STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – If there was one reason Ohio State wouldn't win the Big Ten title and make a return trip to the national championship game this season, it would be the inconsistent play of quarterback Todd Boeckman.
Such was the conventional wisdom of those who have watched the Buckeyes this season and been blown away by a devastating defense but underwhelmed by what seemed to be an underachieving offense.
If there is one reason why Ohio State will win the conference and be in the BCS title game in January it will be the consistent play of quarterback Todd Boeckman.
That was the feeling you came away with after the junior completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-17 win over No. 25 Penn State on Saturday night.
It was a virtuoso performance by Boeckman, who showed a confidence and poise that should give those chasing the No. 1 Buckeyes (9-0 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) pause.
"I think the coaches put a great game plan together today," said Boeckman who excelled throwing the deep ball. "I think they saw something with our offense and their defense. You just got to take those shots to back those corners off."
The same guy who lost a fumble and threw an interception that gift-wrapped 14 points for Michigan State a week earlier was cool under fire and came up with clutch throws, no matter how loudly the 110,134 crazies at Beaver Stadium crowed.
"I think he's doing a great job," OSU receiver Brian Hartline said of Boeckman. "I think he's embracing the role. Following a Heisman Trophy guy (Troy Smith) was probably a little difficult at first. But he came into his own and grabbed the attention of the team and he's running with it."
OHIO STATE 37, PENN STATE 17
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise and delivering the ball with zip. The lone blemish on his night was a second-quarter interception.
After Penn State drove 78 yards for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead on its first possession, Ohio State answered immediately, marching 80 yards on six plays to take a lead it would not relinquish. The quick strike was highlighted by a 60-yard completion from Boeckman to Ray Small which temporarily quieted what had been a raucous Nittany Lions crowd.
Penn State's A.J. Wallace returned a kickoff 97 yards with 3:16 left in the game to provide a positive for the Lions and give the Buckeyes something to work on in practice next week.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes retain the top spot in the BCS standings and now own two victories over ranked teams. They must stay the course against Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan to get back to the BCS championship and there is little reason to believe they won't succeed.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR PENN STATE
The Nittany Lions were hoping for a victory that would return the program to national prominence. Instead they were dominated in front of a national TV audience and will fall hard out of the top 25. Quarterback Anthony Morelli struggled and was pulled in the fourth quarter. Things look bleak in Happy Valley.
Penn State's touchdown on its opening drive marked the first time this season the Ohio State defense allowed first-quarter points. ... Boeckman's 60-yard completion to Small was the longest play allowed by Penn State's defense this season. Ohio State's 91-yard scoring drive in the second quarter was the longest the Penn State defense has allowed this season. …
Or more accurately, throwing with it.
After Penn State took a 7-3 lead on a 2-yard TD run by Rodney Kinlaw at 8:25 of the first, Boeckman calmly led the Buckeyes on a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive culminated by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie. The biggest play was a 60-yard Boeckman to Ray Small hookup, the quarterback finding his man in stride and out of the reach of Lions defenders.
Boeckman's ability to throw deep has never been in question. But on this night he also delivered crisp passes of varying lengths to open receivers, deftly directing scoring drives, chewing up clock and piling up first downs.
"He threw with good feet and with good velocity on the ball," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "He made good decisions. He stepped up into the pocket well.
"I think he threw with a lot of confidence tonight and that starts with not having a whole bunch of people in your face."
Ohio State, helped by 133 yards rushing by Chris Wells, controlled the ball for 37:52 and Boeckman and the Buckeyes made good on 12 of 16 third-down conversions. The best might have been a third-and-14 in the second quarter when Boeckman hit Hartline with a 16-yard touchdown pass at 9:53.
Boeckman was brilliant on that possession, leading his team's 15-play, 91-yard march that took 6:26 and seemed to deflate Joe Paterno's charges.
But he wasn't infallible. He was intercepted by Penn State All-American linebacker Dan Connor with 4:57 left in the half, setting the Lions up at their own 41. The Ohio State defense bailed him out and forced Penn State to punt after penetrating to the OSU 38.
"He had the one throw that I think he rushed a little bit and tried to slip it in there instead of throwing with the authority he did all day," Tressel said.
Boeckman plans to learn from the error.
"We had a few mistakes," he said. "I threw a pick and you can't have that. You just gotta keep on improving and hopefully next week we won't have any turnovers and maybe will play a better game."
The Buckeyes, who piled up 453 yards total offense, delivered the knockout punch on their first possession of the second half. Boeckman found Jake Ballard for a 15-yard TD pass with 6:10 left making it 24-7 OSU. Thirteen plays 87 yards, 5:28 elapsed. Game over.
The Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-3) managed a 27-yard field goal by Kevin Kelly with 1:27 left in the third. OSU's Ryan Pretorious countered with a 37-yard field goal, his second of the night, at 9:52 of the fourth. Pretorious, who opened the scoring with a 50-yard boot, tacked on a third, a 35-yarder, with 3:30 remaining in the game.
Malcolm Jenkins' interception and 24-yard return of an Anthony Morelli pass at with 9:36 provided the exclamation point for OSU. The Buckeyes' top-rated defense held Penn State to 263 yards.
Daryll Clark replaced Morelli on the next possession, giving Lions fans something to cheer. They got one more chance to exercise their lungs when A.J. Wallace returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown with 3:16 left, setting the final score.
It was a night to forget for Penn State and Morelli – its pilloried quarterback (12 of 21 passing, 111 yards, interception).
At the same time it was Boeckman's finest hour in a burg that has been less than kind to the Buckeyes. With Saturday's victory, OSU is now 3-5 in Happy Valley.
With home games left against Wisconsin and Illinois before the regular-season closing roadie at Michigan, Ohio State hasn't guaranteed itself anything just yet, other than the top spot in the BCS standings for another week. But the win at Penn State did much to silence critics who claimed that the Buckeyes haven't beaten anyone worth a damn.
Or did it?
"We have a nice little four-game season," Hartline said. "This was game one of the four. I'm sure they'll figure out that Penn State wasn't that good. But we'll keep chugging."
Maybe all the way to New Orleans.
Gerry Ahern is a senior editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Gerry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.