STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It seemed audacious, the pre-game talk from Penn State defensive star Shareef Miller. It was audacious. Just remember, Miller is a proud product of North Philly. This phenom QB from Ohio State was supposed to scare him? The defensive end had seen too much in his life, including losing his own brother to gunshots.
Pre-game, Miller had demanded to see what Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins Jr. really had. Throwing 16 touchdown passes in his first four starts meant nothing.
"Couple of guys on our team played with him,'' Miller had said, ESPN camera on him, aware the words would carry. "They told me if you hit him a lot of times, he's gonna fold."
Haskins, a New Jersey kid who moved to Maryland for high school, heard the words and fired back.
"You poking the wrong lion buddy,'' Haskins wrote on his Twitter feed, adding the hashtag #Shhh.
Miller could have simply said, "I'll take my guy." Coming into this one, it wasn't Penn State's senior Trace McSorley who was getting Heisman buzz. He'd gotten plenty in the preseason but the veteran hadn't gotten off to a big start this season, while Haskins had had come out blazing as a first-year starter . How good was this kid?
White Out was a fine night to find out. Traffic up Route 322 had been practically non-existent early Saturday afternoon. Everyone was in town and ready for the nation's fourth-ranked team and this Heisman QB. Official attendance: 110,889, new Beaver Stadium record.
The final verdict? McSorley won't forget the night he ran for the most yards by a Penn State quarterback since 1913 against the fourth-ranked team in the country. McSorley also set a school record for total offense with 461 yards.
Neither will Ohio State.
You can't say Penn State's defense rattled Haskins early but it did stifle him. Nobody could have predicted how stagnant the Buckeyes would look right off the bat. Miller didn't personally get to Haskins, although they got into it one time after an interception on a tipped pass, both earning unsportsmanlike penalties.
McSorley was the one finding his receivers or breaking loose for a field-changing run of his own when he saw nothing but open grass ahead. A 13-0 lead could have been more than twice that, with two field goals and a missed field goal part of the package. A 51-yard McSorley run was a career high. A pass and See Ya Later run by KJ Hamler for 93 yards became the longest play of McSorley's career.
By halftime, there should have been ominous music playing inside Beaver Stadium, everyone clearly understanding a 13-7 lead in no way reflected the play, after the Buckeyes had gotten their lone score fter decoding a Nits blitz, right after a Nits fumble. For that first half, Penn State had gained seven yards a play, Ohio State only 3.1.
After the half, Ohio State took the kickoff, got some time for Haskins, began moving. This wasn't about showing off some Heisman pose. The Buckeyes moved ahead less than five minutes into the second half. Penn State's defense and crowd was back on its heels, frenzy quieted.
Could McSorley take the momentum back? You've followed his career, right? Ohio State's D got him off the field quickly on his first second-half chance. The Nits held for an Ohio State field goal, except there was a facemask penalty on the play, wiping it off. Now the FG was 48 yards, wide right.
The whole thing had turned it what this rivalry demands, with twists and turns and rotating breaks of the game. There went McSorley, seeing a seam, 23 yards later he was over 100 yards rushing. A holding penalty pushed Penn State back. The next flag went against the Buckeyes for pass interference.
Happy Valley? Anxiety Valley.
Last rounds, you saw McSorley move in for the TKO. A first-down conversion, a third-down pass for 36 yards, another run into the teeth of Ohio State's defense and a pass to the back of the end zone, Nits back up six. Haskins couldn't match. He was taken down for a loss on fourth down.
Next drive, McSorley got the tough yards, another score. But there was no TKO. Haskins had not folded. He found his weapons, never tried to do too much. The Buckeyes wiped out a 12-point deficit, moved back ahead, 27-26.
One last chance for McSorley and a two-minute drill. Didn't happen. Last word went to the other guys: