeye 20 and failed to get the first down. However, special teams bailed them out, a blocked punt by Mike Hull that was recovered in the end zone by Mike Yancich.
Ohio State tied it up 7-7 before the half thanks to a Lions holding call on a punt that helped the Buckeyes retain possession and left O'Brien steaming.
The tide turned in the third quarter. The Lions were backed up to their own 8 but McGloin's pass over the middle was picked off by Shazier, who went into the end zone untouched. It was just McGloin's third interception of the season.
Penn State kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10. On its next possession, O'Brien had punter Alex Butterworth throw a pass on fourth-and-9 from the Ohio State 43 but it went incomplete, and the Buckeyes responded with a 57-yard TD drive.
"I just felt like at that point in time, we wanted to get something going," O'Brien said of the fake punt. "We had it. We just didn't execute it as well as we could have at that point. So we've got to coach it better. Again, I was just trying to make a play there."
McGloin, who went 27 of 45 for 327 yards, threw fourth-quarter scoring passes of 2 yards to Matt Lehman and 20 yards to Kyle Carter.
"It was just one of those nights," McGloin said. "We just didn't have it, I guess."
Contact Joe Juliano at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joejulesinq