On Saturday night, the Ohio State football team watched along with the rest of the nation as Penn State proved worthy of its No. 2 ranking by dismantling Michigan, 42-13.
It was the result the Buckeyes wanted. Not only did their archrival get humbled, but Penn State became an even bigger prize for sixth-ranked Ohio State.
“I want Penn State to win,” defensive end Nick Bosa had said on Wednesday. “I want them to be coming in nice and on their high horse. I hope they win and come in No. 2 in the country.”
In a lot of ways, Saturday’s showdown in Columbus will be the mirror image of last year’s game against the Nittany Lions. In 2016, Ohio State was ranked No. 2 coming off an emotional prime-time win at Wisconsin a week earlier. The Nittany Lions had an off week before playing the Buckeyes.
Ohio State played like a team that was a bit spent. It failed to nurse a 21-7 lead and lost when Penn State returned a blocked field-goal attempt for a touchdown. The outcome propelled the Nittany Lions to the Big Ten championship and forced the Buckeyes to win out to make the College Football Playoff.
Now Ohio State, which was off last week, is the team lying in wait. Senior center Billy Price said on Wednesday that he had already studied video of four Penn State games.
The bye week “is a huge advantage for us,” he said. “Obviously, we get guys rested up and get guys relaxed and get an extra week of preparation.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has been almost perfect in his career in games after off weeks. His only loss was in his first year at Bowling Green, against Miami University. Since then, he has won 20 straight times after a week off.
It should be noted that only three of those opponents were ranked in the top 10, and none was higher than No. 4.
“The minute you say it's a great advantage, you don't play well,” Meyer said.
He said he has been trying to strike a balance between keeping his players fresh and healthy while also getting in needed work.
“When you’re playing well, you’d like to keep rolling,” Meyer said.
On Thursday, the Buckeyes had a scrimmage lasting 55 to 60 plays in shells rather than full pads.
Ohio State (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) has played well since losing to Oklahoma in Week 2. But those five victories came against inferior competition.
Finally, the true test has arrived. Penn State (7-0, 4-0) has the Heisman Trophy front-runner in running back Saquon Barkley, and he’s not the only offensive threat. Quarterback Trace McSorley, tight end Mike Gesicki and receiver DaeSean Hamilton are headaches for opposing defenses.
The Nittany Lions’ defense hasn’t been tested by a high-powered offense, but it has yielded the fewest points in the country (9.6 per game) and is first in defensive pass efficiency.
Last year, the Buckeyes took Penn State too lightly.
“I think we were just stunned,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “We didn’t respect a really good opponent and kind of took for granted winning.”
Respect for Penn State isn’t an issue now. But many people still question Ohio State, unconvinced by its feasting on appetizers the past five games. A victory Saturday would change that.
“I’m ready to get a real one, and obviously this is going to be one this week,” Bosa said.