In recent weeks, one thing was for sure when it came to Ohio State football: the offense was on a historic streak.
But after posting 50 or more points in four straight games to set a new school record, the No. 13 Buckeyes needed a pair of overtimes and a defensive stand to escape State College, Pa., with a win early Sunday morning after a Saturday night kickoff.
Despite the OSU offense posting just 293 total yards in the 31-24 win against Penn State, sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa — who sacked Nittany Lion sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg on the game’s final play — said the Buckeyes now have a better idea of who they are and what they have the ability to do.
“I think we learned that we are a real team,” Bosa said after the game. “And when adversity strikes, we can come together and win a big game in a crazy environment.”
Now the “real team” he spoke of has a week to try and right the wrongs from its win against the Nittany Lions. And while those rights typically outweigh the wrongs when a team comes out on top, Buckeye coach Urban Meyer said there are still positions of concern that must be addressed.
“Credit to our opponent,” Meyer said after the game. “They played their tails off. They outplayed us up front, I think. I was a little upset with the way we played up front and we’ve got to get that fixed.”
The Buckeyes’ next chance to see if they were able to fix some of those mistakes is set to come Saturday against Illinois back home at Ohio Stadium.
Beyond simply improving the on-field product, the team might want to use the week to catch up on rest after working overtime against the Nittany Lions. Following the game — which began just after 8 p.m. and finished well after midnight — Bosa said he was so exhausted that he didn’t immediately realize what he had done on the final play.
“I was so tired, I didn’t even know it was a sack until everybody started yelling,” he said. “I looked over and (Hackenberg) had the ball and (junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington) came to hug me and I just fell down and everybody jumped on top of me.
“Oh man, I’m just so, so exhausted.”
But no matter how many snaps they had played or how tired each individual player was, the Buckeyes still found a way to come out on top after the Nittany Lions tied the game at 17 with just nine seconds remaining in regulation.
Redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee said the team’s ability to pull through in the extra periods came from the knowledge that they simply had to stand strong as a group.
“They had all the momentum because they drove on us,” Lee said after the game. “We just knew we had to stick together, bond together and just finish the game.”
As his team got ready to stand up to the Penn State challenge in overtime, Meyer said he knew what side of the field the Nittany Lions would choose. During the first overtime period, both teams attacked the end zone closest to the Penn State student section, theoretically giving the Nittany Lions an advantage.
But despite a rambunctious crowd, what Meyer saw next was a redshirt-freshman quarterback take charge late after the OSU defense gave up a touchdown on Penn State’s first overtime possession.
“Down when we play defense first and then they go score, and then we had to come back,” Meyer said. “That was one of the toughest — you know, to see your freshman quarterback do that.”
Meyer added he was fully aware of how loud it was during overtime, and praised J.T. Barrett’s ability to get it done when it mattered most.
“I actually pulled my ear(phone) off a couple times to hear how loud it was. It can’t get louder,” he said. “To nut up like that and get it done, he did a nice job.”
And Barrett did it all after spraining his knee in the first half, Meyer said.
Combined with Bosa’s final-play sack, Barrett’s rushing ability — which led to two overtime touchdowns on the ground for the Wichita Falls, Texas, native — saved the Buckeyes when they were staring at a possible second loss of the season.
“Whatever it takes, you gotta do it,” Barrett said of his play in overtime.
Even after escaping with a late win, there’s one word Meyer said he didn’t want associated with his team’s performance: luck.
“We don’t use that term, luck,” he said. “I never call someone and say good luck because why do you work? Good luck and go home early tonight with a rabbit in your pocket and hope things work out.
“You don’t do that. It’s not luck. It was a tough game.”
After that difficult challenge, the Buckeyes will look to (not) get lucky once again when the Fighting Illini are scheduled to visit Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.