With each passing game, the Nov. 8 showdown between Michigan State and Ohio State was looming larger and larger.
MSU did its part in Week 9, taking “big brother” Michigan to the woodshed yesterday afternoon. A few hours later in Happy Valley? Meh, not so much on OSU’s part.
What was a comfortable 17-0 halftime lead turned into a nail-biting hair-puller for the Buckeyes, with Penn State putting a scare into the visitors a week ahead of Halloween before OSU was able to escape with a 31-24 win in double overtime. Penn State capped a 17-0 second half run with a 31-yard field goal by Sam Fickens with :09 left to send it into the first overtime. After both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first extra session, OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to give the Buckeyes a 31-24 lead.
On fourth down on the ensuing possession, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was “sacked” by OSU’s Joey Bosa — Bosa actually bullrushed his blocker into Hackenberg, knocking him down — to seal the win and send the No. 13 Buckeyes back to Columbus with a 6-1 record.
Were it not for the incompetence of the officiating crew, though, Penn State very well could’ve walked out of Beaver Stadium with its fifth win of the year. A botched replay in the first quarter allowed the Buckeyes to maintain possession of an interception, turning the pick into seven points. A delay of game wasn’t called on a 49-yard field goal attempt that was good; a penalty there likely would’ve pushed the Buckeyes out of field-goal range.
To say that some of the sheen has come off the matchup with the Spartans two weeks from Saturday would be an understatement. The Buckeyes didn’t look like they could hang with a directional Michigan school most of the night let alone the best team in the state. If OSU can’t improve on its woeful performance — even head coach Urban Meyer acknowledged afterward that his charges didn’t play well — it’ll be a long night in East Lansing.
The good news for Meyer and company is that they have two weeks to work on their issues. Part of that work will be a home game against Illinois in which they’ll be 20-plus-point favorites, with OSU knowing that, despite the uneven Week 9 performance, wins the next two weeks would place them squarely in the East Division driver’s seat.
Again, however, the Buckeyes need to step their game up, lest Sparty takes a second consecutive rival to its version of the woodshed. At least based on last night, that doesn’t look promising.