The defeat dropped Ohio State, which was ranked as high as fourth nationally before a Sept. 10 loss to No. 2 Texas, to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play. OSU dropped from sixth to 15th in both major polls on Sunday.
OSU will now need help if the Buckeyes can redeem this season with a Big Ten championship.
Speaking with reporters after the game, OSU coach Jim Tressel and members of the team said they were committed to make the best of the situation.
"At Ohio State, the goals are to be a national champion and a Big Ten champion and to be the best Ohio State team you can be," Tressel said. "That will never change. I don't know that I would use the word salvage. But our guys are going to keep working. I have a lot of faith and confidence in them. We're going to become a good football team, better than we were tonight.
"The way I look at it, we lost to Penn State. I don't take it much beyond that. We need to be better. People like to talk way out (in the future) sometimes, but we need to be talking about what we need to do today."
Tressel was left to explain a loss where the OSU offense could muster just 10 points – and also contributed to what could be considered the game-winning touchdown by Penn State (6-0, 3-0) with a costly interception that was returned to the OSU 2-yard line.
"That's probably one of the greatest lessons this game teaches – it's a team game and you win as a team," Tressel said. "You have setbacks as a team."
Linebacker A.J. Hawk, his dream of a national championship as a senior dashed, said the Buckeyes will bounce back.
"Any loss is tough," Hawk said. "But we have too much character and we have too many guys who have been around. We're not going to quit. We'll come back in tomorrow morning and go to work."
The OSU defense turned in a strong performance, limiting Penn State to just 195 yards total offense. That included just 70 yards in the second half.
"We started to play better," said linebacker Bobby Carpenter. "We started to play Ohio State defense. At the beginning of the game, we were playing sloppy. We were in position every time, but we weren't making tackles. That's on us as a player."
Carpenter was asked if he thought the Buckeyes would salvage the season.
"Salvage is a term I wouldn't use," he said. "That sounds like you're picking something up off the scrap heap. We're a good team. We've lost two tough games to two good teams. We could have won both games, but we didn't play well enough to win."
Carpenter is holding out hope that OSU can maneuver its way through the rest of the season – and get the help it needs from teams playing Penn State.
"It's tough to go through the Big Ten season undefeated," Carpenter said. "There's six weeks left in Big Ten football. There is only one undefeated team. They have (five) opportunities to lose and we have six opportunities to win."
The Buckeyes blew a golden opportunity Saturday to control their own destiny in the Big Ten race. Wisconsin, the conference's only other unbeaten, lost at Northwestern 51-48 earlier in the day.
"It's real frustrating," said OSU guard Rob Sims. "We're looking around and seeing Wisconsin lose today when we were at the hotel. We know we could have come out here and got a win and we would have been looking good in the Big Ten at least for this week. It's very frustrating."
Sims thinks the Buckeyes still have a lot to play for.
"I want to leave here a winner," Sims said. "I don't want to leave here with a sour taste in my mouth. I've had a lot of great times here. This is obviously the best team I think I have played with here so far. It may be better than the 2002 team. We just didn't get a couple of breaks our way."
Quarterback Troy Smith found himself as the focal point following this defeat. It was his interception that set up the key PSU touchdown and his fumble with 1:21 left that ended OSU's comeback bid.
"I believe that any team that suffers a close loss, you go back and you see little things that you should have capitalized on," Smith said. "I know we're better than this as a team.
"Any time you suffer a loss in a game you worked so hard for, it sticks with you. You can't always ride on Cloud Nine. You have to come back to reality sometimes."
Unless you attended Saturday's game at Beaver Stadium, you can not appreciate what kind of raucous environment the Buckeyes went into. This loss was OSU's fifth in its last six Big Ten road games. But Tressel could not blame the crowd or the setting for this defeat.
"This was a fun environment to play in," Tressel said. "We enjoy great competition and Penn State is a good, tough, hard, clean football team. That is why so many of these guys picked to play in this league. Is it tough? Yeah, we like to think it's tough."
Carpenter said the Buckeyes may have been guilty of getting too fired up for this game.
"I think tonight everybody was so emotional and so pumped up, I think that might have hurt us a little bit," Carpenter said. "We weren't relying on our teammates to do their jobs. That's why we have been so successful around here the past four weeks. Our defense is built on assignment football. Everybody does their job and counts on everybody else to do their job, and we didn't do that tonight. Once we settled down, we did the job.
"It's tough to win on the road in the Big Ten. The home team always has a huge advantage, in my opinion. But in most of those (road losses) we got down early. We can't let that happen as a defense. We have to come out and set the tone early."
With road games remaining at Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan, center Nick Mangold admitted the Buckeyes better figure out how to win away from Ohio Stadium.
"You can't win the Big Ten without winning on the road," Mangold said. "We need to come back and examine ourselves and find out if we let the crowd affect us or not."
The Remaining Road
Ohio State was a preseason top-five team and considered a national championship contender. But after two losses in the first five games, the Buckeyes now need help to even get a piece of the Big Ten championship.
The simplest scenario would be for OSU to win out and hope that one of Penn State's last five opponents will beat the Nittany Lions. A Bowl Championship Series bid seems even less unlikely. To get in position for the Big Ten's automatic BCS bid, OSU now likely needs Penn State to lose twice.
Of course, Penn State is walking into a tough situation this weekend at Michigan, which just lost at home to Minnesota. A season-ending game at Michigan State could also be touchy for PSU.
Here is a look at the road ahead for Ohio State:
* Oct. 15, Michigan State (4-1), noon (ABC) -- The Spartans had this past weekend off. They will have plenty of incentive to play well at OSU this Saturday. They are coming off a tough overtime loss to Michigan and they have lost three straight to OSU, including 32-19 last year at East Lansing.
* Oct. 22, at Indiana (4-1) -- Terry Hoeppner's debut season at IU has been a smashing success. The Hoosiers need just two more wins to snag their first bowl berth since 1993. OSU is 13-0-1 in its last 14 meetings with Indiana, dating to back-to-back losses in 1987-88. OSU won 30-7 last year in Columbus.
* Oct. 29, at Minnesota (5-1) -- The Gophers rebounded from their humbling 44-14 loss at Penn State by stunning Michigan 23-20. Minnesota snapped a 16-game losing streak to Michigan, a string that dated to 1986. Glen Mason is also still waiting to get his second win against his alma mater. If the Gophers can beat Michigan in Ann Arbor, they can certainly give OSU a tussle in the Metrodome. The teams haven't met since 2002, when OSU won 34-3 in Columbus.
* Nov. 5, Illinois (2-4) -- Saturday's 36-13 loss at Indiana cemented Illinois' position in the Big Ten basement. Ron Zook is finding life in the Big Ten can be difficult. The teams have not met since 2002, when OSU took a dramatic 23-16 overtime win at Champaign.
* Nov. 12, Northwestern (3-2) -- The Wildcats made their case for respectability with a 51-48 win over Wisconsin on Saturday. One would think that OSU would be jacked up to repay NU for last year's 33-27 overtime loss in Evanston. But by the time this game will be played, OSU will have played 17 other games since that loss.
* Nov. 19, Michigan (3-3) -- The Game could still hold major significance for Ohio State if somebody can knock off Penn State. The Buckeyes, provided they can win out, could be in position to win at least a piece of the Big Ten title here if that happens. The last time the Buckeyes won at least a share of the conference crown with a win at Michigan it was 1981 (a 14-9 win). UM is off to a rocky start with losses to Notre Dame and Minnesota at home and at Wisconsin. Tressel is 3-1 against UM, including a 37-21 upset of the Big Ten co-champions a year ago in Columbus. But OSU has won in Ann Arbor just once in eight visits since 1987 (a 26-20 win in 2001).