COLUMBUS — Ohio State coach Ryan Day remembers running up to Urban Meyer on the field after Ohio State’s come-from-behind 27-26 win at Penn State last year and asking “What just happened?”
The endings of the last three OSU-Penn State games have all had an air of unreality to them.
Last year, Penn State led by 12 points with eight minutes to play before Dwayne Haskins threw two touchdown passes in the final 6:42 to give the Buckeyes their 27-26 win. The game-winning touchdown came on a 47-yard pass from Haskins to Binjimen Victor at the end of a 96-yard drive.
Two years ago, Penn State had a 15-point lead with 12 minutes to play and had the lead for all but the last 1:48 of the game of OSU’s 39-38 win. J.T. Barrett completed all 13 passes he threw in the fourth quarter and tossed three touchdown passes in that quarter to lead the comeback.
Three years ago, Ohio State led 21-7 halfway through the third quarter before Penn State scored 17 unanswered points to win 24-21, with the game-winning touchdown coming on a blocked field goal that the Nittany Lions returned 60 yards.
So, a weird and unconventional twist or two cannot be ruled out when Penn State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) comes to Ohio Stadium to play OSU (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) on Saturday at noon.
Whether it takes an unconventional turn or goes by the book, it is a huge game for both teams.
If Ohio State wins, it will clinch the Big Ten East Division championship because it would be two games ahead of the rest of the division with one game left to play. If Penn State wins, it would only have to beat Rutgers next week to punch its ticket to the Big Ten championship game as the East Division champion.
“I think our team knows what’s at stake, we have talked about that. But now it’s time to just focus on Penn State,” Day said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “This is a talent-equated game. We all know we have been in some games that we have had more talent than some of the other teams we have played. This is a team (Penn State) that talent equates.
“When that happens it goes back to discipline, it goes back to fundamentals, it goes back to toughness, all of those things that come into play when your talent no longer matters. We’ve got to do a good job putting a good game plan together, let the guys play, and then prepare them to go. And then the team that’s more prepared will win the game.
“I mean it’s going to take everything we have to win the game, it’s so very, very different than maybe the last couple weeks,” he said, referring a 73-14 win over Maryland followed by a 56-21 win over Rutgers.
Penn State coach James Franklin referenced his team’s games against OSU the last three years during his weekly press conference on Tuesday and also mentioned the Buckeyes’ double-overtime win over Penn State in 2014.
“We’ve had a lot of competition with these guys. We’ve played them probably as well as anybody over that period of time. But obviously not good enough. We’ve got to take the next step,” he said.
Penn State’s big leads the last two years aren’t the only items that got away from the Nittany Lions and ended up with Ohio State.
OSU quarterback Justin Fields, who transferred from Georgia to Ohio in January, originally committed to Penn State before signing with Georgia.
“Obviously we were involved with him early, had a significant relationship for a long time. Obviously a very talented guy,” Franklin said.
“You come up with your list of things that you’re looking for in terms of characteristics, height, weight, speed, intelligence, release, accuracy, touchdown-to-interception ratio, win/loss percentage, all the things we look at when we’re evaluating and studying quarterbacks. He checked a lot of boxes.
“Based on what I’m seeing on film right now, I think we were right. He’s pretty good,” Franklin said.