Penn State Nittany Lions: Alex Butterworth

It's never too late -- or too early -- to see what we learned from this past season and also look ahead to next season. So, we've started breaking down each position and unit on the Nittany Lions.

Up today: Special teams

REWIND

[+] EnlargeFicken
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesPenn State kicker Sam Ficken made 15-of-23 field goals this season.
Expectations entering the 2013 season: Despite kicker Sam Ficken's strong end to the season before, confidence wasn't exactly brimming after the kicker's sub-par performance in the Blue-White Game. Punter Alex Butterworth's limited ceiling didn't exactly inspire excitement, and it was simply hoped Penn State's special teams wouldn't cost the team any games. It wouldn't be good in 2013 ... but it couldn't possibly be worse than 2012, right?

How they fared: Ficken started off hot, broke the school record for consecutive made field goals (15), and then promptly cooled off and returned to his inconsistency from the season before. Butterworth had a marginally better year.

If this unit improved from 2012, it wasn't by much. Poor special teams cost Penn State a win against Nebraska, as Ficken missed a field goal and an extra point and Kenny Bell returned a kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown. PSU lost in overtime, 23-20. It was another season to forget for special teams.

What we learned: Ficken remains inconsistent. After nailing 15 straight field goals, it was pretty easy to jump on the kicker's bandwagon. But he still finished the season by making just 15-of-23 field goals (65 percent). He shortened up his approach, spent a year fine-tuning his new technique, succeeded and then ... well ... it just seemed to fall apart. It'll be difficult for fans or coaches to trust Ficken again, even if he remains the starting kicker.

Grading the position: D-minus. Butterworth downed 17 of 51 punts inside the 20, and Jesse Della Valle averaged a respectable 8.7 yards on punt returns. But there's not a lot of good to say outside of that. PSU finished near the bottom in just about every other special-teams category, such as kick return average (19.14 yards -- 100th in nation). If it wasn't for minor improvements by those two, this position would've easily gotten a failing grade. Heck, the argument could be made that it still probably deserves one.

FAST FORWARD

Key losses: Butterworth. He averaged 39.2 yards a punt, so it's not as if he's irreplaceable. Rising sophomore run-on Chris Gulla looks as if he'll take over punting duties since, well, there's just no one else. Gulla was groomed as Butterworth's replacement.

Position stock watch: On hold. Can special teams really fare much worse? Penn State added a kicker to its 2014 class in Troy Stivason and Gulla is more accustomed to field-goal kicking than punting anyway, so Penn State certainly has options there. It shouldn't be too difficult to match Butterworth's production; it just really comes down to the other areas like kickoff coverage, kickoff returns, etc. PSU will have more scholarships to work with in 2014, so it won't be forced to use players on special teams who just aren't ready -- or at least not as much as before. It's a wait-and-see approach with this unit as there's still plenty of question marks, but there should be some cautious optimism here.

Key to next season: Field-goal kicking. Penn State needs to put points on the scoreboard when it has the ability, so that's clearly the priority on all the special teams. Sure, it'll be breaking in a new punter ... but what's more costly -- a punter who averages 35 yards a kick or a kicker who makes 60 percent of his FGs? If Ficken picks up where he left off, the staff might not have much patience left over. Gulla has a year under his belt, and Stivason might be able to push as well. Ficken needs to improve, or someone else needs to step up.

O'Brien pushes limits on fourth down

October, 14, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien's gutsy decision to go for it Saturday on fourth-and-1 in the fourth overtime still has this town talking.

Punter Alex Butterworth tweeted Monday morning that everyone in his classes was still chatting about the season-defining win over Michigan. Defensive tackle Derek Dowrey said he was watching highlights in class -- and getting "hyped all over again."

[+] EnlargeBill O' Brien
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarNo coach in a BCS conference has gone for it on fouth down more since 2012 than Bill O'Brien.
Monday's conversations could have been markedly different had O'Brien decided to play it safe and instead try for the 33-yard field goal to force a fifth overtime. But there has been nothing safe about O'Brien's play-calling since he arrived in Happy Valley.

Since O'Brien took over, only two other coaches -- Air Force's Troy Calhoun and Army's Rich Ellerson -- have decided to go for it more often. Both coaches have left their kickers twiddling their thumbs on the sideline 57 times since the start of last season, while O'Brien has done it 51 times.

Penn State players were asked about all sorts of things Saturday night -- their surprise over the blocked field goal, their emotions after the game-winning TD, exactly when their shock gave way to joy -- but absent were any questions about whether they were surprised to see O'Brien march the offense out on the field in place of the field-goal unit.

No one asked because this was normal by O'Brien standards. There was no bewilderment from the players, the media or the fans. This was just Bill O'Brien. In fact, the head coach was thinking of gambling well before the game hit a Big Ten-record fourth OT.

He initially stuck two fingers in the air following Christian Hackenberg's improbable touchdown drive in the final minute of regulation. "I changed my mind and went with the PAT," he said.

So when that fourth-and-1 situation reared its head in overtime No. 4? When PSU found itself on the 16-yard line? When O'Brien had another chance to ditch the conservative play-calling? There was no question about what O'Brien wanted to do. He didn't hesitate.

"If you miss," one reporter told him, "you're going to get crucified by everybody."

"Of course I'm going to get crucified," O'Brien said, shrugging his shoulders. "That's part of the job. The thing is at that point in time, it was the fourth overtime and I felt like it was time for someone to win the game. We could sit here and keep trading field goals back and forth, but eventually it was time for someone to win the game -- and I had the opportunity to do it."

O'Brien, whose go-to play last season was the quarterback sneak, instead opted to call a handoff to his 205-pound tailback, Bill Belton. The junior didn't hit the hole right away, instead waiting for a block from his fullback -- pushing him forward with a left hand on his back -- and then diving forward for 3 yards.

"That was a heck of a run," O'Brien said.

It was a heck of a play-call, one that led to the game-winning score. But the decision was almost expected. O'Brien opted to go for it twice before in the game, including a curious first-quarter call when PSU found itself on its own 34. Against Indiana, PSU again kept kicker Sam Ficken on the sideline on a fourth-and-5 play from the IU 26. Pick out any random game, and you can find plenty of examples.

Conventional football knowledge dictates kicking the ball and, during Saturday's overtime, most coaches likely would've called upon their kicker for the 33-yard attempt -- especially considering Ficken hadn't missed a field goal under 40 yards since about 54 weeks ago. But there has been nothing conventional about these Nittany Lions ever since Jan. 7, 2012, when O'Brien became head coach and told a swarm of media, "I have a lot of confidence in my ability to lead us through what some say is a tough time."

He led Penn State to a tough win Saturday. And, although he was mostly reserved while fielding questions from reporters, he couldn't hide his emotions in the immediate aftermath of a 43-40 victory over Michigan. He jogged over to the student section, while fans leaned over the railing to pat his shoulder, arm, back, whatever they could get a hold of. He closed his eyes while thrusting his arms into the air.

At this rate, O'Brien will hit the century-mark for fourth down attempts by the final game of the 2014 season. He'll still be a gambler. But, out of all the fourth downs he has gone for or ever will go for, none might top this one.

"I've never been in a game like this," he said.

Five things: Penn State-Kent State

September, 21, 2013
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The Nittany Lions' defense will seek redemption at Beaver Stadium after a disappointing performance last week. Here's what we'll be watching in Penn State's final non-conference game before the Big Ten season.

Turning around the defense: PSU surrendered more than 500 yards to UCF, but the defense's test should be markedly easier this week. Kent State's top player, Darren Sproles-clone Dri Archer, is doubtful, and the Golden Flashes rank No. 108 in scoring. Kent State doesn't have much of a passing game, and its offensive line is overmatched. This is either the game that helps get PSU back on track ... or shows that PSU will be in for a long Big Ten season.

Hackenberg Fever: Christian Hackenberg has already won two Big Ten freshman of the week honors, and he could be in for a third this week. He has continually evolved since Week 1, and even Adam Rittenberg decided to drop Taylor Martinez on his fantasy team in favor of Hackenberg. The true freshman is completing more than 70 percent of his passes, and he'll likely pad his stats some against a not-so-good Kent State defense. At his current pace, he'd surpass Matt McGloin's single-season record of 3,266 passing yards in the final game.

Three-headed running attack: Who will lead the Nittany Lions in rushing this game? Well, you have about a one-in-three chance of being correct. PSU likes to involve each of its three scholarship tailbacks, and Bill O'Brien tends to go with the hot hand. Zach Zwinak gets most of the carries as the bruising, 240-pound back -- but Akeel Lynch is a one-cut, speedy change-of-pace runner. And Bill Belton actually leads the team in average yards per carry with 8.1. The trio has combined for 535 yards and eight touchdowns through the first three weeks.

Gambling O'Brien: For those who know the Penn State head coach, it comes as no surprise that only three teams this season have gone for it more on fourth down. It's expected. Of the 26 fourth downs that Penn State has faced, it has opted to go for the first down six times, punt 14 times and attempt a field goal six times. The Lions have converted all but one of their fourth-down attempts, which ties them for 10th in the country in conversion percentage. It's a strategy that has paid off for O'Brien, and it's a trend that doesn't look to end anytime soon.

Especially special teams: The Nittany Lions ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in every special teams category in 2012 but are at the middle or near the top this season. PSU is No. 6 in kickoff return average (22.7 yards), No. 3 in punt return average (14.6 yards) and has missed only one field goal -- a 57-yard attempt that fell just short. Eugene Lewis has added a lot to the return game and seems poised to break one eventually, while kicker Sam Ficken is the most improved player since last season. If Alex Butterworth can improve his leg strength and/or consistency, these special teams would be in great shape.

Most to prove in the Big Ten

August, 28, 2013
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Every season, each Big Ten player, coach and team sets out to prove something. Maybe it's to prove last season was just a hiccup or that this season is the start of something special.

Whatever it is, some naturally have more to prove than others. So here's a look at 10 players, units and coaches in the Big Ten who have the most to prove:

[+] EnlargeAndrew Maxwell
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAndrew Maxwell could be on a short leash in East Lansing, so he has plenty to prove.
1. Michigan State QB Andrew Maxwell. Despite starting every game last season, Maxwell was just named the 2013 starter on Tuesday. So it's not exactly a stretch to think he's on a short leash. Connor Cook will get some playing time Friday, Tyler O'Connor is "in the mix" and true freshman Damion Terry wowed the staff in a recent scrimmage. If Maxwell doesn't quickly prove he's the right man for the job, he'll be watching the right man from the bench.

2. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz/offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Are Ferentz's best years behind him? And was last year's passing offense the start of a trend for Davis? The Hawkeyes finished last season at 4-8, their worst record since 2000, and finished with the nation's No. 114 offense. There are plenty of questions surrounding both of these coaches right now, and quieting them would certainly go a long way in proving Iowa's winning tradition isn't gone for good.

3. Penn State special teams. The Nittany Lions ranked near the bottom statistically in nearly every special teams category in the Big Ten last year. They were tied for ninth in field goal percentage, 11th in punting average, last in kick return average and ninth in punt return average. Sam Ficken rebounded in the second half of the season after missing four field goals against Virginia, but he was sporadic again in the Blue-White Game. Alex Butterworth's hang time also needs to improve.

4. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell. He guided Kent State to an impressive 11-3 record last season, became the Mid-American Conference coach of the year and nearly earned a berth in the Rose Bowl. But that was the MAC and this is the Big Ten. There's a big difference, and he wants to show fans of the gold and black that kind of success can carry over.

5. Michigan QB Devin Gardner. He has big shoes to fill when it comes to replacing Denard Robinson, but expectations are already soaring for the player who has started just four career games at quarterback. Some sporting books have increased Gardner's odds at the Heisman to 25-to-1, which means increased confidence, and Michigan is expected to compete with Ohio State for the conference title this season. That's a lot of pressure and, by default, means Gardner has a lot to prove.

6. Wisconsin front seven. New coach Gary Andersen is hoping the new 3-4 defense can create some headaches for opposing offenses, and the front seven here are trying to show they're quick studies. Wisconsin will have to rely on these seven to win, and their adjustment to the new scheme will have a direct impact on the number of marks in the "W" column.

7. Ohio State defensive line. Having four new starters tends to mean there are question marks, and this young group will have to answer them. Noah Spence came in as the nation's No. 4 recruit back in 2012, and reports all seem to conclude he's living up to the hype. Depth here isn't great and neither is experience, but talent and health are the main things that matter.

8. Nebraska defense. There's no problem on the offensive side of the ball with players such as Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah, but defense is what's preventing this team from being great. The Huskers' run defense ranked 90th in the nation last season -- allowing 653 yards, 498 yards, 640 yards and 589 yards in their four losses -- and they could be even worse this year. Three new linebackers will take the field, and Nebraska lost two of its top pass-rushers. A lot to prove? You bet.

9. Michigan RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. There's no way around it. You have to use the term "disappointment" when referring to Toussaint's 2012 season. Coming off a breakout 1,000-yard campaign in 2011, he struggled last season, averaging just four yards a carry and running inconsistently before breaking his leg against Iowa. He wants to show that 2012 was an aberration.

10. Badgers' receivers outside of Jared Abbrederis. If you're having difficulty naming a Wisconsin receiver other than Abbrederis, don't feel bad. Abbrederis caught 49 balls last season -- more than all of the other Wisconsin wideouts combined (48). Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson and Kenzel Doe will need to step up to make sure secondaries don't just focus on the fifth-year senior.

5 lessons learned: PSU's media day

August, 9, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's media day might be over, but there's still plenty to reflect on.

Here's a look at five lessons learned from a day spent talking to coaches and players:

1. Tyler Ferguson currently boasts the early edge at quarterback. That wasn't a huge surprise, considering Christian Hackenberg enrolled over the summer while Ferguson started school in January. But Hackenberg has picked up things quickly, and there's no telling where the race might be in another week or two.

But, as luck would have it, that's exactly when Bill O'Brien hopes -- hopes -- to name the starter. The head coach isn't a fan of waiting until the night before the season opener because he wants the starter to get more reps with the first team. At this juncture, most of the media believes Hackenberg will start ... but O'Brien said that Ferguson holds the slight lead right now.

2. Linebacker is the biggest concern when it comes to depth. Penn State might be known as Linebacker U, but it's not very big on quantity this season. When asked about depth on defense -- since the DTs don't have the greatest numbers either -- O'Brien didn't hesitate in expressing his concern over the linebacker unit.

Nyeem Wartman will start as a redshirt freshman and the top backup, Ben Kline, is still coming off a shoulder injury and didn't participate in Thursday's practice. One more injury at this spot could spell doom for this defense. Safeties such as Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong could come in relief of Wartman on passing downs, but there's only so many tweaks this staff can make to shore up the depth here.

3. Special teams are a point of focus. The Nittany Lions finished among the bottom of the country in just about every special teams category last season -- No. 103 in net punting, No. 90 in punt returns, No. 112 in kick returns, etc. O'Brien said the team is working hard on improving those numbers.

Sam Ficken remains the starting kicker, but he should be pushed by preferred walk-on Chris Gulla. That true freshman has also practiced punting a lot, so he should also compete with Alex Butterworth. And, as far as kick returners, those duties remain between eight candidates -- including Richy Anderson, Alex Kenney, Bill Belton, Trevor Williams, Akeel Lynch and Eugene Lewis.

4. Newest injuries don't affect depth that much. True freshman wideout DaeSean Hamilton, a four-star wideout from Virginia, is out for the season with a wrist injury suffered from high school. But Hamilton was a redshirt candidate before the announcement, and the corps there is pretty deep. PSU shouldn't miss a beat at wideout.

Redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson also suffered a back injury and is "out for a while," although O'Brien declined to elaborate. Regardless, tight end is the deepest position on the roster -- and there are at least four other tight ends who could see time here. Kyle Carter and Jesse James remain the starters, but Matt Lehman is a solid backup and Adam Breneman could see time as a true freshman.

5. WR Allen Robinson is just getting started. Robinson broke the longstanding school-record for receptions last season, but assistant coach Stan Hixon said Robinson has just scratched the surface of his potential. The All-Big Ten wideout improved his strength, speed and hounded teammates over the summer for some extra 7-on-7 drills.

Robinson acknowledged he might not top last year's numbers -- 77 catches, 1,013 yards, 11 TDs -- but that doesn't mean he's not a better wideout. He has been timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and he has worked hard on winning more one-on-one battles this offseason. He's a good basketball player with a strong vertical leap, and he could be the big-play threat this offense desperately needs. He's the best player on this offense -- and he has gotten better. Much better.

Meet the run-ons: K Chris Gulla 

February, 19, 2013
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Every weekday, as part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will take a closer look at a Penn State walk-on.

Vitals: Kicker Chris Gulla, Toms River (N.J.) North, 6-foot-2, 195 pounds.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Players' tweets start up a little after 4:30 a.m., that strange time when it's not quite day and not quite night. Traffic lights blink yellow along College Avenue, and -- outside of a whirring Herr's potato chip truck -- the roads are silent.

Penn State workout
Josh Moyer/ESPNPenn State's players participated in an early workout Friday.
On this starless night ... or morning (take your pick) ... players pry their heads off their pillows and descend on the nearby Lasch Football Building. Streetlights around town still shine, and not a single student is spotted walking on a campus that holds more than 40,000.

But Garry Gilliam, a tight end turned offensive tackle, is up. He tweeted, at 4:39 a.m, "They sleep, we grind. They dream, we shine."

On this Friday, Penn State football players' days have already started. In about 30 minutes, their morning workouts will begin.

5:12 a.m.

Bill O'Brien walks onto the field with a whistle draped around his neck. The players are still inside the building, throwing on their gray T-shirts and blue shorts, and Penn State's dimple-chinned coach awaits them in the 31-degree weather.

Four bright stadium lights for the practice field are flipped on, and snow covers the perimeter of the turf. O'Brien chats with the staff and grad assistants, who constantly shift their weight from one leg to another to stay warm. He's cracking jokes, smiling and seems to be acting as if it's 3 p.m. He's ready.

"We should've had this at 3," he says with a nod.

About five minutes later, players burst from the weight room doors. Some hold their hands in the air, almost as if they're running through the south tunnel of Beaver Stadium. They yell, they chatter, they run.

The nearby stereo starts blaring LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem," and the drills begin.

5:28 a.m.

Strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, an eccentric-but-beloved guy who's been known to lick the weight room floor and do the worm in pregames, is dressed in his trademark shorts, backward hat and T-shirt.

Players break into six groups. Some flip tires, others weave through cones, and others stretch. Fitzgerald guides about a dozen to the northwest corner of the field. If he pumps his arms left, they go left. Right, they go right. Down? Their stomachs kiss the turf.

But O'Brien isn't liking what he's seeing. He cuts the music, and the entire field falls silent like a third-grade classroom that's ticked off the schoolteacher for the last time.

"I don't see the intensity I'm expecting!" O'Brien barks. "Let's do it!"

The pace noticeably picks up.

(Read full post)

Position review: Special teams 

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
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Every day for two weeks, NittanyNation is taking a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.

Today: Special teams

[+] EnlargeSam Ficken
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireFans stood behind Penn State kicker Sam Ficken, who gained confidence as the season went on.
In early October, it wouldn't have been a stretch to say Penn State had the worst kicker/punter combo in the nation. Sam Ficken was just 2-of-8, and Alex Butterworth was wildly inconsistent. As a whole, special teams was in disarray.

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5 storylines: Indiana vs. Penn State 

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
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Every week, NittanyNation takes a look at five storylines that stand out: What should fans keep an eye on? What's the bigger picture? What might be on display Saturday?

Here are NittanyNation's Week 12 storylines:

1. Allen Robinson will make Penn State history. The sophomore wideout needs just one catch to break Penn State's single-season mark for receptions. He's currently tied with former PSU greats Bobby Engram and O.J. McDuffie with 63 catches. Robinson hasn't gone one game with a reception, so he figures to break this mark early. He was a third-string wideout last season, and few expected him to be the No. 1 wideout this year -- let alone breaking records like this. He'll be in the spotlight Saturday.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Nebraska 32, PSU 23 

November, 11, 2012
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Zach Zwinak, Daimion StaffordAP Photo/Nati HarnikZach Zwinak showed his moves against Nebraska on Saturday.

The good and the bad from Penn State's 32-23 loss to Nebraska on Saturday:

THREE UP

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Penn State 10: Week 9 power rankings 

October, 29, 2012
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Welcome to Week 9 of NittanyNation's power rankings, a top-10 list of Penn State players who are surpassing expectations, and who to keep an eye on.

After a rough loss against Ohio State, quite a few offensive contributors fell off the list. But some new players stepped up, and a few made big leaps on the list.

Whose performance left the biggest impression, and whose contributions were the most surprising? This week's top 10:

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3 Up, 3 Down: OSU 35, Penn State 23 

October, 28, 2012
10/28/12
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The good and the bad from Penn State's 35-23 loss to Ohio State on Saturday night:

THREE UP
1. Mike Hull has a bright future: The No. 4 linebacker, who's a lock to become a starter next season, again came away with two big plays Saturday. On the same drive, he sacked Braxton Miller for a six-yard loss and then blocked a punt that Michael Yancich recovered for a touchdown. Had PSU won, that would've been the deciding point to the game. Hull definitely gives this defense some hope for the next season.

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Loss carries big sting for Penn State

October, 27, 2012
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Matthew McGloinRich Barnes/US PresswireMatt McGloin threw for 327 yards against Ohio State, but his third-quarter interception directly cost the Nittany Lions seven points.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien folded his arms after the game and furiously chewed a white piece of gum as the alma mater played.

Some players declined to remove their helmets. Center Matt Stankiewitch didn't even move his lips; backup QB Shane McGregor rested a right hand on his shoulder.

This was a statement game, the game that was supposed to show sanctions couldn't beat these Nittany Lions. That Bill O'Brien couldn't be out-prepared. That Penn State was the best team in the Big Ten.

Instead, Penn State showed it's good, not great. That those first two losses weren't just exceptions -- but were as tied to this team's identity as the five consecutive victories.

Penn State showed Saturday it belongs, right now, with the Wisconsins of the Big Ten -- not the Ohio States.

"I didn't do a very good job tonight as the head football coach," said O'Brien, whose eyes seemed to glimmer beneath the bright lights of the postgame news conference.

O'Brien often smiled before this contest and told the press he wasn't a genie, but a strong fan base still believed in O'Brien as if he were. His squad beat teams with better talent and somehow improved a patchwork offense that lost 10 starters. But Penn State's luck ran out Saturday. It turned into a pumpkin three hours before the clock struck midnight.

(Read full post)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Ineligi-Bowl turned into an indelible moment for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes came into a frenzied Beaver Stadium and sliced up a red-hot Penn State team 35-23, leaving no doubt which team is the best in the Leaders Division and the entire Big Ten. Ohio State improved to 9-0 and inched one step closer to its goal of a perfect 12-0 season under first-year coach Urban Meyer.

Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Braxton Miller squeezed a third-down pass into the hands of Jake Stoneburner, who had nothing but daylight in front of him for a 72-yard touchdown catch with 6:11 remaining. That made it 35-16 and extinguished any hope of a Penn State comeback.

Game ball goes to: The Ohio State defense. Penn State's offense came into the night on a roll, but the Buckeyes applied pressure to quarterback Matt McGloin all night and didn't allow an offensive touchdown by the Nittany Lions until there was 9:49 left in the game.

Stat of the game: Ohio State had 233 rushing yards to just 32 for Penn State. Miller piled up 134 of those, along with two scores. He was able to dominate the game in the second half despite completing just 7-of-19 passes.

Second-guessing: Bill O'Brien's gambles have mostly paid off this season. But one backfired on fourth-and-nine from the Ohio State 43 in the third quarter. Penn State went for the fake punt, and Alex Butterworth's pass was broken up on a nice play by the Buckeyes' Adam Griffin (son of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin). Penn State's defense had been playing really well, and the flipping of field position helped Ohio State drive in for a touchdown to make it 21-10.

What it means: It was an odd meeting of two good teams who can't play in a bowl game, so no result was going to have any postseason implications. But both teams are eligible to win the Leaders Division title, and now Ohio State has a virtual two-game lead in that race with three games left. Hey, it's something.

More importantly, it continued the Buckeyes' impressive march through the Big Ten in Meyer's first year. If Ohio State keeps on winning, Associated Press voters are going to have an interesting time figuring out to do with this team, which hasn't lost but also hasn't beaten a team currently ranked in the Top 25.

For Penn State, the loss halted some serious momentum as the team had won five straight coming into Saturday. The Nittany Lions had hoped for a dominating performance to impress recruits, more than 100 of whom attended the game. This was as close to a bowl game as Penn State is going to play over the next few years. Still, one loss doesn't erase what this team is accomplishing this year.

5 storylines: Penn State vs. Ohio State 

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
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Every week, NittanyNation takes a look at five storylines that stand out: What should fans keep an eye on? What's the bigger picture? What might be on display Saturday?

Here are NittanyNation's Week 9 storylines:

[+] EnlargeMichael Zordich
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMichael Zordich said PSU has plenty to play for on Saturday.
1. Inelligi-Bowl. You can point to the NFL talent on these two teams, PSU overcoming adversity to make it this far or Ohio State's perfect record. But let's face it, everyone will be looking at the fact neither team can reach the postseason this year. But that's also what makes this game more important. A win here would put either team in the driver's seat for the Leaders Division title. That's the only accolade either team can hope for, so everything will be on the line Saturday. "That's what makes this game so important," Penn State fullback Michael Zordich said, "because both of these teams are playing just for Saturdays."

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