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Why I'm Looking for a Big Upset Over Ohio State

by on October 20, 2016 5:00 AM

Most people are expecting an easy win for Ohio State when the Buckeyes invade Beaver Stadium on Saturday night. A few brave souls may bet on a Penn State upset, perhaps a squeaker in overtime. But I’m calling for a win by the Nittany Lions with a margin of at least 20 points.

Yes, you read that correctly. I’m wishing for, hoping for, yearning for -- and almost predicting -- a sound thumping of the Buckeyes. Much of my unusual thinking is based on a remarkable game that was played in 1964. More about that game later…

Don’t think I’m oblivious to the apparent realities. I realize that Urban Meyer has assembled a juggernaut at The (?) Ohio State University. The Buckeyes are powerful, they are fast and they are gutsy — as proven by last week’s defeat of then No. 8 Wisconsin … in overtime … on the road. Ranked second in the nation, they are favored by a whopping 19.5 points to beat Penn State.    

I also realize the limitations of the 4-2 Lions who were eviscerated by Michigan, 49-10, just a month ago.  Our offensive line is still rather young, and those linemen will struggle against the Buckeye brutes. As for our linebackers, yes, some of the original starters might be returning from injury, and their backups have served heroically. But to be honest, “Linebacker U” still looks more like “Linebacker ICU.”    


Of course, there are also a few entries on the positive side of the ledger. Penn State is on an upward trajectory — from the devastation of Michigan to the exhilaration of Minnesota to the satisfaction of Maryland. Our players got to rest last week while OSU played an overtime game. Beaver Stadium’s White Out crowd will tax the Buckeyes and boost the home team.  

But to me — and maybe I’m too sentimental — the most compelling reason for hope is lodged in my youthful memories. I can close my eyes and picture myself listening to the radio as Penn State posted one of the most shocking upsets in college football history.

The year is 1964, I’m 12 years old, and I’m listening to the game on radio along with my parents. Those were the days when our friends at the NCAA exercised tight control over television broadcasts — believing this was needed to protect the attractiveness of game attendance.  Just one “national” contest and a few “regional” games were televised each week. But I was okay with that since Mickey Bergstein, father of my high school classmate, Andrew, was a fabulous radio broadcaster for Penn State. An added element of suspense came from the time lag between the roar of the crowd and the commentary from the announcer.

Did I say “roar of the crowd”? Well, that’s a general description, because the crowd in Columbus didn’t get to do any roaring on this particular day.  


When the Nittany Lions entered Ohio Stadium on Nov. 7, 1964, it’s likely that some players were awed by the huge crowd of 84,279 fans — almost double Beaver Stadium’s capacity which was then just 46,000.  The Lions were 3-4, not too impressive when compared to the Buckeyes’ record of 6-0 and their No. 2 national ranking.  So, given that this year’s OSU team is also undefeated and is also ranked second, I can’t help but hope that Saturday’s game will parallel the staggering results from 1964. Here’s what happened then:

  • The final score was Penn State 27, Ohio State 0.

  • For the entire first half, Ohio State posted no first downs and a total offense of -14 yards. Yes, minus 14.

  • Ohio State’s initial first down was recorded midway through the third quarter — thanks to an inadvertent face mask penalty against the Lions.  The Buckeyes actually earned a first down with four seconds left in the third quarter.  

  • The thoroughly humiliated Buckeyes crossed midfield for the first time with three minutes left in the game — against Penn State’s third string (known as “the Greenies”).  

The reaction in our College Heights home was nothing short of amazement as Penn State’s dominance continued throughout each quarter. We all wondered what had gotten into our team.  

Was there a secret strategy behind the Lions’ incredible performance?  Nope, not really.  Quarterback Gary Wydman said this to the Centre Daily Times: “Actually we did very little differently. We just tried to so some things well. We worked on what we did best.”  Added Jim O’Hora, the defensive line coach, “I can’t explain it. We couldn’t get that many points against Maryland.”

Perhaps the Nittany Lions were simply motivated by the disdainful way they were treated by the sports media. One pre-game article, published by the Chicago Sun-Times and posted in the Lions’ locker room, said this: “The Buckeyes have a breather in Penn State this week.”  

Or maybe Penn State had finally gelled, just in time for the OSU game. That view is supported by the fact that the Lions won both of their games that followed Ohio State, including a 28-0 thumping of Pitt.  Said Head Coach Rip Engle (replaced in 1966 by longtime assistant Joe Paterno), “Right now we probably have the most improved team in the country and we have the record to prove it.”  

The Daily Collegian front page following Penn State's upset of Ohio State -- and the ensuing celebrations -- in 1964. (Image: Collegian Historical Archives/Penn State University Libraries)


While players and coaches thoughtfully explained their success in Columbus, Penn State students were going wild in State College. I heard radio reports about a spontaneous demonstration of joy, so I got my folks to drive me downtown to take a look. I’m not sure why they let their 12-year boy loose in a sea of celebrating college students. Maybe because the culture was a bit safer then. Maybe because my mom was a big-time Lion fan who, upon her death, left hundreds of those blue booster buttons (“The Buckeyes Stop Here”) to her heirs.

I’ll never forget my stroll along College Avenue. First, I saw a student shinnying up a light pole near the corner with Garner Street. He was clutching a strap that was tied around a beer keg, enabling him to properly decorate the area on this special occasion.  

Then, as I walked a bit to the west, I noticed six to eight college students rolling a Volkswagen Beetle along College. Of course, I tagged along behind them — wondering what they would do with the little car. They pushed it up on campus, took it behind Sackett Building, and plopped it into the little duck pond. And at that point, sharing in their joy but not sure what might happen next, I thought I’d better walk home. I’m sure the town police and campus cops would have been just as happy to exit the scene.  


Could it happen again? Could an unranked Penn State team whip a second-ranked Ohio State team by something like 27 points? I like this post-game comment that was offered by Coach Engle. “All these so-called upsets go to prove one thing,” he said. “There’s always the possibility that strange things can happen.”

Okay, I’m not going to bet the mortgage on Penn State. But on the other hand, I won’t be shocked if the Lions post a decisive win. Just like the 1964 team, this year’s squad seems to be getting its act together just in time for the Buckeyes. And like Engle’s boys, James Franklin’s Lions are being viewed as easy pickings for the scarlet and gray.

How ‘bout if everybody -- students and townies -- gets together at the duck pond if this miracle takes place? But let’s not get carried away. I’ve got too many friends who drive little cars.  


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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