Ohio State put its new air-oriented offense on display yesterday, and Penn State brought it crashing back to earth.
The score was 19-0 and Ohio State was fortunate, it was that close.
Coach Woody Hayes had closed his preseason practices, and yesterday he unveiled a new, wide-open passing offense featuring freshman quarterback Art Schlicher. The offensive strategy marked a wide departure from the Buckeyes' usual crunching ground game.
The philosophy fizzed as Penn State intercepted five of Schlichter's passes and made him fumble away the ball another time. Ohio State turned the ball over eight times while Penn State had only one giveaway.
"We never felt they could move the ball on us and I never thought we were in any danger," said Penn State Coach Joe Paterno.
He added he was not surprised by Ohio State's passing.
"They weren't going to run on us. I knew that," Paterno said, "(Matt) Millen and (Bruce) Clark are two of the best defensive linemen in the country and this is our strongest defense physically since 1969."
Matt Suhey scored on a three-yard run in the third quarter and Matt Bahr kicked four field goals and an extra point to account for the scoring.
The best chance Ohio State had at scoring was in the game's final minute against Penn State's second team. The Buckeyes had a first down and goal at the three and in four downs lost two yards.
It was that kind of game for Ohio State.
This was the fist shutout of Ohio State since Michigan did the trick in 1976. The Buckeyes now have lost three games in a row, including the final two last season.
Penn State had looked mediocre in earlier victories over Temple and Rutgers and after the first half ended with the visitors nursing a 3-0 lead yesterday, it didn't appear the Nittnay Lions had improved much.
Ohio State had outgained them by 100 yards in the first half and it was the four turnovers in eight possessions that kept the Buckeyes from scoring.
Chuck Fusina, Penn State's all-American candidate at quarterback, was only six of 14 passing for 65 yards that half. Then, early in the third quarter, Fusina got sacked for the fifth and what turned out to be the last time. On the next play he threw his only interception and Penn State's only turnover of the game.
On Penn State's next series, however, the Nittany Lions flexed their muscles and drove 80 yards in 13 plays on a six-minute drive. Fusina threw only one pass on that series and alternated running backs Suhey and Mike Guman on drives over tackle the other 12 plays. Sukey's three-yard touchdown run and Bahr's coversion gave Penn State a 10-0 lead.
After that drive it seemed Penn State was convinced it could out muscle the Buckeyes.
Suhey carried eight times for 41 yards and Guman four for 19 on the touchdown drive.
"Our kids came in at halftime and said they thought they could run on them," Paterno said. "So I said, "Why ont&'"
Ohio State got desperate after that and Schlichter, who ended the day completing 12 of 26 passes for 182 yards, went four for 10 and threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter before being relieved.
Bahr turned each of Schlichter's fourth-period interceptions into field goals. He now has kicked nine of 11 in only three games, and this was the second straight game in which he has kicked four.
"This was about as bad an opener as we have ever played," Hayes said. "There were just too many turnovers. Penn State's defense had a lot to do with that, but some of our trouble was of our own making."
Though he kept it a secret, Hayes said he decided last week to start Schlichter ahead of two-year starter and All-Big Ten quarterback Rod Gerald. He said the decision was made partly because Gerald had has been slowed by a leg injury much of the preseason.
"We will stay with Schlichter, but we will also use Rod," Hayes added.
Ohio State's passing attack was plagued by the same ailment that afflicted its running game for so many years - predictability. The Buckeyes passed in all the obvious passing situations and ran on the obvious running downs.It's attack may have been wide open, but it was not very imaginative.
Ohio State was backed up on its 11-and eight-yard lines, for instance, Hayes put Gerald at quarterback and the Buckeyes staged on the ground. Once there was good field position, Hayes returned to Schlichter.
"We thought we could throw on them because they lost most of their secondary from last year," Hayes said. "But they were much better in that area than we expected.
"What we have to do now is go back and establish a running game to go along with our passing." After a pause, Hayes added, "I never thought I'd be saying that."