Putting a game into perspective, no matter the result, is usually a good measuring stick for evaluation. This week is no different.
A win against Ohio State on Saturday would have been ideal for Penn State, but let’s think back to the beginning of the season for a second. Even though Urban Meyer was no longer at the helm, the Buckeyes were still pegged by many as favorites to win the Big Ten. Meyer left a talent-laden roster for first-year coach Ryan Day.
As the season progressed and Penn State accumulated wins, expectations for the teams’ late-November matchup heightened.
Those expectations from Happy Valley reached a crescendo in Week 11 when the Nittany Lions traveled to Minnesota with the AP No. 5 ranking and a sparkling 8-0 record. Penn State left Minnesota with its first blemish.
So Penn State entered its contest with Ohio State as a heavy underdog. Experts in Vegas deemed the Nittany Lions 18 points worse than Ohio State, even though their last three meetings were decided by a combined five points.
Forty-five minutes into Saturday’s game, the Buckeyes carried a four-point lead into the fourth quarter — and that’s after Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford left the game with an injury.
Penn State’s defense, which has at times this season struggled to contain the pass, did its part against Ohio State. Despite allowing 255 yards in the first half, it yielded just two touchdowns and kept the game close while the offense attempted to find its way. Ohio State possessed the football for 9 minutes, 14 seconds longer than Penn State through the first two quarters.
The Nittany Lions whittled their deficit to four points in the second half, and Ohio State’s 11-point victory was its smallest margin all year.
Statistically, the Buckeyes have operated at mind-boggling levels this season. They entered Saturday’s game with not only the nation’s top-ranked scoring offense (51.5 points per game), but also with the nation’s best scoring defense (9.8 points per game).
Penn State held Ohio State to its lowest-scoring output this season, and, for what seems like for the first time this year, made quarterback Justin Fields appear mortal. The one-time Penn State verbal commit and first-year Buckeyes signal-caller carried 41 touchdowns (31 passing, 10 rushing) and one interception into the game.
Ohio State will play either Minnesota or Wisconsin on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship, and the Buckeyes will be favorites to win that contest and secure a berth in the College Football Playoff.
I have long contended that Ohio State is the class of the NCAA this season. The Buckeyes have consistently played at a high level in all three phases of the game. It’d be no surprise to see them as the last team standing.
Modern-day college football is as competitive as ever, and the College Football Playoff has only amplified the need to win.
Short an upset of colossal proportions by Rutgers at Beaver Stadium next week, Penn State will end the regular season at 10-2 and in strong contention to play in a Jan. 1 bowl game.
That, of course, is the same Penn State team many — including yours truly — pegged to finish with eight or nine wins this season.
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