COLUMBUS, Ohio – No. 2 Ohio State barely made it through its first big challenge of the season on Saturday night, escaping Wisconsin with a 30-23 overtime victory after a clutch second-half rally.
Now it's on to Penn State for another prime-time matchup this Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC) against a Big Ten opponent.
Coach Urban Meyer summed up the attitude of the Buckeyes after the hard-fought win at Wisconsin when he said, “That was a ballgame.”
Indeed it was. Ohio State fell behind 16-6 at halftime but outscored Wisconsin 23-7 in the second half and overtime to remain unbeaten and atop the Big Ten East Division standings with Michigan.
“We did get outplayed,” Meyer said. “I wouldn't say we got out-toughed. They didn't out-effort us. They had some very good stuff. Very good team, very good coaches, and you keep swinging.
“As anguished as that was, as much of a root canal as that was, I'd much rather have it that way for that kind of game, for the development of your team.”
This week, Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) will be trying to extend its road winning streak to 21 games, the longest in the country, when it visits Happy Valley. Penn State (4-2, 2-1) is not quite up to its usual standards of the Joe Paterno era but always seems to give Ohio State a game in State College.
Two years ago, quarterback J.T. Barrett and defensive lineman Joey Bosa helped the Buckeyes get out of town with a double-overtime road victory before a raucous white-out crowd. Barrett turned in a gutty performance after suffering a sprained MCL, leading the Buckeyes to the comeback win.
Meyer thought that game was lost.
“I just remember thinking what am I going to say to this team afterwards? It crossed my mind,” Meyer recalled. “And he kind of just took it on his shoulders. I get to see things that all fans do not get to see. I get to see him about six inches from my face and see the intensity and the focus and the human spirit that is as good as I've ever been around.”
Barrett did the same Saturday night against Wisconsin, where he led a second-half comeback against the formidable Badgers.
The redshirt junior ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and completed 17 of 29 passes for 226 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Barrett's 7-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Noah Brown in the overtime was the difference.
In the win, Barrett set a school record for touchdowns responsible for with 89, breaking the mark set by former quarterback and wide receiver Braxton Miller from 2011 to 2015.
“I've been lucky, you know. You look at some of the quarterbacks that I've been blessed to coach and I've been around and I know in that situation that's who I want behind center,” Meyer said of Barrett. “He didn't play his best game, when he does it's incredible. The absolute test of a leader is to raise the level of play of those around you and he's surrounded by a bunch of guys who are newbies this year.
“It's a quarterback's responsibility to pick up his level of play, same with a bunch of new receivers so that's what makes J.T. so special.”
Ohio State's defense gave up 236 yards on the ground and 45 total yards against Wisconsin. But like the offense, the Buckeyes made adjustments at halftime and limited the Badgers to one touchdown in the second half.
This week, Ohio State will see one of the Big Ten's best running backs. Sequon Barkley has rushed for 582 yards and eight touchdowns on 117 carries. Barkley ran for 202 yards against Maryland a week ago.
“That's number one on the hit parade as far as Penn State, to stop them,” Meyer said of Barkley. “You won't stop him, but minimize the impact the running back has on us.”
Penn State is hoping that a bye week and a “White-Out” game with 107,000 fans in Beaver Stadium will inspire an upset. The Nittany Lions, though, are just 1-4 in “White-Outs” since 2011, including two losses to the Buckeyes.
“We're going to need the fans,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We're going to need the alumni. We're going to need everybody. This is a tremendous challenge we have that we're facing all together, and we're going to need the stadium to be the most difficult environment in the history of college football come Saturday night.”