Quarterback Troy Smith watches the clock in the final moments of Ohio State's 17-10 loss Saturday at Penn State.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - In the aftermath of a 17-10 loss to Penn State, the Ohio State Buckeyes were left scrounging around for a new mantra.
Their talk of pursuing a second national championship in a four-year span had been silenced by the din surrounding Penn State's euphoria.
It is the 6-0 Nittany Lions who are still very much in that shrinking club of candidates for the Rose Bowl, where the national title will be decided. The Buckeyes had their world shaken and their future shrouded in doubt by falling to 3-2.
With the defeat, Ohio State's bowl possibilities likely shifted from the West Coast to Florida, and its hopes of winning a Big Ten crown now will not come without some help. Penn State is the conference's only unbeaten team and plays Saturday at Michigan. The Buckeyes are just one of seven Big Ten teams with one loss in the league.
Ohio State's leaders tried to don a brave face following the loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes' fifth loss in their last six road games.
Senior linebacker Bobby Carpenter bristled at the suggestion Ohio State now has to struggle to salvage something out a season that was filled with such optimism just a month ago, before a narrow loss to No. 2 Texas.
"Salvage is a term I wouldn't use," Carpenter said. "That sounds like you're picking something off the scrap table. We're a good team.
We've lost two tough games to two good teams. We should have won both games, and we were in them until the end, but we didn't play well enough as a team."
Against Penn State, what the Buckeyes did on offense made life nearly impossible for the defense. An interception set Penn State up at the two yard line for what proved to be the winning touchdown, and a fumble in the closing minutes let the Nittany Lions sit on the ball and consume the clock.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk fell on the sword for his team, after leading a defense that allowed only 195 yards in defeat. He refused to blame the untimely interception for the loss.
"We tried to look at it as something that put us in a bad spot, but it was an opportunity for the defense," Hawk said. "If we could have had a goal-line stand, then that would have been a huge momentum change for us. That's our job to stop them, and we didn't do it tonight."
Hawk, who had three tackles for a loss in the game, further blamed the OSU defense for not creating any big momentum swings on its own.
"We were talking about turnovers the whole night," Hawk said. "We needed to get a couple, and we didn't. When you lose the turnover margin, it's hard to win the game. We needed to give the offense the ball in better field position."
The win by Penn State marked the first time in more than 40 years in this series that the higher-ranked team lost. Carpenter acknowledged thatthe Buckeyes, who host once-beaten Michigan State this week, now have a difficult path ahead of them.
"It is going to be tough. Every team in the Big Ten has a loss now, except for Penn State," Carpenter said. "So, we've got to go into every game hoping to play our best and figure out ways to play better on the road."
Hawk said despite the second loss and its impact on the team's lofty goals, there is no sense of panic or despair.
"We're not worried about that," Hawk said. "This is a tough loss, but any loss is a tough loss. We have too much character on this team and too many guys who have been around a long time to just go lay down."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.
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