STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Fake. Hop. Dive. Touchdown!
Braxton Miller does stuff you can’t teach, and No. 9 Ohio State is riding its Heisman Trophy contender to a memorable season — despite the limitations.
Miller ran for 134 yards and accounted for three touchdowns a week after getting knocked out of a game, leading the Buckeyes to a 35-23 victory against Penn State on Saturday.
Ryan Shazier returned an interception 17 yards for a score early in the third quarter that gave the Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) the lead for good, and the Nittany Lions (5-3, 3-1) and coach Bill O’Brien had their five-game winning streak snapped in a matchup of the Big Ten’s bowl-banned perennial powers.
Miller missed the fourth quarter against Purdue after a hard tackle sent him to the hospital with a case of whiplash. He declared himself good to go by midweek.
Was he ever. The Heisman campaign can resume.
The sophomore quarterback reached 100 yards rushing for the sixth time this season, carrying 25 times, and only avoiding contact when it was convenient. He also was 7 for 19 for 143 yards passing.
“I was so excited I missed a lot of throws,” he said. “I was so excited to come back on the field from my injury. The crowd was energetic.”
He added to his highlight reel with his first touchdown run in the second half.
Miller pulled the ball back just as teammate Carlos Hyde was engulfed by Penn State’s Sean Stanley, did a two-step — one forward and jump back — to allude a defender, and then dived past another into the end zone.
“I think a guy just came in and tried to tackle Carlos and I pulled it,” Miller said. “I don’t know who was around me. My instincts just took over after that.”
Officially, the play covered a yard, and it made the score 21-10 Ohio State with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
“We work on that,” coach Urban Meyer said with a slight grin. “We have a drill. Make seven people miss and dive across.
“All I heard in my headset was ‘Oh my God!”’
Matt McGloin and the Nittany Lions had turned an 0-2 start into a reason for Nittany Lions fans to get excited about football again.
It felt like a big game in Happy Valley, something many thought wouldn’t happen this year after Penn State was hit with crippling NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
But the Nittany Lions weren’t quite ready to step up in competition.
“Offensively, we could have done some better things,” O’Brien said. “I could have adjusted better. I could have had a better game plan.”
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes proved their mettle at maybe the toughest place to play in the Big Ten.
“When you go on the road your defense better play,” Meyer said. “You better take care of the football and you better be tough.”
For the most part, Ohio State checked all the boxes, and got another great game from its quarterback.
“Their front seven was tremendous,” said McGloin, who was sacked three times. “They applied pressure all night.”
Miller’s second 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter put Ohio State up 28-10.
McGloin and Penn State then rolled to an 18-play touchdown drive he finished with a 2-yard pass to Matt Lehman to make it 28-16 with 9:49 left in the fourth quarter. The 2-point conversion try was stopped.
McGloin finished 27 for 45 for a career-high 327 yards.
With plenty of time to pull off a comeback, the Penn State crowd roared and waved pom-poms as Ohio State started its next drive backed up to its 8.
A couple of tough runs by Miller got the Buckeyes off the goal line. Then on third-and-3 from the 28, Miller hit Jake Stoneburner in stride over the middle, and the wide receiver was gone. The 72-yard touchdown made it 35-16.
“First I was thinking don’t get caught,” Stoneburner said. “Then it was just surreal. I’ve never had that long of a touchdown in that big of a game.”
The Nittany Lions added one more touchdown, almost as a thank you to all of the fans — and there were plenty in the crowd of 107,818 — who stayed to the end.
Ohio State’s season of what-could-have-been rolls on, back home to play Illinois next week. After that the Buckeyes take a week off, and then finish the season at Wisconsin and home for Michigan.
The Buckeyes could have been thinking Big Ten championship, even BCS title.
But Ohio State’s decision not to impose a bowl ban last season, when the Buckeyes went 6-6 and lost in the Gator Bowl, before the NCAA weighed in on the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal, led to Meyer’s first team in Columbus, Ohio, being left out of the postseason.
The Big Ten will give the Buckeyes a trophy if they win the Leaders Division, a race which they have firmly under control.
Other than that, all Ohio State can do is win ‘em all and hope for the best when the final AP poll of the season comes out in January. Though an idle December would make it easier for Miller to attend the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
“I just think he’s an excellent player,” O’Brien said. “One of the top five players in the country.”
Two of the better offenses in the Big Ten traded punts for most of the first half.
Penn State turned one of those punts into points.
Mike Hull cut through the Ohio State protection and blocked Ben Buchanan’s kick a couple of yards away from the goal line. Michael Yancich recovered for a 7-0 lead with 6:15 left in the half.
Penn State forced another punt, but a holding penalty on the Nittany Lions converted the fourth down for Ohio State and Miller took advantage. His 33-yard keeper got the Buckeyes a first-and-goal at the 6, and Hyde scored from a yard out to make it 7-all.