Nittany Lions get another shot at No. 1
Penn State is playing a No. 1 Ohio State team for the second consecutive season Saturday, which might make these things seem like old hat for the Nittany Lions.
Prior to the 2006 meeting with the top-ranked Buckeyes, the last time Penn State had played a No. 1 team was in 1998. The last time Penn State hosted No. 1 was 1989, when the Nittany Lions dropped a 34-23 decision to Notre Dame.
Penn State (6-2, 3-2), ranked 24th in the AP poll, has an opportunity to score a landmark victory for the program.
"I can't say that I know the exact history of the program, but it will be a big win for our team right here, 2007," wide receiver Jordan Norwood said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get that done."
Penn State took a run at a No. 1 Buckeyes team last September in Columbus, leading 3-0 at the half and entering the fourth quarter down just 7-3. A couple of desperation passes by Anthony Morelli that were returned for touchdowns late made for a 28-6 final that didn't accurately reflect the competitiveness of the game.
In this, the year of the surprise in college football, it would be hard to rule out the possibility of a Nittany Lions win this weekend, especially playing in Beaver Stadium.
"We always feel that we can play with anybody at home," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said.
Penn State has won 19 of its past 20 home games.
Add in an 8 p.m. starting time and national television, and the elements are in place for a classic night.
"It's a great thing," cornerback Justin King said. "They're No. 1 coming in, a night game at the Beaver. It should be fun and exciting."
Penn State's confidence is buoyed by its recent play. The Nittany Lions won consecutive home games with Iowa and Wisconsin, the latter a 38-7 rout of the Badgers. Most recently, Penn State picked up its first road win of the season on Saturday, outlasting Indiana, 36-31.
"We've definitely got momentum," Morelli said. "The good thing is we play them at home, but we're going to have to have a tough week of practice. They're the best in the land. We've got to go out and execute and focus and play our game like we did (at Indiana)."
Penn State will have to play better. Indiana gave away the game, according to Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who alluded to four second-half Hoosiers fumbles and his Nittany Lions' settling for field goals instead of touchdowns after the turnovers.
Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) is coming off a 24-17 win over Michigan State in which the Buckeyes went on top, 24-0, and found themselves holding on at the end.
That Ohio State is No. 1 is a surprise. The good fortune of the Buckeyes could be good for the Nittany Lions, too, if they can find a way to defeat them.
That is a big if. Penn State's injuries are mounting. After losing defensive end/linebacker Jerome Hayes for the season two games ago, the Nittany Lions lost defensive tackle Jared Odrick (broken ankle) and fullback Matt Hahn (knee) for the season in the Indiana win.
Because of those injuries, the strength of Ohio State, and the Buckeyes' recent history against Penn State, which has won just one of the past five games in the series, the challenge is great,
"It's going to be a tough game," Lions defensive end Maurice Evans said. "It's going to be another dogfight."
Against the best
Penn State's most recent games with No. 1 teams:
• Sept. 23, 2006: No. 1 Ohio State 28, Penn State 6
• Oct. 3, 1998: No. 1 Ohio State 28, Penn State 9
• Nov. 17, 1990: Penn State 24, No. 1 Notre Dame 21
• Nov. 18, 1989: No. 1 Notre Dame 34, Penn State 23