July 26, 2014

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Buckeyes in control: Only Iowa stands between Another a Big Ten title, BCS berth

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The big-game blues are gone at Ohio State. Now the Buckeyes get a chance to prove they’re not just one-week wonders in high-stakes affairs.

Iowa’s loss to Northwestern, coupled with Ohio State’s 24-7 win later Saturday at Penn State, left the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes tied for first in the Big Ten.

They meet this weekend at the Horseshoe, with the winner claiming the conference’s automatic Bowl Championship Series berth and at least a share of the league title.

“We knew we had to win if we wanted the outright Big Ten championship,” Buckeyes linebacker Austin Spitler said. “It’s awesome. It’s all on the line against Iowa.”

If it’s November, the boys wearing scarlet and gray must be in contention for the title. They’re gunning for a fifth straight conference championship, after all.

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No. 10 Ohio State (8-2, 5-1) moved up five spots in the Top 25 poll released Sunday, while Iowa (9-1, 5-1) dropped seven spots to No. 15.

The Nittany Lions (8-2, 4-2) tumbled eight spots to No. 19, and also fell into a tie for third in the Big Ten with Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2). The Badgers jumped three positions to No. 21 in the poll after rallying to beat Indiana 31-28 on Saturday.

Penn State missed a golden opportunity to prove its gaudy record wasn’t just the result of a less-than-impressive schedule that included wins over middling Big Ten teams like Illinois and Michigan, and subpar non-conference foes like Akron and Eastern Illinois.

Stifled by the Ohio State defense and maligned by its own special teams play, Penn State must now exchange its dreams of a BCS bowl for a spot in a less prestigious postseason game like the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.

“It’s tough to lose like that. It wasn’t what we expected, but we have two more games left and you have to put it behind you,” linebacker Sean Lee said.

Penn State lost its second straight game against a ranked opponent, dating back to the 38-24 loss to No. 5 Southern California in last season’s Rose Bowl.

The Buckeyes’ big-game woes were even more pronounced, having lost six straight against a team ranked as good or better than them in the polls — until beating the Nittany Lions.

Sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor, blamed for Ohio State’s offensive problems much of this season, was instead basking in the afterglow of a clutch performance. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another against a Penn State defense that had been the Big Ten’s best.

Even more impressive for Pryor is that the western Pennsylvania native played relatively mistake-free football in his first game back in his home state, against the school he spurned last year when he was a highly touted high school recruit.

“You could tell he wasn’t going to let anything stop him. He was just focused and dialed in,” said receiver DeVier Posey, who combined with Pryor for a 62-yard TD pass. “This win was really big for him and we’re happy he got it back home.”

Ohio State’s 24 points were the most allowed all season by the Nittany Lions, as was the 228 yards rushing. The Buckeyes were just as dominant on defense, too, holding the dangerous spread HD attack to nine first downs — the fewest since notching just six against Iowa in 2004.

“You never know what’s going to happen in a ballgame like this,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “We thought it would be a 60-minute battle.”

But the Buckeyes, of course, are used to playing meaningful games in November. They haven’t dropped a Big Ten road game in November since 2004, when they lost at Purdue.

The Boilermakers also had the distinction of handing Ohio State its only Big Ten loss this year, a shocking 26-18 upset at West Lafayette that left the Buckeyes labeled as frauds by some national pundits.

They’ve rebounded nicely since then, holding their last three foes to a combined 14 points to streak back into contention for a trip to the Rose Bowl.

“You still have that opportunity, but man, you’re a long way from that happening,” Tressel said. “We’re going to go to work for it. We still have the chance. … All you can ask for in life is a chance.”

Next up

  • Who: Ohio State vs. Iowa
  • When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
  • Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus
  • TV/radio: Channel 5; WEOL 930-AM, WKNR 850-AM