Ohio State’s 31-16 Week 2 loss to Oklahoma Saturday night places immense pressure on the Buckeyes. To have a chance of reaching the College Football Playoff for the third time since it was created four years ago, Ohio State will likely have to go undefeated for the remainder of the season.
In order to do that, the No. 8 Buckeyes (1-1) will have to upset No. 5 Penn State (2-0), the team that took down then-No. 2, undefeated Ohio State 24-21 last October.
Prior to defeating the Buckeyes last season, the Nittany Lions had not defeated a ranked team since coach James Franklin took over the program in 2014.
Since that game, the Nittany Lions have only lost one game, a thrilling 51-48 defeat at the hands of USC in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State, on the other hand, has never looked the same, especially on offense.
Calls for Dwayne Haskins or Joe Burrow to replace J.T. Barrett at quarterback have increased. The offense, which many presumed would change under new co-offensive coordinators Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day, looks similar to last year’s.
Fortunately for Ohio State, it has time on its side. The Buckeyes don’t play the Nittany Lions until Oct. 28, after a bye week and face off against lesser-talented squads that game. Games against Army (Sunday), UNLV (Sept. 23), Rutgers (Sept. 30) and Maryland (Oct. 7) will test Ohio State’s in-season improvements. It is unlikely that any of those teams will upset the Buckeyes, but they offer opportunities for the Scarlet and Gray to improve.
In the meantime, the Nittany Lions are hitting their stride, having decimated Akron 52-0 and dominated in-state rival Pittsburgh 33-14.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley and Heisman Trophy-candidate running back Saquon Barkley returned to power an electric offense that returned nine starters, including four offensive linemen.
Tight end Mike Gesicki, a preseason first-team All-American who was named to the Mackey Award preseason watch list, has caught a team-high 10 passes and four touchdowns in the first two games of the year.
Given Ohio State’s unstable, inexperienced pass defense, which has surrendered 806 passing yards in the first two games of the season, a McSorley-led offense might have a field day against the Buckeyes. Ohio State stuffed Indiana and Oklahoma’s run games in the first two weeks. However, Barkley has dominated the Buckeyes, averaging 7.7 yards per carry, in the past. As a freshman against Ohio State, he took 26 carries for 194 yards. Last season, he ran 12 times for 99 yards.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State’s offense will have a second chance to win the battle up front. After last season’s game, coach Urban Meyer pinpointed the offensive line not being able to hold off Penn State’s ravenous front seven as the reason for the loss. This means junior right tackle Isaiah Prince will have a shot at redemption after the Nittany Lions turned him into a turnstile a year ago.
Beyond just the players currently on the field, Penn State will have a chance to make history.
The Nittany Lions might be favored to win its second game in a row against Ohio State for the first time since 1980, when the Nittany Lions took down the Buckeyes 31-19 in the Fiesta Bowl.
But Ohio State also has history on its side. A Meyer-coached team has lost to an in-conference opponent in back-to-back seasons only twice in 17 years, and that hasn’t happened since he was named Ohio State head coach.
Whichever team wins the battle between classic Big Ten powers on Oct. 28 will gain an edge in the battle to win the East Division. And if Penn State wins, Ohio State will likely be kept from a conference championship for the third year in a row.