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Ohio State-Penn State matchup puts mutual admiration on hold

October 08, 2005|By GENARO C. ARMAS

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.

Ohio State wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez appreciates what Joe Paterno has done for college football.

But Gonzalez hopes the Nittany Lions' feel-good story comes to a temporary end tonight when the No. 6 Buckeyes (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) visit Beaver Stadium.

"I hope (Paterno) wins every game except this one," said Gonzalez, whose team will play on the road for the first time this year. "You have a lot of respect for him, obviously, but you still have to play the game. It's not like we're going to show up and roll over."

That's hardly expected in Happy Valley, where Paterno has No. 16 Penn State (5-0, 2-0) back in the national spotlight after two straight losing seasons.

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"Whether it's big, important than other games or not, I don't know," said Paterno, who has 348 wins in 40 years as head coach. "All I know is we're playing one of the best teams that we've ever played against."

That might be up for debate, but this much is known: The Buckeyes have the fifth-best defense in the nation, giving up just 249 yards a game. They're tops against the run.

Safety Nate Salley is the hard-hitting leader of the secondary, while A.J. Hawk, who has 3 1/2 sacks and a team-leading 40 tackles, is the headliner among an impressive trio of linebackers.

"What makes them special is that not only can they run, but they can go out and cover people," Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson said about the linebackers. "We will have to go out there, play our game and have them give us what they give us. It'll be more of a chess match."

Robinson, an athletic, tough fifth-year senior, operates an offense that bares little resemblance to the version that struggled the previous two years. Robinson has speedy playmakers at wideout in freshmen sensations Derrick Williams, Justin King and Deon Butler that allow him to use spread formations and throw deep.

And in case anyone forgot, Paterno proved his team can run the ball, too, after bowling over Minnesota last week for 364 rushing yards in a 44-14 rout.

Now defenses face a dilemma that seemed unthinkable when playing Penn State in recent years: Should they focus on stopping the pass or the run?

"They're flying around and having fun, running reverses and doing some things," Salley said. "They have a lot of playmakers."

Ohio State boasts some playmakers of its own. Williams' impact on the Nittany Lions has sparked comparisons to what Ted Ginn Jr. did as a freshman last year for the Buckeyes.

Ginn has combined with Gonzalez and Santonio Holmes to give Ohio State its own trio of good receivers. Ginn and Holmes are also one of the most dangerous return tandems in the game.

Antonio Pittman ran for 171 yards on 28 carries and quarterback Troy Smith threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores in Ohio State's 33-7 win over Iowa two weeks ago.

They'll have to perform Saturday in front of a national television audience under the lights of Beaver Stadium, where 108,000 fans will be hoping that Penn State's revival isn't a fluke.

"I think consistency is always the measuring stick to see if you're going to get good and, you know, that would be our goal," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "To become a consistent offensive football team that does its part and whatever needs to be done to win."

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