The Buckeyes didn’t pass well, amassing just 74 yard through the air. They were sloppy, turning the ball over twice. The defense played poorly, allowing 17 unanswered points to a team that finished the season averaging just over 20 a game.
But the Buckeyes got the win, and they’re 31-24 double-overtime victory over Penn State on Oct. 25 may be the most important one for the team this season.
That win is when head coach Urban Meyer realized that he didn’t just have top recruits, he had a team.
“I point to the Penn State game,” the coach said. “We played awful against Penn State in a tough environment. And that's the beautiful thing about athletics in this game is that the immeasurables are the things that win games.
“That's the intangible value of this great game of football that's been around way before us and going to be here way after us, and that's what this team developed and has, no question.”
The Buckeyes certainly played poorly against the Nittany Lions, but they left Happy Valley with the most important thing, a win. It was the first time that Ohio State had been tested since the 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6 and the team passed.
Since that victory, the Buckeyes have reeled off seven more wins with victories coming by an average of over 22 points per game. They are a win over Oregon in the CFP National Championship Game Monday from claiming the sport's ultimate prize.
Sophomore safety Tyvis Powell agreed with Meyer that the Penn State game was a turning point.
“I would say that the Penn State game was the game where I first saw us all come together as a complete team and I actually felt confident because after that game I knew that there was nobody that could separate us,” he said. “That's what that game did for me.”
The game against Penn State was far from a complete performance, even if it made Ohio State complete. The Buckeyes needed two overtimes to top a Nittany Lions squad that finished their season just 7-6 and 2-6 in league play. But when defensive lineman Joey Bosa sacked Christian Hackenberg on the last play of the game, Ohio State got their first close win of the season, coming together in a must-win situation to disappoint over 100,000 Penn State fans in a hostile night environment.
It was a game that the Buckeyes needed to show that the Virginia Tech loss was not indicative of how the season would unfold.
"Definitely, the win at Penn State,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said when asked what the season’s turning point was. “Going into that hostile environment and then playing through two overtimes. It just showed our resilient our team was.”
Ohio State has needed that resiliency multiple times since the win. The Buckeyes were resilient when they fell behind 14-7 at Michigan State and again in frigid temperatures the following week in Minnesota. They needed to have that fight again when losing J.T. Barrett to injury against Michigan and when they trailed Alabama 21-6 in the Sugar Bowl.
The Buckeyes have shown tremendous resiliency throughout this season, but the first time they truly showed it was the overtime win against Penn State.
“We just had to band together and it was just us against basically that entire stadium and to this day that might be the loudest place that I have ever been in,” lineman Taylor Decker said. “Just to be able to come out with a win like that, even though it was not necessarily pretty, just to know that you were able to fight all the way until the end of the game and eventually just grind one out, it was huge for a lot of guy's confidence because they hadn't been in an environment like that or a game like that where it was close like that and came down to the wire. It was definitely huge for us.”