Ohio State’s 56-21 win against Rutgers signifies the end of its unprecedented 10-game preseason schedule.
That’s how the Buckeyes have made it look, anyway, as Michigan State’s 24-point loss stands as the crowning achievement any opponent can claim so far.
Head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes are always quick to turn the page after a game, but never more so than Saturday, when the contest’s happenings took an immediate backseat to what lies ahead in the next two weeks.
“Now all focus — the minute that game went to zero — is on Penn State and getting ready for this next run,” Day said. “We gotta do everything we can to prepare for this game, and it starts right now. We talked about that and really talked very little about this game.”
If there ever was a week to look past an opponent, it would’ve been this one.
With the nation’s No. 2 team taking on the Big Ten East’s last-place Scarlet Knights, oddsmakers expected a historic beatdown. But after losing a fumbled punt, getting stuffed on four straight goal line opportunities and allowing the fourth-most yards of the year, Ohio State gave up 21 points to Rutgers –– tied for the most scored against them this season.
Following the first drive of the second half, sophomore quarterback Justin Fields’ last of the game, the Buckeyes and Scarlet Knights played to a 14-14 stalemate, with Ohio State losing the turnover differential 0-2.
In light of a performance Day called sloppy, the Buckeye coach didn’t have many takeaways.
“Some of these games, when your starters only play one half of football, it’s hard to get a real assessment of what goes on in these games,” Day said.
The flippant nature with which Day discussed the game’s proceedings may suggest that Ohio State’s collective head was not in Piscataway, New Jersey, but back in Columbus, dwelling on its Saturday date with No. 9 Penn State.
“They were definitely mentioned for sure,” senior safety Jordan Fuller said. “Definitely wanna celebrate this one, but we know we got a big test next week, so definitely wanna prepare for them as well.”
Fuller said Day has been preaching to the team the importance of having a “March Madness” mindset, wherein one loss could end Ohio State’s national title aspirations.
With Alabama junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending injury Saturday and the spotty play of Ohio State’s backups under center against Rutgers, health will be a key factor in the Buckeyes’ chance of winning out.
Junior running back J.K. Dobbins sat out the second half Saturday, and redshirt senior cornerback Damon Arnette didn’t play at all –– presumably resting for further chance of mending his wrist, which has been in a cast most of the season.
Not only do the Buckeyes get junior defensive end Chase Young back from suspension this week, but redshirt sophomore cornerback Shaun Wade hinted that several other key contributors may be returning for the rivalry game, as well.
“Chase is a big factor, Baron [Browning] is a big factor, [Jonathon Cooper] is a big factor, Austin Mack is a big factor on offense, so having them back is going to be a blessing,” Wade said.
Wade said he hopes the Nittany Lions are healthy, as well. In 2018’s 27-26 Buckeye victory against Penn State, junior wide receiver KJ Hamler blew past Wade for a 94-yard catch-and-run touchdown that the Ohio State corner said he still thinks about today.
However, Hamler’s status is questionable after leaving the Nittany Lions’ win against Indiana with a hit to the head.
“I want their best,” Wade said. “I want everybody that they say is going to play. I want everybody.”
Penn State will be Ohio State’s highest-ranked opponent immediately preceding Michigan Week since 2015, and its past three matchups with the Nittany Lions have been decided by a total of five points.
Day said he can’t imagine a season during which backup players have gotten as many game reps as the Buckeyes have this year, but they may very well be tested with their first fourth-quarter affair come Saturday.
“We know going into it, it’ll be tough. It’s a great team. They’ve been playing great,” Dobbins said. “And so we’re just gonna try to keep having that edge with them, so whatever we can do to do that, we’ll try it.”