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October 26, 2013

An Ohio Statement

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On a day where the nation's top three teams flexed their muscles, No. 4 Ohio State followed suit.

After No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Oregon stomped their opponents by an average of 32 points, the Buckeyes (8-0) kept pace in this year's national championship arms race with a 63-14 massacre of Penn State Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes -- now winners of 20-straight games under the direction of coach Urban Meyer -- simply eviscerated the Nittany Lions' defense from the outset, amassing 42 points and 414 yards of total offense in just the first half. They finished the contest with 686 total yards.

Meyer downplayed the notion of whether or not he and Ohio State intended the bout to serve as message to the rest of the nation.

"That was not certainly our mindset. Our mindset was to find a way to win this game against a very talented team that we have a lot of respect for," he said. "Things usually work out. I'd be disappointed if that was our guys' focus. That's not our focus."

But a handful of his players disagreed.

"That's the attitude we carried into this game," junior cornerback Bradley Roby said. "We were going to make a statement in primetime, when everyone was watching."

Steering such an explosion were Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, who might have solidified themselves as arguably their team's two most-potent playmakers.

Miller finished the day 18-of-24 for 252 passing yards and three touchdowns. The outing might be one of his best as as a passer.

"I know what I'm doing," Miller said. "It's just exciting to see the guys with the ball in their hands."

But on the ground he appeared just as lethal, rushing for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

Hyde ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 16 touches. Since a career-high outing against Northwestern on Oct. 5, the senior running back has totaled 464 yards and seven touchdowns after missing the first three games because of a suspension.

Behind a quick-paced attack and a flurry of short -- yet decisive -- throws from Miller, Ohio State rolled on offense from the first drive.

After a 36-yard toss to junior wide receiver Devin Smith, Miller handed the ball off to Hyde who bullied his way into the end zone. Two drives later, Miller danced out of the pocket before gallivanting 39 yards and toward the goal line to put the Buckeyes up, 14-0, before the end of the first quarter.

"I just love where Braxton's at right now. I love the fact that he's acting like a quarterback," Meyer, who's worked to mold Miller into a more-polished passer, said.

"I'm not disrespecting Braxton. You guys know I love that guy. But I felt like he was an athlete playing quarterback a year ago. Feel like he's a quarterback that's a really good athlete now."

And because of him, the Buckeyes had little trouble imposing their will for most of the game. It's probably not a surprising feat, after all, for an offense that's averaging 45 points per game.

Rather, what swirled as a question heading into the contest -- like it has for much of the season -- was how Ohio State's defense (in particular, its secondary) would play against a Penn State squad that could pose a legitimate aerial attack.

Such uncertainty was answered early and emphatically.

On the Nittany Lions' first drive, Christian Hackenberg drove his squad 69 yards down the field and to the goal line.

But the freshman quarterback -- playing in arguably the biggest challenge of his young collegiate career -- stumbled, throwing an interception to senior safety Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown in the end zone.

"That was a game changer," Meyer said.

It marked the beginning of a game that started to spiral out of control.

And for Hackenberg, it wasn't the end of such miscues. The youngster would throw another interception to senior safety C.J. Barnett toward the end of the first quarter. In fact, after that respectable first drive that nearly yielded the first points of the game, the Nittany Lions struggled to get much of anything going against a defense that pinned its ears back and tried to rattle the quarterback.

On its next three possessions, Penn State would mustered 22 yards on eight plays while the Buckeyes raced ahead to a 28-0 lead with about eight minutes left in the second quarter.

In an effort to stop the bleeding, Hackenberg and company finally strung together its first score of the night after senior wide receiver Brandon Felder hauled in a 12-yard pass touchdown pass. But the drive seemed like an attempt to stripe a band-aid over a bullet hole.

Ohio State closed out the half with two more scores: a 39-yard scamper from Hyde and a 25-yard catch by senior wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown. A 42-7 lead at intermission marked its largest margin since a 55-0 start against Florida A&M on Sept. 21.

While it featured less scoring, the second half played out in similar fashion.

"We had to keep our foot on the pedal," Miller said. And the Buckeyes did exactly that.

After recovering a Penn State fumble on the Nittany Lions' 33-yard line, freshman running back/wide receiver hybrid Dontre Wilson caught a 26-yard swing pass from Miller out of the backfield to bloat the Buckeyes' cushion to 49-7.

Hackenberg, who finished the day 12-of-23 for 112 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, was pulled from action midway through the third quarter because of a shoulder injury.

The lone highlight for the Nittany Lions was junior wide receiver Allen Robinson, who scored a somewhat meaningless 65-yard touchdown after weaving in and out of Ohio State defenders late in the game. The potential NFL draft pick finished with 167 yards and one touchdown on 11 catches.

But the night was otherwise a dismal one for a Penn State program still digging itself out from under the rubble of major NCAA sanctions. It was simply no match for the Buckeyes, which haven't lost in almost two years.

"If we play like this," Wilson said, "nobody can beat us."

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