Oct 25, 2002
By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Two overtime losses this season still rankle No. 18 Penn State.
Upending No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday would go a long way toward ending the Nittany Lions' torment after losing 42-35 to Iowa and 27-24 to Michigan in extra time.
"Beating Ohio State would get us right back up to where we could and should have been," center Joe Iorio said.
Unlike Penn State (5-2, 2-2), the Buckeyes (8-0, 3-0) have escaped close situations with wins in regulation. Cincinnati receivers dropped two touchdown passes in the final minute of Ohio State's 23-19 win.
Northwestern played the Buckeyes well before Ohio State won 27-16 in a game that was closer than the score indicated. Last week, the Buckeyes needed a fourth-quarter interception by wide receiver/cornerback Chris Gamble to preserve a 19-14 win.
Asked about the latest close call, coach Jim Tressel said, "What did we do well? We hung in there. We kept believing."
A win puts Ohio State in good position to win the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes do not play Iowa, which is 4-0 in the league, and the toughest games they have left against Minnesota and Michigan are at home.
"Every week is a big game, every week is a national championship," defensive lineman Kenny Peterson said. "That's what we're playing for. We can't take a week off."
Penn State must find a way to contain tailback Maurice Clarett, who is averaging 140 yards a game. He needs 147 yards to break Robert Smith's school record for yards rushing by a freshman.
"The only thing I'm really worried about right now is beating Penn State," Clarett said. "The yards, they're going to be there. If we lose this week, nobody's going to be talking about the 147 yards, they'll be talking about the Buckeyes' loss."
Clarett's ability to pick up yards opens things up for quarterback Craig Krenzel to look for Michael Jenkins and Gamble. The Buckeyes are averaging 229 yards rushing and 197 yards passing.
The home team has won eight of the nine meetings between the teams since Penn State joined the Big Ten. That trend held a year ago in Happy Valley. After Ohio State led 27-9 in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions came back with an 18-0 run to win 29-27.
"What we're thinking about is what we've got going right now," Ohio State strong safety Mike Doss said. "Last year is gone."
Zack Mills shredded the Buckeyes with his running and passing in the second half of that game. Running back Larry Johnson is coming off a Penn State-record 257 yards against Northwestern.
But Penn State can't let go of the two tough losses. Coach Joe Paterno even criticized Big Ten officials in the setbacks.
"We are playing good football," Paterno said. "I don't know how much better we can get, except with development. I could sit here and moan again about a couple of calls and a couple of overtime plays. Then we're fighting for a national championship."
Mills said Saturday's game is the most important one he's ever played.
"It's the biggest game we've played so far, the biggest game of my career," Mills said. "Emotions are going to be high."
Penn State coach Joe Paterno hopes to lead the 5-2 Nittany Lions past Ohio State on Saturday.