COLUMBUS — Sometimes you're good, sometimes you're lucky, sometimes you get booed off the field.
Ohio State's Buckeyes ran the gamut Saturday, trailing Penn State by 14-3 at halftime and scoring all 35 points of the second half for a 38-14 victory.
Coach Jim Tressel suggested the turning point was a defensive stop on fourth down at the OSU 20 yard line late in the first half.
“When you're behind a good team 14-3, it's hard. When you're behind a good team 21-3, it's real hard. That's why that stop was so huge,” he said.
OK, we'll buy that.
But it probably wasn't the real turning point.
That was when the gun sounded to end the half and the Buckeyes were cascaded with boos from many in the crowd of 105,466 at Ohio Stadium.
OSU is 63-7 at home in the last 10 seasons. The Buckeyes are still in the hunt for a sixth straight Big Ten championship. They still have a shot at another BCS bowl date. Boos?
Sure, the Bucks may not always be electrifying. Tressel Ball, as some Ohio State fans call it, can be exasperating at times because of its conservative bent, but the basic premise behind it is that defense will win providing the offense doesn't muck it up and it's hard to argue with the results. OSU may not always score style points, but it usually scores more plain old points than the opposition.
True, the Buckeyes were not crisp in the first half Saturday. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor hit a big play and his team moved 71 yards to a field goal on the first drive of the game, but OSU managed only about the same yardage on its next four possessions. Penn State got some impressive play from its fairly raw quarterback and scored two touchdowns and came close to more. Coming from an 11-point halftime deficit, believe it or not, would be the biggest comeback for a Tressel-coached OSU team.
So they booed. Not a couple of them or a dozen or even hundreds. Try thousands. It was loud. One might say the Buckeyes were washed in boos.
A few of them shrugged it off after the game.
“Well, we didn't hear the boos,” lied linebacker Brian Rolle.
“I didn't pay attention to it,” hedged defensive end Cameron Heyward.
“To be honest with you, I didn't blame them,” said offensive guard Justin Boren.
Really? Dane Sanzenbacher, you're a senior. You've lost four conference games in four years. Have you ever heard boos in the Horseshoe?
“I don't think so,” the receiver from Toledo said.
It didn't bother you?
“Well… I guess it's a situation where we understand how obsessed our fans are for Ohio State football,” he said. “They live and die with us. Running off, I guess I was thinking I'd want to boo us too. So, um, is that politically correct enough?”
Sanzenbacher went on to say that it was the Buckeyes, not the fans, who had to make something happen. And he was part of that with a touchdown catch on one of the more bizarre plays of the season.
“One catch and it wasn't thrown to me,” he said, laughing.
Leading by 17-14, Pryor let fly with a deep, towering, fair-catch of a pass intended for DeVier Posey, who just happened to be covered by two Penn State defenders. It was neither a good decision nor a good throw. But the ball bounced off Posey or one or both of his defenders and caromed right into Sanzenbacher's hands just outside the end zone for a 58-yard scoring play and a 24-14 lead.
Add in interception returns by Devon Torrence (34 yards) and Travis Howard (30 yards) for touchdowns – never doubt the theory behind Tressel Ball – as OSU turned up the pressure and altered its coverages against the short curls, outs, and slant tactics of PSU quarterback Matt McGloin, and it became an easy victory for the Buckeyes.
So they will take their 9-1 record to Iowa City next Saturday for a monster Big Ten game against the Hawkeyes and they will be booed mercilessly by the fans at Kinnick Stadium. But that's different. That's hostile territory.
On a day when Wisconsin ran up 83 points on Indiana, when Purdue could manage only 16 points at home against Michigan's defense, when even Minnesota won a game, the strangest thing that happened in the Big Ten, just maybe, was OSU's football team being booed at home.
“That's Ohio State fans,” Posey said. “They're picky and so spoiled that they want everything. We love them, but …”
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.