25 words or fewer: With offensive improvement and defensive cracks, the Buckeyes - AP No.1 for a record 102nd time - will become men in black as Penn State comes calling.

25 words or fewer

With offensive improvement and defensive cracks, the Buckeyes - AP No.1 for a record 102nd time - will become men in black as Penn State comes calling.

>>Dispatchsports editor Ray Stein answers your questions about Buckeyes football during our weekly chat, 1 p.m. Thursday, dispatch.com/osuchat

In the polls

The Buckeyes, winners of a nation's-best 19 straight games, clung to No.1 in the Associated Press media poll, breaking its tie with Oklahoma for most weeks ever at the top in the poll's 79-year history. But OSU, which was the first unanimous No.1 in the AP's 50-year preseason poll history, is down to just 27 first-place votes, of the possible 61. New No.2 Baylor has 13, No.3 Texas Christian has three and fast-rising Utah, the new No.4, has 16. OSU stayed No.1 in the coaches' poll, too, followed by Baylor (up from fourth), TCU and Michigan State, which dropped one spot to No.4.

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What's hot?

The Mr. Outside (the red zone) and the Mr. Inside (the red zone) quarterback tango. Mr. Outside, aka Cardale Jones, passed for a career-high 291 yards, completing a personal-best 21 tosses (out of 28) with two going for touchdowns, including a 48-yarder to Jalin Marshall in the third quarter for the go-ahead score. Mr. Inside - J.T. Barrett - went in to direct the Buckeyes to five touchdowns, scoring three himself on runs. OSU was 6 of 6 inside the 20-yard line, scoring TDs each time, including on a 19-yard pass from Jones to Braxton Miller.

What's not hot?

The run defense. Did the Buckeyes ever really get a true handle on Maryland's surprise starting quarterback, Perry Hills, who gained 170 of the Terrapins' 253 rushing yards, or did he just get tired? His 75-yard scrambling sprint up the middle just before halftime was a five-alarm moment for the defense, which allowed Indiana's Zander Diamont go 79 yards on one rip the week before. The 253 are the most rushing yards OSU has given up since the 281 by Indiana in the 11th game last season.

What went right?

The passing game. Jones was patient with his reads and usually spot-on with his throws, like on the TD toss to Marshall. It was a late break to a skinny post that popped Marshall wide open, and Jones delivered the ball 55 yards in the air with not much more than a flick. The back-to-back passes to Miller that netted the other passing TD were well-schemed and well-executed, as well. OSU passed for a season-high 317 yards overall.

Back to the drawing board

That's what the defense was doing most of the game as it tried to get a handle on Hills, who both scrambled and ran the option effectively. Most of those tactical changes can be scrapped this week because Penn State's Christian Hackenberg prefers to operate from the pocket (he has rushed for a net of minus-34 yards this season). What's salient, though, is the Buckeyes have given up 598 yards rushing the past three games, a leak that's growing.

Catch that?

The offensive line shuffled when left guard Billy Price had to leave for a play because one of his contact lenses was poked out. Jamarco Jones ran in and went to right tackle, Chase Farris moved from right tackle to right guard, and right guard Pat Elflein moved to left guard. Left tackle Taylor Decker and center Jacoby Boren stayed put.

Up next

Penn State (5-1), which a week after outflanking Army beat Indiana 29-7. The MO on the Nittany Lions is much the same as it was this time a year ago: The defense is playing great, 10th in the country in total defense (275.7-yard average) and tied for 11th in scoring defense (14.3); the offense, directed by Hackenberg, is still in search of consistency, sitting 103rd in total yards (344.3 average).

This week's challenge

The Buckeyes are used to this routine, taking on teams that are gunning for them. That they sometimes take awhile to counterpunch is what has been vexing and not impressing the poll voters, but they have outscored opponents 132-47 in the second half. Then again, Ohio State was up 17-0 at Penn State last year, blew that lead and needed two overtimes and a sack by Joey Bosa to seal the win. Such a struggle this week could see the Buckeyes wave goodbye to their No.1 ranking.

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports