The Citizens Bank game day button for the Penn State-Ohio State game was right on the mark: "Our Lions Will Drive You Nuts". And so they did drive the Buckeyes nuts. For the first half they drove Ohio State fans into a relatively quiet state throughout Ohio Stadium as the Nittany Lions held the Buckeyes to a field goal and scored two touchdowns.
In the second half, the Nittany Lions drove Penn State fans nuts as the defense couldn't stop the relentless running of Dan "Boom" Herron, and Quarterback Matt McGloin threw two passes that were intercepted and run back for touchdowns.
And so it went on a beautiful football Saturday in Columbus, Ohio at one of the best college football atmospheres in the country.
My husband Terry grew up in Ohio, and he grew up rooting for Ohio State. His high school fight song is the same as Ohio State's. When the Ohio State band plays "Fight the Team Across the Field" he can't help but clap along. Script Ohio is his favorite band routine, and Terry even knows the words to "Carmine Ohio", Ohio State's alma mater.
I turned to him and said, "Ohio State is deep in your blood, isn't it?" He admitted it is.
Terry is about as devoted a Penn State fan as there is. Terry would be ecstatic if Penn State won, and very unhappy if Ohio State won. Even if he did enjoy the atmosphere at the Horseshoe perhaps a bit too much at times.
The first half exceeded our expectations as we were up by 14-3. We were cautiously optimistic, but very concerned after Joe Paterno decided to forgo 3 field goal points and try to keep the drive alive on 4th and short, which failed. Even if the team had made the 1st down, we weren't happy with that call.
It seemed unusual for a Joe Paterno coached team not to take points when you're in field goal range, especially when you have such a sure kicker in Collin Wagner.
Not that it mattered. Penn State needed much more than 3 points to win that game. And my guess is that Joe Paterno knew that. He might have thought that it was worth the risk to try to get up by 18 points at half-time.
Back to Terry. I couldn't have been with a more miserable companion after a second half of football that featured Ohio State scoring 35 unanswered points on us. Let me just say that it was a long night and a long bus ride home the next day.
The problem with this game was not that Penn State lost. It was the way we lost. Our defense was too slow to adjust to Ohio State's second half adjustments. We couldn't contain the run. And our offense made critical mistakes. It was a drubbing that was painful to watch.
The decision to forgo 3 points loomed large until the 4th quarter. Had Penn State taken the points, they would have been tied for much of the 3rd quarter, perhaps changing the momentum. Had Matt McGloin not given up two easy touchdowns to the defense at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th, there would have been a 7 point difference in the game. It would not have been a rout, and the 4th quarter might have been more of a battle.
"Woulda, coulda, shoulda"...easy to speculate, but it doesn't change what happened. It was a huge disappointment to lose so big because we had played so well in the first half.
We knew that Ohio State was the better team. A colleague had asked me last week how I would assess Penn State's chances of pulling out a win. I said I would give PSU a 10% chance.
I felt that Penn State would have a chance if its offense played mistake-free football, and the defense showed up for four quarters. That didn't happen, although for 30 minutes we dreamed that it might!
And so we lost 38-14. It is what it is.
As we were leaving the stadium, Ohio State fans ignored us. In fact, all we heard as we walked back to our bus was the chant, "Don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan. We're from O-HI-O."
Any Penn State fans who think that Penn State can somehow supplant the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry should have been there and heard that chant. It just isn't going to happen!
We were mostly ignored at Ohio State. There were a few fans who came up and greeted us. And there was a group of students from the Ohio State Sportsmanship Council who welcomed us and gave us souvenir buttons.
That was a gesture I always appreciate, one I wish Penn State would adopt! It helps offset nasty comments and rude behavior of the small minority of fans who don't get the idea of what college sports should be about.
The weekend itself was a good trip. We had chosen to take a bus tour to the game through Collegiate Athletic Travel (CAT) for this game. This would assure us that we would have tickets (in case our donation points were not high enough to order tickets directly from Penn State), and it was fairly priced. It was a very good tour led by experienced guides.
We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott at Easton Town Center. It was a decent hotel adjacent to a shopping mall that has lots of restaurants and upscale stores.
Easton Town Center is definitely a place that merits a return. And we will have the opportunity to do that next year as Penn State has now been scheduled for back to back away games at Ohio State.
Let's just hope that our young team will see that as the challenge it is as Penn State continues to focus on improvement into next season.
Next weekend we play the Indiana Hoosiers at FedEx Field, and then we have the chance to be a spoiler at home against the Spartans of Michigan State.
We hope for a strong finish! Go Lions!