Penn State Plays Bowl Substitute Against Also Ineligible Ohio State

Penn State Plays Bowl Substitute Against Also Ineligible Ohio State

Since the day Bill O’Brien took over as head coach of Penn State’s fractured football program, he’s consistently discussed how great it is to play college football in Beaver Stadium in front of 100,000 fans on national television. To O’Brien, coaching anywhere between six and eight “bowl” games was better than any bowl trip teams might make on an annual basis.

This week, O’Brien will coach his first game with a genuine bowl, as Penn State prepares to take on perhaps their biggest rival.

The Ohio State University.

Ohio State is the only Big Ten program Penn State has played annually since joining the Big Ten in 1993. With the fading rivalries with Pittsburgh and a lopsided series against Temple, Penn State has long been without a true rival. Even though Penn State fans get amped for the Buckeyes every year, the Ohio State faithful recognize Penn State as their second or third best rival. For Ohio State, it is all about beating Michigan. Then, perhaps, Wisconsin or Michigan State. It may be that lacked of mutual animosity that fuels the Penn State side of the rivalry.

The fact is, when Ohio State and Penn State get together there is generally more than simple bragging rights on the line. Since 2005, the winner of the Penn State-Ohio State game has gone on to win the Big Ten’s automatic berth five times. Between the two of them they have played in eight BCS bowl games over that same stretch.

Of course this year things will be slightly different, with both programs serving a postseason ban as part of separate NCAA sanctions. Nonetheless, the Big Ten is allowing Ohio State and Penn State to compete for a Leaders Division championship, and the trophy that goes with it. Try telling these players that does not matter. For Penn State, having anything to play for cannot be overlooked.

So when it comes down to it, who has the upper hand this weekend? Penn State’s offense has shown flashes of brilliance with a new and improved Matt McGloin leading the charge under center. McGloin is putting together a legitimate Big Ten MVP kind of season with improved efficiency, awareness and the decision-making allowing him to tuck and run when needed.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has the ability to make defenses pay for a slight mistake with his own legs. Penn State’s best chance to win might be if they can force Miller to beat them through the air. It was a similar approach they have executed before, against Miller in Columbus last season and the year before against Michigan’s Denard Robinson.

Miller is just a sophomore and will be playing in one of the most raucous environments he has played in thus far. He has lost games at Michigan and at Nebraska, and Saturday night Miller makes his first start at Beaver Stadium. Last week, Miller was taken to the hospital after taking a big hit against Purdue. How will the sophomore handle the pressure and respond after taking a hit this week?

If there is one clear advantage Penn State appears to have this week, it is on defense. The Nittany Lions have been much more consistent on defense this season, especially since blowing two second-half leads in back-to-back weeks to start the season. Ohio State’s defense has played well but has had moments of incompetent tackling and total breakdowns. Penn State has some young playmakers in Bill Belton and Allen Robinson that might be capable of taking advantage of a sloppy Ohio State defense, but McGloin and the offense will have to flex their muscle with the tight ends, which have been playing very well early on for O’Brien.

All week students have camped out for this game, as this is the most important game of the season, and perhaps the most important home game since the 2005 game, when a victory over Ohio State sent a loud message to the college football world that Penn State was back. A win Saturday evening would send another loud message, that Penn State is not going anywhere.

Make no mistake about this weekend’s game. It is a tough battle for Penn State. It is a massive challenge for O’Brien, who must battle coaching wits with one of the best in college football, Urban Meyer. There is plenty of excitement surrounding the program and this game. How do they handle this type of situation? Do they thrive on the buzz or crumble by going overboard on adrenaline? These are the type of concerns O’Brien and his staff must be able to address leading up to the game.

The importance of this game actually goes beyond the typical win or loss. Penn State is expecting at 100 recruits to attend the game, which includes all current commitments. A win could go a long way to showing potential prospects what message O’Brien is trying to send, which is playing in a packed Beaver Stadium is still a worthy experience in itself. Any recruit on the sidelines for this game will also have a chance to play in a bowl game in their senior year.

A bright future is possible for Penn State, regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s game. But without postseason eligibility, this will have to serve as the next best thing.

According to O’Brien, this is the best thing.

No. 2 Villanova's run at the Pavilion ends at 48 with loss to No. 22 Butler

No. 2 Villanova's run at the Pavilion ends at 48 with loss to No. 22 Butler

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- It started with 9:37 left in the game with a foul shot by Kelan Martin, and it ended with 4:18 left with a three-pointer by Martin.

In between, nothing went right for Villanova.

It was a 5½-minute nightmare.

No. 22 Butler ran off 18 straight points against No. 2 Villanova, turning a seven-point deficit into an 11-point lead, and then hung on for a 74-66 win over the Wildcats, ‘Nova’s first loss on campus in more than four years (see Instant Replay).

Villanova has lost three games this year, two of them to Butler.

“You have to give them credit,” Villanova sophomore Jalen Brunson said. “They were just hitting every shot. As a team, we just didn’t really lock in defensively. All credit to them for what they were able to do offensively.”

Villanova led 49-42 with just over 9½ minutes left, but during that 5½-minute stretch Butler made 7 of 11 shots – including 4 of 7 threes – to take a 60-52 lead.

Villanova went 6½ minutes without scoring. The Wildcats missed six straight shots and committed two turnovers during that 18-0 run.

“Nothing really changed,” Butler junior forward Kelan Martin said. “We just stuck together.

“We knew we might get punched in the mouth today, it happens on the road, especially with a good team. We responded well and stuck with it and went on a run and just kept grinding it out, possession by possession.”

The loss was the first ever on campus for Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and the other Villanova seniors. The Wildcats had won 48 straight games at the Pavilion since a 2013 loss to Providence. That was Ryan Arcidiacono's freshman year.

Villanova dropped to 26-3 overall and 13-3 in the Big East, and Butler – which had never won at Villanova – improved to 22-6 and 11-5.

One more Villanova win or Butler loss will still give Villanova the outright Big East Conference title and No. 1 seed in next month’s conference tournament in New York. 

Creighton lost Wednesday night to Providence, leaving Butler and Villanova the only schools that can win the Big East regular-season title. 

“We’ve got to have better attention to detail, and it starts with me,” Hart said. “On the defensive end we got exposed and it started with me and that’s something that we’ve got to have better attention to detail from the seniors and [have it] trickle down.”

Villanova got the lead down to six – with the ball -- with three minutes left and got as close as five during a wild last couple minutes, but Butler made its last eight foul shots to secure the win.

“It seemed like the last couple minutes took an hour,” Martin said.

Brunson shot 9 for 13 for 24 points, but the rest of the Wildcats were a combined 16 for 44.

Hart scored 18, but Jenkins shot 1 for 8 and 1 for 5 from three, Mikal Bridges had just three points and Donte DiVinenczo just six.

“They just played better than us in every phase,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We just have to give them credit. Sometimes you come into a game, and the other team plays better. You try everything and our guys competed to the end, I’m proud of them for that, but we just ran into a team that played better than us tonight in every phase.”

Butler led 8-0 early, but Villanova outscored the Bulldogs 44-28 over the next 22½ minutes and took its biggest lead at 44-36 seven minutes into the second half.

But Butler – down eight against the No. 2 team in the country in a gym where the Wildcats hadn’t lost in four years – kept battling.

“I thought our guys played pretty loose and free and were able to make some open looks against their pressure,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “They’re 15th in the country in defensive efficiency for a reason, but our guys just got into a rhythm and made some open shots.”

Martin had 22 points and eight rebounds for Butler on 7 for 11 shooting. Kamar Baldwin added 15 points before fouling out, and Avery Woodson scored 13.

Butler shot 51 percent and 40 percent from three. Villanova shot just 44 percent and 41 percent in the second half and made just 6 of 24 from the arc – 25 percent.

“Their physicality, we just didn’t handle it well,” Wright said. “We turned it over [and] couldn’t get any assists (eight on 25 baskets).

“They just do a great job of playing every possession. They get down, they don’t do anything different. They just keep grinding, grinding, and try to do the same thing. When they got down, they didn’t crack at all. They just kept executing.

“We didn’t crack either but we just couldn’t get buckets. We didn’t execute well and a lot of it was their defense. They were just a better team than us tonight. We made more mistakes than they did.”

5 things to know about new Sixers big man Tiago Splitter

5 things to know about new Sixers big man Tiago Splitter

Whether or not the Sixers keep Tiago Splitter after acquiring him from the Hawks for Ersan Ilyasova has not been determined (see story). In the meantime, get to know the newest member of the team.

Splitter already knows his coach
Brett Brown was working on the Spurs’ coaching staff when Splitter began playing for the team in 2010. Splitter was a member of the 2013 Spurs squad that won the championship the year after Brown departed to coach the Sixers. 

Another international addition
This season, half of the Sixers’ roster is comprised of international players. Splitter is from Brazil and played on the national team. He was unable to compete in the Olympics last summer because of hip surgery. Splitter also played overseas in Europe before coming to the NBA. The location on his Twitter profile is “Smwhere in Usa or Brazil.” 

First-rounder in ‘07
Splitter did not play his rookie season until 2010, but he was drafted in 2007. The Spurs selected Splitter with the 28th overall pick. He was chosen one pick after Arron Afflalo and one before Alando Tucker. That is the same draft in which the Sixers chose Daequan Cook at No. 21 and traded him to the Heat for Jason Smith. 

Splitter on the mic
Nik Stauskas isn’t the only member of the Sixers with a broadcasting resume anymore. Splitter made appearances on the Hawks’ television broadcast this season and also for a Brazilian network during 2016 Summer Olympics. 

#RAISETHE …?
Will Splitter raise the cat? He’s already raised his five-month-old puppy in this recent Instagram post. 

Será que esta grande o Buddy? #5meses #dog He keeps growing 😱

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