Forty-eight weeks ago Saturday, the Ohio State football team staged an improbable fourth-quarter rally from 15 points down to defeat Penn State by one point.
The victory over the unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Nittany Lions was a highlight of OSU’s 2017 season, and perhaps the most exciting and entertaining game contested in Ohio Stadium since the 2006 Michigan thriller.
Buckeyes coaches and players wore wide smiles afterward, basking in the glory of a comeback win that revived their College Football Playoff hopes after an early-season loss to Oklahoma.
If they are smart, they will not make that mistake again.
This past Saturday again found Ohio State snatching an unlikely win out of the jaws of Lions, rising for two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to erase a 12-point deficit and claim a 27-26 victory in State College, Pennsylvania.
OSU’s surge was sudden and decisive. Bottled up on offense for much of the night by an aggressive Penn State defense, the Buckeyes finally found their legs with simple screen passes that put the ball in the hands of their best athletes in space that Nittany Lions defenders could not fill.
Dwayne Haskins Jr. passed for 133 yards on OSU’s final two scoring drives — capped by touchdown passes to Binjimen Victor and K.J. Hill, respectively — after throwing for 137 yards total on the Buckeyes’ first 15 possessions.
“We had adversity, but we had to keep fighting, keep swinging,” Haskins said afterward.
Likewise, that must be Ohio State’s mission heading forward. The Buckeyes should enjoy the accomplishment, appreciate that they are the Big Ten’s last unbeaten team, and take pride that they have passed their two toughest road tests of the season.
But this is no time for snow angels and celebratory trips to Dairy Queen. The 2017 season showed that: A week after beating Penn State, OSU and its puffed chests traveled to Iowa and absorbed a 55-24 crotch kick that sealed the Buckeyes' playoff fate.
The Buckeyes well know that last year’s model spent a little too much time enjoying a masterpiece victory without remembering that a lot of work has to go into artwork.
A year later, as the calendar flips to October, they are in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten East title and possibly a playoff spot. But there are plenty of other unruly passengers in the car that OSU must deal with. First in line is Indiana, on Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
On the one hand, a game against the Hoosiers has a trap-game smell because they haven’t beaten OSU since 1988, a span of 25 games. Then again, Ohio State under Urban Meyer knows how IU can make things sweaty, including the opener last year when the Hoosiers led at halftime.
Point being, Ohio State’s remaining schedule does not include many sure-fire pushovers, excluding the Nebraska train wreck on the plains. Keeping that fire in the Buckeyes’ belly will determine whether they learn from last year’s mistakes.