Buckeyes take ‘big step forward’ but still work to be done

In an unusual season, No. 3 Ohio State did something it usually does: Go on the road and win.

After the Buckeyes beat Penn State 38-25, their record-tying 10th in a row against an AP top 25 team on its home field, Ryan Day hinted at this one potentially having more meaning than most.

“This was a big stage," the Ohio State coach said. “This was kind of our moment to show everybody where we’re at, and I’m proud of the way our guys played.”

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In a season already shortened to at most nine games because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ohio State’s opportunities to prove its mettle might be limited.

The 18th-ranked Nittany Lions were one of five ranked Big Ten teams entering the weekend but suffered their second loss of the season.

Then-No. 13 Michigan lost, too, while No. 9 Wisconsin was unable to play after suffering a COVID-19 outbreak among players and coaches that could yet scuttle more games.

In another nod to the outright strangeness of 2020, that leaves perennial doormat Indiana as Ohio State’s next potential statement game. The Hoosiers entered the weekend ranked 17th and took care of business against Rutgers 37-21.

The Hoosiers play Michigan and Michigan State the next two weeks before traveling to Ohio State on Nov. 21.

There is a lot of football to be played — or not played, depending on the whims of the novel coronavirus that can sideline swaths of rosters even if a game is not canceled — between now and Dec. 20 when the College Football Playoff committee is set to pick its final four, but every opportunity is precious at this point.

“I would say it was a big step forward,” Day said. “To win this game on a road is a huge step for us, but there’s a lot to be done. Absolutely. There’s a lot to be done, and we’ll just keep going back to work, but I think that’s really encouraging that there’s a lot of work to be done and you still play like this win like this you.”

ExploreBuckeyes dominate first half, hang on for second win of season

At Penn State, Ohio State won by double digits for the second week in a row without firing on all cylinders.

Ohio State received the opening kickoff and needed only three plays to score the first touchdown of the game, a string included a 62-yard run by Garrett Wilson to start the game.

The Buckeyes led 21-3 and looked like they would run away from the Nittany Lions, but that’s not how it worked out.

In the second half, Penn State figured out some ways to attack a still-green Ohio State secondary, dialing up run-pass options and deep balls that gave the Buckeyes problems.

Quarterback Justin Fields, primarily targeting Wilson and fellow receiver Chris Olave, led the OSU offensive attack with 318 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Ohio State added 208 yards on the ground, though a large chunk of that came on Wilson’s game-opening jaunt.

Running backs Master Teague and Trey Sermon ran for 110 and 56 yards, respectively, but Penn State was able to stack the line late to prevent the Buckeyes from running away with the game.

“I thought we played physical. I thought we had good energy. I thought we played tough,” Day said. "It wasn’t clean, but our guys just kept swinging away.

“We had some adversity along the way and we just we just kept playing hard.”

Next up is a visit from Rutgers on Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.

The Scarlet Knights are 1-1 after losing 37-21 to Indiana, but coach Greg Schiano’s team started the season by knocking off Michigan State.

The Spartans bounced back by beating rival Michigan, so both of Great Lakes State teams are already a game back of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten East race.

With a pair of losses already and now lacking the tiebreaker against Ohio State, Penn State is essentially out of the race despite being perceived as the Buckeyes' biggest threat before the season began.

That should drive home Day’s message about the importance of focusing on what’s directly in front of the Buckeyes even if challengers are in short supply in the Big Ten this season.

“We knew it was a big game coming into it, but coach Day said to take it one week at a time,” Fields said. "We’re just going to focus on Rutgers next week, but we’re definitely happy to get this win.

“I think we did a lot of stuff better, but to be honest I’m just happy we won the game.”

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