COLUMBUS, Ohio — Braxton Miller was once a true freshman leading a Big Ten offense, just like Christian Hackenberg is now. Penn State remembers. The Nittany Lions beat a teenage Miller here at the Horseshoe in 2011.
Those rookies, they grow up.
The best days for Hackenberg are still ahead of him. Miller’s are here right now.
Hackenberg struggled in the first big road test of his young career while Miller looked in Heisman form, leading Ohio State to an overwhelming 63-14 lead in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s showdown in Columbus.
It wasn’t that close. It was only the third time since the dawn of the 20th century that Penn State surrendered more than 50 points.
Needing to impress voters after debuting at No. 4 in the BCS rankings, the Buckeyes did their part, destroying the Lions in the first half, scoring six touchdowns on seven drives.
Miller was the catalyst for it all, finishing 18-of-24 for 252 yards and three touchdowns to go with 68 yards and two more scores on the ground. He sat down in the third quarter.
It was the most points Penn State allowed in the first half since joining the Big Ten in 1993.
Hackenberg, meanwhile, played like nearly ever Penn State quarterback before him to enter Ohio Stadium. He had little time to throw. His decision-making was shaky. And he turned the ball over.
His night ended midway through the third quarter with his throwing shoulder wrapped after getting knocked around by the Ohio State defense. Rather than risk injury, Tyler Ferguson took over under center. Hackenberg finished 12-of-23 for 112 yards.
Brandon Felder caught a 12-yard score from Hackenberg. Allen Robinson went 65 yards for a touchdown on a catch-and-run from Ferguson.
Hackenberg threw two picks in the first half — logs on a Buckeyes’ bonfire that quickly raged out of control. He was also crushed and fumbled on a blindside sack as left tackle Donovan Smith had trouble handling rush end Noah Spence.
Though Jesse James recovered that first-quarter fumble, Hackenberg was picked off on the next play and the rout was on.
Hackenberg and tailback Bill Belton had led the Lions on a solid first drive after the Buckeyes had scored on theirs. But a toss to Adam Breneman in the end zone was a bit late and undercut by the safety for the turnover.
Zach Zwinak lost his third fumble of the season in the third quarter. The Buckeyes converted it into another score two plays later. By the time Ohio State began to call off the dogs, the backups were still finding the end zone, building the lead as high as eight touchdowns.