It was ugly.

It was humbling.

It was embarrassing.

There's no other way to describe Penn State's 63-14 beatdown on Saturday at Ohio State.

That doesn't mean, however, that the Nittany Lions' 2013 season must spiral wildly into the abyss.

Penn State can still salvage a winning season out of the wreckage at Horseshoe.

Need an example?

Look back to 1994.

Penn State was riding high back then, thanks to a nearly unstoppable offense featuring Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins and Bobby Engram. They would finish the season 12-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Ohio State, meanwhile, had a decent, but certainly not great team in 1994 - at least by Buckeye standards.

OSU came into Beaver Stadium at 6-2 and hoping to make a statement with a victory over the unbeaten Lions. They left with a 63-14 whipping in front of a national television audience.

That should sound eerily familiar.

What's really pertinent here, however, is what Ohio State did after the pounding administered by Penn State.

The Buckeyes finished the regular season with three-straight victories, including an impressive 22-6 triumph over arch-rival Michigan, which was ranked No. 15 at the time. That earned Ohio State a Citrus Bowl berth, where the Buckeyes were very competitive in a 24-17 loss against Alabama, which ended up No. 5 in the nation.


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Ohio State responded to one of the most humiliating losses in program history by refusing back down. Instead, they fought back and ended up with a respectable 9-4 record and a final ranking of No. 14 by the Associated Press.

There's a lesson there for Penn State.

The Lions can wallow in self-pity, or they can get their backsides up and refuse to quit.

It starts Saturday at home against Illinois - a team with its own problems.

The Fighting Illini (3-4 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) are coming off a 42-3 whipping by Michigan State. They've lost three straight, allowing nearly 46 points per game.

Again, that should sound familiar. Penn State (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) has lost two of its last three while allowing 49 points per game.

Obviously, these are two teams with severe defensive issues. The points could come early and often on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

If Penn State can beat Illinois (the Lions are favored by 10), it's followed by two more winnable games - at Minnesota (6-2, 2-2) and at home vs. Purdue (1-6, 0-3). The Lions then end the season at home against Nebraska (5-2, 2-1) and at Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1). The only ranked team among the bunch is the No. 24 Badgers.

There are no great teams there - certainly no Ohio States.

Of course, it's obvious now that Penn State is nowhere near great, either. In fact, after last Saturday's debacle, the Lions would have to climb a few rungs just to get to mediocre.

Still, the Ohio State game counts as just one loss, no matter if it was by four points or 49 points.

It does not have to ruin Penn State's season. All of the remaining games, with the possible exception of the finale in Madison, Wisc., look within reach.

The Lions can bow their necks and try to slug their way back to respectability, or they can assume the fetal position and willingly accept some more abuse.

It's up to them.

Starting at noon Saturday, the real character of this Penn State football team will be revealed.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.