A year ago, Ohio State hosted a Bill O'Brien led Penn State team and rolled by a 63-14 margin, the worst defeat for the Nittany Lions in over a century.
A year later, the score and the location changed, but the result was the same -- Ohio State emerged victorious over Penn State again, although by a much, much closer 31-24 (2OT) score.
It didn't even look like it would be that tight, early on. Ohio State surged out to an early 17-0 lead, taking advantage of very questionable refereeing on two of their three first half scoring drives.
Then, with the Buckeyes poised for a potential four possession lead, Anthony Zettel stepped up in a big, big way. Dropping back from his defensive tackle position, the senior took J.T. Barrett's pass back for a touchdown to close the gap to 17-7, the first of several huge plays by the Nittany Lion defense in the second half. Due to their offense stalling repeatedly and their inability to convert a third down until late in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions would eventually need every single stand, every tackle for loss, and every turnover.
Penn State would finally break through again after a -- you guessed it -- huge defensive play, as a Mike Hull interception of Barrett set up a 24 yard touchdown from Christian Hackenberg to true freshman Saeed Blacknall eight plays later.
Both teams would continue to trade punts over the next few possessions, leaving Hackenberg just over three minutes to drive the Lions for a tying score, and the sophomore quarterback did just that, taking a 19 play march from his own 9 yard line to set up a 31 yard Sam Ficken field goal, and overtime.
It was in the second overtime, though, that Penn State finally came up short, unable to match J.T. Barrett's touchdown run with any one of their own, allowing the Buckeyes to escape Beaver Stadium victorious.
Three things we learned
1. The Nittany Lion rushing defense is legit. The Buckeyes entered this one with one of the nation's better rushing offenses (28th in rushing S&P, 260 yards per game), and faced a tall order of strength on strength, with Penn State ranked as the top rushing defense in the country, allowing only 2.01 yards per carry. This match-up did not deter Urban Meyer and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman's insistence on getting the run game going, and over the course of the game, the Penn State front seven held strong, time and time again.
It wasn't for a lack of trying on the part of the Buckeyes, that's for sure -- they ran J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott 28 times in the first half against nine passes; they drew up plays for Cardale Jones and Dontre Wilson; they ran to the edge and inside. Nothing really got going.
Ohio State finished the game with 219 yards rushing, but it almost 60 carries to get even that far. That's all on the work of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, Zettel, Hull, Nyeem Wartman, and company.
2. The Penn State offensive line played a large part in this loss. As has been the case for a lot of the Penn State season, Christian Hackenberg was harassed all game, lacking any time to throw many routes that weren't wide receiver screens, and even after schematic adjustments like rolling pockets and holding backs in to block, Ohio State was still getting pressure. The Nittany Lions ended up averaging under a yard per carry overall, and perhaps befitting their performance, the game ended on a monstrous 4th down sack by Joey Bosa, Ohio State's fifth of the game.
3. Circle your calendars for November 8th. With a tough road hurdle now crossed, only a very winnable home date against Illinois remains before the battle for Big Ten supremacy awaits. The loser of the Ohio State-Michigan State game will likely be eliminated from College Football Playoff contention by virtue of a second loss.