But on Saturday night, just when the Buckeyes thought they had all of the answers, Penn State changed all of the questions.
OSU accumulated just 235 yards total offense in a 17-10 upset loss at the hands of the Nittany Lions. Forty-seven of those yards came on two pass plays on the team's last ditch possession, which began with 3:37 left and ended when PSU end Tamba Hali smashed OSU quarterback Troy Smith to force a fumble with 1:21 left.
When the Nittany Lions recovered that fumble, they had secured their biggest win in several years.
The fumble was one of two critical turnovers that shaped the game for Ohio State. Smith threw a second-quarter interception, which PSU's Calvin Lowry returned 36 yards down to the 2-yard line. The Lions scored a touchdown three plays later.
In a game where yards were at a premium, that quick change touchdown was huge.
"That one play was not the difference," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "I think you have to look at what were the two offenses up against? The difference was we had two turnovers. To me, that's huge. We had two; they had zero."
Couple the two turnovers with the fact Smith was sacked five times and, well, you can see how PSU pulled off the win.
"We got behind in the count and that allowed them to pin their ears back," Tressel said.
It was clear early on that the Buckeyes were going against a strong defense. Hali had 1-1/2 sacks while defensive lineman Jay Alford and linebackers Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor each had one.
"This is probably the best defensive line we've gone against this year," said center Nick Mangold. "We knew that coming in that it was a great defensive line. There was going to be a battle. They came out on top instead of us."
The Buckeyes also stymied themselves with a pair of holding penalties that negated big gains. Prior to the final drive, the Buckeyes mustered just one first down in their three previous possessions as they tried to mount a comeback.
"We couldn't put two good plays together, and that's something that is going to kill you," Mangold said. "We'd get a first down, but then we'd have two more crappy plays and we couldn't get anything done. We'd have a good play and we'd shoot ourselves in the foot with a penalty or by not converting a short third down or something.
"We got there with 2:50 left and we said, ‘This is our ballgame to win.' We just had to drive the ball down the field. We just had to go out and do it, but we couldn't get it done. We had all the opportunities in the world and we didn't take advantage of it. We had penalties, missed assignments, dropped balls."
"They were getting it together and we couldn't protect," Sims said. "We've just got to do better. We didn't get it done today. We let ourselves down."
Flanker Santonio Holmes finished with four catches for 41 yards.
"I think their defense played outstanding," Holmes said. "They pressured our quarterback. That's a big part of our offense, and we didn't do a good job with them pressuring our quarterback."
Although OSU is now out of the national championship picture and needs somebody to step up and beat Penn State just to have a shot at the Big Ten title, Holmes is not ready to give up just yet.
"We have six or seven games to play and we just need to come back and finish up strong," Holmes said.
Smith added, "We've got some football players who aren't going to quit."
Smith's Roller Coaster
Smith is a fourth-year junior. His exploits in last year's win over Michigan and the victory over Iowa on Sept. 24 have been well documented. When he is on, he has to be considered one of the best run-pass threats in college football.
But Penn State succeeded where Iowa failed. The Lions got after Smith and made him, for a large part of the game, appear to be indecisive.
Tressel was asked if he thought Smith had pressed a bit.
"I thought maybe a little bit early on," the coach said. "Then, he had a couple of throws in the second half where if he had taken a little bit off them maybe it would have been different. He wants so badly to get it done and he played hard under a lot of duress. The thing about Troy Smith is he's a fighter and he will keep working to get better."
PSU's Lowry provided some insight into what happened on his game-turning interception.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," Lowry said. "The way their quarterback was playing, he was staring down his receivers. The defense put a lot of pressure on him."
Smith said he never saw Hali bearing down on him on the hit that snuffed out OSU's last threat.
"I didn't see him," he said. "I saw it on the replay. Within all of that, I've got to be able to feel things like that even though he was coming from the blind side. The tight ends, the offensive line, the fullbacks and the tailbacks did a good job of protecting. I need that shiftiness back there to get in and out of those sticky situations."
Smith said the Buckeyes believed they could drive 89 yards for the game-tying touchdown in the final 3:37, then have a chance to steal the game in overtime.
"We're thinking we've got to get it in the end zone," Smith said. "And it was not only that, but then what comes next – we've got to win this game."
For the game, Smith was 13 of 25 passing for 139 yards and one interception. He also carried the ball 19 times and, after 38 lost yards were deducted, netted just 15 yards. He scored OSU's only touchdown on a tough 10-yard run just before halftime.
"Me being the quarterback, I solely have to take the responsibility," he said. "There are some things I should have done within the scheme to get it done."
Smith was asked what he would do to fix the offense.
"Whatever Coach Tressel, Coach Bollman and Coach Daniels decide is best for us is what we're going to do," he said. "I've never been a guy to ask for this or ask for that. Whatever we line up in, that's what we're going to run."
Barton left the game with an undisclosed injury that was suffered late in the first quarter.
"He got injured on the field goal we made in the first quarter and was out the rest of the game," Tressel said.
OSU moved Sims from left guard to right tackle and inserted John Conroy at guard in the first half. In the second half, Sims stayed at guard and true freshman Alex Boone got his first appreciable playing time at right tackle.
Hali came off the right edge on his big fumble causing hit, but it appeared to be senior tight end Ryan Hamby who may have turned Hali loose on that play.
Sims said Barton's absence did hurt OSU's cohesion up front.
"I think that hurt a lot," he said. "I've been playing some at right tackle, but that was my first time really doing it. I moved back to guard in the second half and the offensive line got back in the groove. But missing Kirk really hurt."
No Ginn, Again
Once again, flashy flanker Ted Ginn Jr. was just a bit player in the OSU offense. He had three catches for 40 yards, one of those a 26-yarder on the team's final ill-fated possession. He also lined up at tailback at least twice, although he only had two carries for a net of 5 yards.
"We'd like to get Ted the ball more out in the open field," Tressel said. "There are a lot of guys we would like to do that with. We'd also like Antonio Pittman to get 100 yards. But we have to call the right plays and block them."
At one point in the third quarter, Ginn displayed his anger at being overlooked. Smith threw the ball down the middle to Holmes and Lowry easily batted it away for a third-down stop. Ginn was running unfettered down the left sideline. He jumped up and down four or five times to display his displeasure.
Tressel was asked why it's been so hard to get Ginn – who now has 23 touches in five games on offense – involved in the game plan.
"I'm sure it's a little bit of everything," Tressel said. "It is probably some that Ted needs to run better routes and some that Troy needs to make better decisions and sometimes we need to protect better."
Prior to the final drive, Ginn allowed a PSU punt to land and roll an extra 10 yards down to the 11. He atoned, though, with his nifty catch-and-run that got the final possession going.
"I made that catch," he said. "I had to make up for misjudging the punt. The whole time we were out there we felt we had a chance. We were always one play away."
Ginn was asked what, if anything, he would say to Smith between plays or on the sidelines.
"It's hard (for him) to see everything," Ginn said. "I would go back and tell him what I was going through. That's all you can really do. He has to come through and make decisions so we can make plays.
"They have a great team. They came with a lot of heat and a lot of pressure."
He was asked if he was frustrated with the offense: "No, you have to go out and play the game plan and have fun doing it."
Ginn wasn't the only forgotten Buckeye in the OSU offense. Two weeks after catching a pair of touchdown passes, third receiver Anthony Gonzalez was shut out. Fourth receiver Roy Hall caught one pass for 3 yards.
So between OSU's top four receivers – Ginn, Holmes, Gonzalez and Hall – they had a combined 10 touches in 65 offensive plays.
Likewise, tailback Antonio Pittman, coming off a career 28-carry, 171-yard game against Iowa, was limited to 15 carries for 58 yards. Pittman had five carries for 21 yards on OSU's 14-play, 84-yard touchdown drive just before the half.
But in the second half, Pittman only logged six carries for 23 yards.