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Penn State, Ohio State and a Shocking Result from the Distant Past

by on October 26, 2017 5:00 AM

It’s been just over a year since I made my audacious prediction on Oct. 20, 2016. Not only did I tell the readers of StateCollege.com that Penn State’s then-struggling football team would defeat the imperial dynasty of Ohio State, but I got carried away by calling for the Nittany Lions to win “with a margin of at least 20 points.”

Whether by 20 points or a lesser amount (the final margin was three), it really was crazy to envision a Penn State win, given Ohio State’s early season dominance and the Lions’ struggles. And it was even more crazy to write such an outlandish thing — with no way to walk it back.  

But I had a hunch and I played it. And even though I knew my prediction was an uneducated guess, I enjoyed the congratulations that followed it. My wife will tell you that my cell phone kept chirping until the wee hours of the morning.

So here we go again. It’s the big one, and the Lions are underdogs again. Even though Penn State is ranked second in the nation and Ohio State is sixth, oddsmakers opened their forecasting with the Buckeyes as seven-point favorites. Maybe that’s because Ohio State is coming off a bye week? Maybe because the game will be played before a Shoe filled with screaming Buckeye fans? Maybe because quarterback J.T. Barrett got his groove back after a lackluster showing against Oklahoma? Maybe because revenge is a powerful motivator?

HOPE FROM HISTORY

If you’re like me, you’re sobered by that list of factors which favor the enemy. So if you need a little hope, consider one special game from the distant past — the 1964 victory by Penn State in the Horseshoe. Yes, it helped shape my pre-game hunch last year. And perhaps more important, it’s a piece of Penn State lore that must never be forgotten. Shame on me if I would waste the chance to offer this history lesson to younger fans. And yes, this will be on the final exam…

The Nittany Lions brought a record of 3-4 into that ’64 game while the home team had crushed all six of its opponents, yielding a total of only 39 points and earning a No. 2 ranking in the country. Even though Penn State had upset Ohio State, 10-7, in 1963, and the 1964 team had begun to gel with consecutive wins over West Virginia and Maryland, the Lions got no respect. The Chicago Sun-Times summarized the prevailing attitude with this statement: “The Buckeyes have a breather in Penn State this week.”

Actually, the Ohio State players had trouble breathing at all after being hit in the gut by linemen like Glenn Ressler, a future Baltimore Colt, who recorded 15 tackles. For the first half, the Buckeyes achieved 0 first downs while totaling 0 yards passing and -14 yards in rushing. Indeed, the stunned Bucks did not record their initial first down of the game until midway through the third quarter, and that resulted from a Penn State penalty. The final score was 27-0 and the final stats reflected total domination: Penn State gained 194 net yards in rushing to Ohio State’s 30; Penn State passed 12-for-22 and 147 yards while Ohio State threw 3-for-14 and 30 yards; Penn State achieved 22 first downs and Ohio State had five.

Rip Engle, the Lions’ head coach from 1950 to 1966, offered this comment some years later.  “A football team has never played a perfect game, but at Ohio State in 1964 our team came as close to it as I ever saw.”

Joe Paterno was an assistant under Rip Engle when Penn State upset Ohio State in 1964. Photo via Penn State.

HAYES IS HUMBLED

Penn State had throttled the nation’s second-ranked team, and the Lions had done it before 84,279 spectators — the largest crowd in their football history, home or away. (Back then, Beaver Stadium had a seating capacity of less than 50,000.) Said losing coach Woody Hayes, “It was the soundest trouncing we ever had. We didn’t seem to be able to establish anything. They were a great team today.”

As I mentioned in last year’s column, I’ll never forget that game — listening to the radio in sheer disbelief as the Nittany Lions dominated the powerful Buckeyes. It may not be the most important upset in Penn State football history, but I believe it was the most shocking. Other oldtimers also savor memories of this remarkable game:

  • John Black, 1962 Penn State graduate and long-time writer for The Football Letter: “It just kept getting better and better and better. We couldn’t believe it. Ohio State wasn’t scoring. We were just screaming and yelling. It was just such a dominating performance, and our team was below .500. There was some poll of sportswriters or broadcasters that voted that game the biggest college football upset of the decade.”

  • Dick Anderson, former Penn State player, former Rutgers head coach and Penn State assistant coach: “I didn’t see the game, but there’s no question it was significant and it was a shocking upset. I don’t think you can contest that. Just taking it on its face — when you beat the number two team in the country and Penn State was coming in with that record.”

  • Jim O’Hora, 1968 Penn State graduate and son of assistant coach Jim O’Hora: “We defensed them almost the entire game, and they couldn’t run. Back in those days with Woody Hayes, it was a running game and they didn’t pass much. They couldn’t block Glenn Ressler — he was a one-man wrecking crew. I remember my dad saying that at the end of the year, that team was one of the best he ever coached and one of the best in the country.”

Glenn Ressler was an All-American lineman for the Nittany Lions in 1964

So what’s going to happen this year when the Nittany Lions put on their beautifully bland all-white uniforms and run into the Horseshoe? Of course, no one really knows, but I have a few thoughts.  

Ohio State is going to hit Penn State with everything they’ve got — and they’ve got a lot, especially after a bye week. But Penn State has the firepower of a swarming defense, a superhuman running back and a quarterback with poise and a winning spirit. It’s interesting to note that Ohio State was No. 2 in the legendary 1964 game and also No. 2 in last year’s huge upset. So here’s my notion: an upset seems in order when the Lions play the Buckeyes and the nation’s second-ranked team is involved. This year, Penn State is both No. 2 and the underdog.

I’m saying that the Nittany Lions will pull the upset, as they did in 1964 and 2016. But I’m not going way out on the limb and calling for a victory margin of 20 points. Penn State will nip the Buckeyes by a point or two. And I’ll be fine with that. How about you?

The box score from Penn State's 1964 win over Ohio State, as it appeared in the Nov. 9, 1964 edition of The Football Letter.

 



Bill Horlacher is a native of Happy Valley, a 1970 graduate of State College High School and a 1974 graduate of Penn State (journalism). He has spent his last 30 years in service to international students, helping them with personal, cultural and spiritual adjustments to America. After 39 years of living in California, Maryland and Texas, Bill returned to State College in 2013 along with his wife, Kathy.
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