STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Ryan Shazier exchanged his usual No. 10 in honor of a late friend Saturday.
Then he went out and played the best game of his career.
The sophomore linebacker believes he had help in the Buckeyes’ 35-23 victory over Penn State.
Before he made the back-to-back plays that turned the game, he slipped on a No. 48 jersey as a tribute to Gary Curtis, a former classmate and the manager of his football team in Plantation, Fla. Curtis battled muscular dystrophy and died this spring.
“He always had the No. 48,” Shazier said. “No matter what, coaches always had the number for him. I was really close to him. So I felt like wearing his number this year was really going to be an honor. That’s him playing out there today.”
Something was at work. With the game tied, Shazier sacked quarterback Matt McGloin on Penn State’s second play of the third quarter, then picked him off on the next and rumbled 17 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
“It felt amazing because it almost felt like a dream,” he said. “I had dropped so many picks this year. When I caught the ball, it felt amazing. It was a great momentum change.”
Shazier, the Buckeyes’ leading tackler, appears at last to be showcasing the full potential of a talent Meyer believes will develop into an all-conference linebacker.
“He’s kind of an out-of-control guy that misses tackles and overruns it,” Meyer said. “I thought last week was just beautiful the way he played. Shuffle, shuffle, and then he accelerated so quick. I think he’s playing his best football.”
And on Saturday, he had help.
“I was thinking about [Curtis] the whole game,” Shazier said. “I felt like he was playing through me. He was telling me what was going on, he had my back.”
PACK THE HOUSE: A primetime visit from Ohio State provided just the elixir for the Nittany Lions’ attendance struggles.
After swaths of empty seats greeted Penn State in the first four home games, the place rocked Saturday. Students who had camped out since Monday rushed into the stadium two hours before kickoff, and the 106,500-seat stadium did not stop filling until 107,818 fans packed the stands.
The sex-abuse scandal and NCAA sanctions had taken a toll on ticket demand, with four of the eight smallest crowds since Beaver Stadium expanded in 2001. An average of 96,000 fans turned out for the home dates.
But as usual, OSU was a big-ticket draw. The Buckeyes have been the opponent for two of the four largest crowds in Beaver Stadium history. The 110,134 that witnessed Ohio State’s 37-17 win over PSU on Oct. 27, 2007, trails only the 110,753 in attendance for Penn State’s 40-10 win over Nebraska on Sept. 14, 2002.
KICKER WOES: Talk about having trust issues.
When Penn State faced fourth-and-7 at the Buckeyes’ 20 in a scoreless second quarter — and then fourth-and-12 after a false start — coach Bill O’Brien left his kicker on the bench.
Not surprisingly, the PSU failed to convert the longshot scenario. (Matt McGloin completed an 8-yard pass.) But O’Brien clearly liked almost any odds better than those of Chris Ficken nailing a mid-range field goal.
The Nittany Lions’ kicking woes have been an enduring theme.
After incumbent starter Anthony Fera transferred to Texas and another kicker left the program, the sophomore Ficken remained the only option. He missed 4 of 5 attempts and an extra point in Penn State’s 17-16 Week 2 loss at Virginia and was 3 for 9 on Saturday.
Ficken made a 27-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter.
EXTRA POINTS: Another number change: freshman linebacker David Perkins switched from No. 25 to No. 21 to avoid doubling up with tailback Bri’onte Dunn on special teams. … Senior cornerback Zach Domicone, a starter on the kick coverage unit, missed the trip with a leg injury suffered during practice Thursday. … Penn State returned a blocked punt for a touchdown for the first time since a 2010 win over Indiana.