Oct. 16, 1999
By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
AP Football Writer
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – Don’t be deceived by the final score: No. 2 Penn State’s 23-10 victory over No. 18 Ohio State was a rout, plain and simple.
Had the Nittany Lions not stubbed their toes nearly every time they moved inside the Buckeyes 25-yard line, who knows how large the winning margin would have been?
“We should have put 40 on the board,” fullback Mike Cerimele said Saturday after catching a 6-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Thompson on the game’s opening possession. “We had two field goals blocked, we stopped ourselves inside their 25 all day.”
Then he pointed to his noggin: “Stupid head problems. We have to cut them out or it will catch up to us.”
Penn State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) wasn’t about to be caught by Ohio State (4-3, 1-2), which managed only 11 first downs and 143 total yards while the Nittany Lions were rolling up 422, including 306 on the ground.
Eric McCoo slipped tackles from get-go and finished with a career-best 211 yards on 22 carries, including runs of 53, 43, 24 and 22 yards. He also caught four passes for another 47 yards as the Lions won their ninth straight game – the second-longest winning streak among major schools behind Marshall’s 10 in a row.
“We didn’t do anything different,” said McCoo, a sophomore whose previous top game was a 206-yard effort against Michigan State last season. “Everybody thinks we’re fooling people. We’re just running off tackle.”
The Nittany Lions also gave Joe Paterno career win No. 314, tying him for third place with Amos Alonzo Stagg for most victories among major college coaches. Bear Bryant has 323, and Pop Warner 319.
Paterno, in his 34th season, was more concerned with mistakes than history. The Lions were penalized 10 times for 85 yards and Kevin Thompson fumbled in the end zone to hand the Buckeyes their only TD of the game.
“We were in scoring position and then our own carelessness and bad plays took us right out of it,” Paterno said. “There was absolutely no reason for (the blocked field goals). That could have cost us the game.”
But the Lions’ best defensive effort of the season made sure Ohio State and quarterback Steve Bellisari couldn’t take advantage. Bellisari ran for his life as the Beaver Stadium crowd of 97,007 roared in approval. The left-hander was sacked eight times – 2 1/2 credited to linebacker LaVar Arrington – and was 7-of-21 for 78 yards and an interception.
“We could not get the ball rolling today,” said Bellisari, who left the game for one play with 2:32 left after taking a vicious hit from Arrington in the upper chest. “I saw a lot of him. He got to me, knocked me down, knocked the wind out of me.”
Penn State led 13-3 with 3:40 left in the half, but was backed up to its own 6 when Thompson was slammed from behind by linebacker Na’il Diggs and fumbled, with free safety Gary Berry recovering in the end zone for a touchdown.
Thompson sustained a slightly separated right shoulder on the play and sat out the rest of the game. His status for next week’s game against Purdue was uncertain.
With Rashard Casey running the offense in the second half, Penn State scored on its first possession to take a 20-10 lead. Casey, who has alternated with Thompson all year, capped a seven-play, 62-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run on a perfectly executed bootleg, faking two handoffs, putting the ball on his hip and rolling left past a baffled Buckeyes defense. Casey was 11-of-15 for 109 yards.
Travis Forney, who had field goals blocked in the first and third quarters, converted from 38, 39 and 28 yards, the final one coming early in the fourth quarter.
The loss not only dropped Ohio State out of the big bowl picture, but probably ended their chances for a Big Ten title as well. The Buckeyes, three-game losers this early for the first time since coach John Cooper’s first season in 1988, still have games remaining against nationally ranked Michigan State and Michigan.
“If you can’t block and you can’t tackle then you are not going to beat a good football team,” said Cooper, who earlier in the week said Penn State would win if both teams played their best. It was a psychological ploy that failed.
The Lions wasted little time moving to a 7-0 lead. Thompson hit McCoo with a 20-yard pass to open the game, and then McCoo slipped two would-be tacklers with nifty inside cuts and ran 53 yards to the Ohio State 7. Two plays later, Thompson connected with Cerimele just 1:35 into the game.
Ohio State’s Dan Stultz kicked a 47-yard field goal midway through the quarter, but the Lions made it 10-3 on Forney’s 38-yard field goal four plays after holder Matt Senneca ran 10 yards for first down on a fake field goal.
Now, Penn State’s run for its first national title since 1986 moves forward. Ahead are road games against Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State and home games with Minnesota and Michigan.
“We are far from the finish line,” linebacker Brandon Short said. “We get Drew Brees next week, and that’s what we’ll get ready for.”
Paterno, saying his players have been besieged by fans and reporters all season, cut off most interviews this week in a rare policy change.
After the game, McCoo said: “Everybody was going to say what they say every week, anyway. We just didn’t have to practice our speech.”