Maybe it turns out the same, either way. Maybe Ohio State still hammers Penn State, 35-23 (or whatever), no matter what happens late in the second quarter.
The unbeaten Buckeyes, after all, outrushed the Nittany Lions, 234-36, with Braxton Miller, their marvelous sophomore quarterback, accounting for 134 of those yards, and two touchdowns. He also threw the clinching TD pass, a 72-yarder to Jake Stoneburner with 6:11 to play.
And the OSU defense, which had allowed the second-most passing yards in the conference before Saturday, managed to stymie Penn State's air attack much of the day. A 17-yard interception return by linebacker Ryan Shazier early in the third quarter -- just the third pick Matt McGloin has thrown all year -- put the Buckeyes ahead for good.
(Not to be forgotten, either, is the fact that PSU's rushing total, which came on 28 carries, was far and away a season low. Their previous low of 92 came in the opener.)
But rewind to the second quarter. The Lions, leading 7-0, had just forced their seventh punt of the half -- their seventh in as many Ohio State possessions. They had limited the Buckeyes to 82 yards to that point. Miller had rushed for exactly 17, on 11 carries.
And then the flag flew.
Defensive holding, Penn State.
Backup defensive end Brad Bars was the culprit, apparently for delaying an OSU player at the line of scrimmage as he attempted to get downfield to cover the punt. It was one of nine penalties in the game against the Lions, for 85 yards.
Instead of surrendering the ball, Ohio State had new life, with a first down at its own 37. Running back Rod Smith darted 12 yards on the very first snap. Three plays later, Carlos Hyde bulled three yards on third-and-two. Two plays after that, Miller scurried 33 yards to the PSU 3.
Hyde wound up going in from the 1 with 34 seconds left in the half, tying the game.
It all unraveled for Penn State from there. Shazier's pick-6 came three plays into the third quarter. A fake punt by the Lions later in the period went begging, setting the stage for a 10-play, 57-yard TD drive by the Buckeyes, culminating in the first of two one-yard scoring runs by Miller. His other came at the end of an eight-play, 85-yard march, the next time Ohio State had the ball.
That made it 28-10. The Lions would get no closer than 12 the rest of the day.
When asked afterward if he had gotten an explanation of the defensive-holding call, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien scowled and said he had not, though he appeared to spend a great deal of time discussing it with the officials.
I wouldn't say it was deflating, linebacker Gerald Hodges, who led both teams with 14 tackles, said of the call. We made a few mistakes we wish we could have had back. That's part of the game.
Fellow linebacker Glenn Carson said it was definitely a tough break, but added, It's one of those things. We've got to keep moving forward. When the momentum goes against us, we've got to keep fighting.
Instead, things seemed to unravel.
McGloin, who went 27 for 45 for a career-high 327 yards and two scores, said he never saw Shazier on the pick, that indeed he expected the linebacker to be elsewhere.
I don't know if he knew the play was coming or he read my eyes, or what, McGloin said.
And what of the fake punt, on which punter Alex Butterworth was unable to connect on a pass to Derek Day?
I felt at that point in time we wanted to get something going, O'Brien said. We had it. We didn't execute it.
Those two back-breaking drives followed.
We had opportunities to makes plays and get off the field, said linebacker Mike Mauti, excellent again with 13 tackles. We've just got to execute.
A couple guys maybe got a little tired out there, Carson said, and blew assignments.
And the game, as a result, escaped them. Might have happened anyway; Ohio State was clearly the better team on this day, and might be on any day. But the momentum appeared to swing on that second-quarter flag.