Friday, October 25, 2002

Penn State seeking redemption for two losses

By Rusty Miller
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - No. 18 Penn State has lost two games, but not the feeling that it has a date with destiny.

"I don't think anyone on the team has forsaken having a special season," Nittany Lions center Joe Iorio said. "Beating Ohio State would get us right back up to where we could and should have been."

Penn State remains tormented by two overtime losses - a 42-35 loss to Iowa and 27-24 defeat to Michigan - as it heads into Saturday's game with No. 4 Ohio State.

"We are playing good football," Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno said. "I don't know how much better we can get, except with development. I could sit here and moan again about a couple of calls and a couple of overtime plays. Then we're fighting for a national championship."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he wouldn't come into the game trying to gauge himself against the 75-year-old Paterno - although he did take a light jab at Paterno chasing officials after the Iowa game.

"I heard he ran fast on TV but I might have more speed at this point," Tressel said with a laugh. "I don't know if my team does."

The Buckeyes (8-0, 3-0) have escaped tough situations with wins where the Nittany Lions (5-2, 2-2) have not.

Cincinnati receivers dropped two touchdown passes in the final minute of Ohio State's 23-19 win at Paul Brown Stadium. And Northwestern had the Buckeyes on the ropes in Evanston before Ohio State ground out a 27-16 win that was closer than the score indicated. Last week, the Buckeyes needed a fourth-quarter interception by wide receiver/cornerback Chris Gamble to preserve a 19-14 win.

Asked about the latest close call, Tressel said, "What did we do well? We hung in there. We kept believing."

Up to now, Ohio State's players have been fed a steady diet of focus-on-the-next-opponent and forget-about-the-polls. Tressel says that's the only way that the Buckeyes can win a Big Ten title or keep alive their hopes of moving up from sixth in the first BCS standings.

"Every week is a big game, every week is a national championship," defensive lineman Kenny Peterson said. "That's what we're playing for. We can't take a week off."

Penn State must find a way to rein in Ohio State freshman tailback Maurice Clarett, who is averaging 140 yards a game. He comes into the game 147 yards away from breaking Robert Smith's school record for rushing yards by a freshman.

"The only thing I'm really worried about right now is beating Penn State," Clarett said. "The yards, they're going to be there. If we lose this week, nobody's going to be talking about the 147 yards, they'll be talking about the Buckeyes' loss."

Clarett's ability to pick up yards opens things up for quarterback Craig Krenzel to look for receivers Michael Jenkins and Gamble. The Buckeyes are averaging 229 rushing yards and 197 through the air.

The home team has won eight of the nine meetings between the teams since Penn State joined the Big Ten. That trend held a year ago in Happy Valley as Ohio State led 27-9 in the third quarter only to have the Nittany Lions counter with an 18-0 run to win 29-27.

"What we're thinking about is what we've got going right now," Ohio State strong safety Mike Doss said. "Last year is gone."

Penn State quarterback Zach Mills shredded the Buckeyes with his running and passing in the second half of that game.

This time around, running back Larry Johnson is coming off a Penn State-record 257 yards against Northwestern.

With two losses already, the Lions know they can't afford another slip.

"It's the biggest game we've played so far, the biggest game of my career," Mills said. "Emotions are going to be high."

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