COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State coach Ryan Day has been saying all season how he wants to see how his team plays when a game is tight, nasty and intense in the fourth quarter.
That hasn’t happened yet. Through 10 games, Day has had the luxury of the Buckeyes running away from other team by halftime or shortly thereafter and watching the backups mop up. Consider that his second-string running back, Master Teague III, has piled up 744 rushing yards on 114 carries, all in relief of J.K. Dobbins.
Day may get his wish soon.
The second-ranked Buckeyes begin the most rigorous two-game stretch of the season that will see them host No. 9 Penn State on Saturday and finish the regular season the following week in Ann Arbor against No. 14 Michigan, their archrival. If Ohio State wins out, the Buckeyes will be in the Big Ten championship on Dec. 7, likely against Minnesota or Wisconsin, and of course they have national title hopes, too.
“I think our team knows what’s at stake,” Day said Tuesday. “We’ve talked about that, but now it’s just time to focus on Penn State.”
The closest thing to on-field adversity the Buckeyes have experienced this season was leading by just three points early in the third quarter against then-No. 13 Wisconsin before reeling off 28 points on the way to a 38-7 win.
“We just have to be mature enough to understand how important every series, every play is, and it might just be one play that changes the game,” Day said. “I can’t really say that we’ve been in a game where that’s the case this year. Understanding that as coaches, understanding that as players, is going to be huge.”
Adding to the drama this week is how this game finished the past two seasons, with the Buckeyes coming from behind late to win each time on drives engineered by quarterbacks. The last three games between the two teams have been decided by a total of five points.
Day said the latest quarterback, Georgia transfer Justin Fields, is up for the same challenge if it presents itself.
“I’m a pretty even-keeled guy,” Fields said. “My emotions don’t really change, so I’m just going into this game like every other week, same preparation, same focus at practice.”
Ohio State gets an all-around boost with the return of All-American defensive end Chase Young from a two-game suspension for violating NCAA rules by accepting a personal loan from a friend.
Young is second in the nation with 13 ½ sacks and is the best player on the nation’s top defense.
“For us to sit here and expect that Ohio State isn’t going to make plays on Saturday, they’re going to,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Don’t be shocked by that. That’s going to be my message to the team. They’re going to make plays, we got to match them. It needs to be one of those types of games, like a heavyweight fight. That guy delivers a blow, you counter. That’s what it’s going to need to be.”