UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Payback for Ohio State was winning by the skin of its teeth yesterday, not on the crest of a big blowout.
Revisiting the site of their worst loss in 48 years, the fifth-ranked Buckeyes outlasted Penn State, 28-25, before a Beaver Stadium crowd of 96,655 and a national television audience.
Revenge for last year's 63-14 loss was effectively knocking 12th-ranked Penn State (3-2, 0-2) out of the Rose Bowl picture.
"They beat us bad here last year," said Ohio State tailback Eddie George, who scored the winning touchdown on a 6-yard slant with 1:42 left. "We wanted to win because of that, and to keep our Big Ten hopes alive."
Big Ten hopes? The unbeaten Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) gathered momentum in their bid for the national championship. For the second straight week, they had to wipe out a 10-point deficit. For the first time this season, they had to come from behind in the fourth quarter. They did it with a bevy of big plays and clutch
Quarterback Bobby Hoying, who threw three interceptions in last year's debacle, threw three touchdown passes in the sequel. His 24 completions and 354 yards were both career highs.
Flanker Terry Glenn was a sideline magician, catching nine passes for 175 yards and two of those touchdowns. That gave him eight TDs in three games.
Tight end Rickey Dudley, who doubles as a basketball player for the Buckeyes, pulled down a 32-yard reception to set up the winning score, one of his five catches for 97 yards.
Then there was George, Ohio State's Heisman Trophy candidate, bottled up for much of the day as the focal point of Penn State's defense. But his game-winning touchdown run made him the first back to rush for 100 against the Nittany Lions this year.
For all of those exploits, Ohio State coach John Cooper reached for another bottom line.
"The credit, in my opinion, goes to the defense," he said. "When we had to get the ball back the last two possessions, we did."
After Penn State went ahead, 25-21, on Jon Witman's second 1-yard touchdown dive of the game, the Lions' offense went three plays-and-out on consecutive series. Penn State's defense was frustrated by the lack of offense in crunch time.
"It was tough," said linebacker Gerald Filardi. "We made some big plays with [Brian Miller's] interception and stopping them on fourth-and-one [at the Penn State 21]. We had a shot, but the offense couldn't move the ball up the field and run some clock time."
In a game when Ohio State had two 80-yard scoring drives and another of 98, the Buckeyes covered a mere 58 yards to get the win. Hoying hit Buster Tillman for 13 yards on third-and-10 to trigger the series. On the next play, he went deep to Dudley, who beat Filardi for the catch at the 13.
"He took the wrong pursuit angle," Dudley said of Filardi, "and when Bob saw that, he immediately hit me with the ball. After the catch, there was no doubt we were going to score the touchdown."
Hoying ran George behind 6-foot-5, 330-pound left tackle Orlando Pace twice to cover the final 13 yards. "Everybody contributed and everybody made a big play," Hoying said. "Coming off the field, that was the best feeling I've had playing football."
Hoying threw scoring passes of 28 and 37 yards to Glenn, and a 25-yarder to Dudley as OSU turned a 10-0 deficit into a 21-10 lead.
Penn State got back in the game with a revamped offense. A week ago, in a 17-9 loss to Wisconsin, the Lions threw 48 passes and ran the ball 26 times. Against Ohio State, they ran 49 times and passed 27. The battering ram wasn't senior tailback Mike Archie, though, but freshman phenom Curtis Enis, who rambled for 146 yards on 25 carries.
As it was, Ohio State had to withstand Penn State's last-gasp offense in the waning moments. Wally Richardson, who completed 12 of 27 for 173 yards, moved the Lions to midfield with two passes.
But his pass protection broke down and Richardson was sacked for a 12-yard loss on third down. On fourth down, Richardson threw into a crowd of players at the Ohio State 5, and the ball eluded split end Bobby Engram.
"It comes down to who makes the last big play, and they did," said Engram, who caught five passes for 86 yards.
Even this emotional win couldn't completely make up for last year's loss, Ohio State nose guard Luke Fickell said.
"No," he said, "nothing can make up for that. They'll never forget that in Columbus. And we'll never forget it, either."