Andy Gottesman / Lantern photographer
A pair of Penn State defenders stood in the Ohio State end zone, hands on hips, heads down.
The Nittany Lions had everything working through the first half. Then it all unraveled.
OSU scored 35 unanswered points in the second half to pull away with a 38-14 victory Saturday at The Horseshoe.
With 10 minutes left in the game, receiver Dane Sanzenbacher snared a deflected pass as he sprinted across the end zone for a circus-like 58-yard touchdown to give OSU a 24-14 lead, leaving the Penn State defensive backs in awe.
Three plays later, cornerback Travis Howard returned an interception 30 yards to seal the win for the Buckeyes (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten).
It took two quarters for OSU to shake off the rust accumulated over its bye week, but once nightfall descended upon The Horseshoe, the Buckeyes found their rhythm.
Cornerback Devon Torrence, who was picked apart by Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin in the first half, returned an interception 34 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown. The score provided OSU a 17-14 edge with 4:29 remaining in the third quarter.
“I just saw it and just jumped it,” Torrence said. “I think it was maybe a low throw and I had to kind of tip it to myself to put it into position for me to catch it.”
Running back Dan “Boom” Herron rushed for a career-high 190 yards on 21 carries as OSU turned to its running game after quarterback Terrelle Pryor completed just four passes for 58 yards in the first half.
The Buckeyes rushed for 315 yards as a team, piling up 7.3 yards per carry. They gained 226 yards on the ground in the second half.
“We run the ball at Ohio State in November and everyone knows that,” receiver DeVier Posey said. … “You don’t move away from what you do well.”
After cashing in a 71-yard opening drive for a field goal, the Buckeyes punted on their final four possessions of the first half, entering the break in a 14-3 hole.
The Nittany Lions had an opportunity to add to their advantage, but OSU stopped Penn State on a fourth-and-1 with about 1:30 to play in the second quarter.
“Our guys went out in the second half and took over,” coach Jim Tressel said. “But I think it was fueled by how hard that defense fought in that last series that they had to stop them.”
After halftime, Pryor and running back Brandon Saine got the offense going, as OSU embarked on a 96-yard drive to close within 14-10 midway through the third quarter.
“When you keep on running the ball and keep on pounding it in there, you can sort of feel the momentum shift,” fullback Zach Boren said. “When we continued to be successful on the running plays, you could sort of feel like you were about to win the game.”
Two minutes later, Torrence jumped a passing route to tip McGloin’s pass to himself. After juggling the ball, he tucked it and ran as the crowd of 105,466 – the seventh largest in Ohio Stadium history – turned what had been a shower of boos into an eruption of cheers.
McGloin, a redshirt sophomore starting just his second game, looked like a seasoned veteran in the first half, appearing poised, confident and unfazed by the pressure of playing a top-10 team on the road. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns before halftime.
“He played really well altogether,” Penn State receiver Brett Brackett said. “He made some great plays and put us in a good position early.”
The OSU defense, however, made the necessary adjustments in the second half.
McGloin completed just two of his 12 second-half pass attempts, throwing a pair of interceptions, both returned for touchdowns.
Still, the play of the game belonged to Sanzenbacher.
On a 2nd-and-23, Pryor launched a pass toward the end zone looking for Posey, who was flanked by two defensive backs. The ball caromed off Posey’s hands and landed into the grasp of Sanzenbacher, who caught it in stride as he crossed the goal line.
“I knew (Dane) was next to me on the route but not right next to me then,” Posey said. “I thought I came down with it but the defensive player knocked it out. I heard the roar and looked up and saw Dane with it in the end zone. I guess I kind of threw him an alley-oop.”
The touchdown left the Penn State defense at a loss.
“We broke it up, and it just happened to fall to him,” defensive back Drew Astorino said. “It was just one of those lucky plays that happen from time to time. Kudos to him.”
One minute later, Howard put the game out of reach with his interception return.
“I ran off the field and my head was spinning,” he said. “It still hasn’t hit me yet. I dreamt about this last night. I said if a play came my way, I needed to make it. So I guess my dream came true.”
Pryor found tight end Jake Stoneburner for a 3-yard touchdown with four minutes left to put the icing on the cake.
The junior signal-caller finished with 139 yards through the air, completing 8 of his 13 passes for a pair of touchdowns and an interception.
OSU plays at Iowa on Nov. 20. The Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-2) lost at Northwestern, 17-14, on Saturday.