No road environment has tested the Ohio State football team quite as much in recent years as Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.
The Buckeyes were defeated in their last trip to State College in 2016, when Penn State scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to upset Ohio State, a win that would ultimately make the difference in the Nittany Lions winning the Big Ten East title.
Two years earlier, the Buckeyes needed double overtime to earn a 31-24 win over the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, in a game that would have crushed the College Football Playoff hopes of the eventual national champions if they hadn’t escaped with a victory on a Joey Bosa walk-off sack.
Ohio State’s game against Penn State this Saturday (7:44 p.m., ABC) would loom as a tough game no matter where it was being played, considering that the Nittany Lions are 4-0, ranked No. 9 in the nation and currently No. 1 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in points scored per game (55.5).
There’s no question, though, that making the trip to University Park increases the degree of difficulty for the Buckeyes.
“It's just a difficult place. Certainly one of the top five stadiums to play in, hard to play in,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Monday. “Very loud and the fans are very into it just like our Horseshoe. You've got to be ready for that kind of environment.”
Saturday’s game will be Ohio State’s first true road game of the season, since its only previous game away from home so far this season against TCU was technically a neutral-site game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (where Ohio State fans made up a majority of the crowd despite the game being just a short drive away from TCU).
While the Buckeyes’ 40-28 win over the Horned Frogs did help prepare them to play Penn State – as it was Ohio State’s first big game of the season, and TCU was unbeaten and ranked in the top 15 nationally at the time – they know that playing at Beaver Stadium, where a “White Out” is planned for Saturday’s game, will be a different level of challenge.
“It’s different playing at Penn State. It’s at their house,” Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins said Saturday. “Playing at AT&T Stadium was kind of a neutral site for us, because we have a really great fan base. But playing at Penn State, as a recruit going to their games in high school and (knowing) how loud it can get over there, going my freshman year and seeing how hectic it can get, I just want to focus on how we can execute at the maximum level.”
“Very loud and the fans are very into it just like our Horseshoe. You've got to be ready for that kind of environment.”– Urban Meyer on playing at Penn State
Saturday’s game will be Haskins’ first true road game as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, though he did lead the Buckeyes to a comeback win off the bench at Michigan last season. It will also be the Buckeyes’ first true road game without several former Buckeyes who were highly regarded for their leadership last season, including J.T. Barrett, Billy Price and Tyquan Lewis.
Meyer says it is crucial to have strong leaders for a road game in a tough environment.
“It's essential,” Meyer said Monday. “You don't win that game without good leadership.”
Meyer is confident, though, in the leaders who have emerged on this year’s team.
“We have some established guys. It's unique, it's three receivers and it's a right tackle,” Meyer said, referring to team captains Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon and Isaiah Prince. “I put Michael Jordan in that category now, too. On defense, we're still trying to establish some leadership. Dre'Mont Jones has been one of our leaders and Tuf Borland, obviously.”
|2016||Penn State 24, Ohio State 21|
|2014||Ohio State 31, Penn State 24|
|2012||Ohio State 35, Penn State 23|
|2009||Ohio State 24, Penn State 7|
|2007||Ohio State 37, Penn State 17|
|2005||Penn State 17, Ohio State 10|
|2003||Ohio State 21, Penn State 20|
|2001||Penn State 29, Ohio State 27|
|1999||Penn State 23, Ohio State 10|
|1997||Penn State 31, Ohio State 27|
There’s a lot on the line for Ohio State and Penn State in Saturday’s game, because the winner of that game has ultimately gone on to win the Big Ten in each of the past two seasons. Whoever is victorious in Saturday’s game will be the only remaining unbeaten team in the conference this year, while the team who loses Saturday’s game will need the winner to lose multiple games to have a chance to still win the Big Ten East.
Meyer says he doesn’t plan to talk to the Buckeyes much about those stakes this week, however, because they will still have seven more regular-season games to play.
“There's so much football afterwards, but this is a big game on the road,” Meyer said. “So our focus is just on the most prepared team winning this game, and working real hard.”
Meyer said he expects that he and director of sports performance Mickey Marotti will talk to the team at some point this week, though, about the Buckeyes’ loss in their last trip to Penn State.
“That will come later in the week,” Meyer said. “Mondays are day off, getting rest. They come in and maybe look a little film on their own. But we're not even having that conversation. I'll see how practice goes, that's a Wednesday/Thursday conversation that me and Mick usually have.”
While this year’s Penn State team is different than the one that beat Ohio State two years ago, and also different than the one that took a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter of Ohio State’s eventual 39-38 win at Ohio Stadium last year, Meyer says he believes this year’s Nittany Lions are just as capable of putting his Buckeyes to the test.
“I see a very good team … very, very good, very well-coached,” Meyer said. “So we don't see much difference at all. Scheme's very similar to what they've done in the past.”