I was a little surprised at how well they did it, Ohio State's senior center said Wednesday, but it was no surprise they did it. It shows that you can't take Penn State lightly. You have to play your best ball, or you're going to get beat up.
Heading into Saturday's primetime showdown at Beaver Stadium, the sixth-ranked Buckeyes don't appear worried about suffering the same fate as the Golden Gophers. Unlike Minnesota, which had played a suspect nonconference schedule before visiting Happy Valley, Ohio State has a well-deserved aura of legitimacy. The Buckeyes nearly beat second-ranked Texas and followed that performance with a 31-6 shellacking of Big Ten title hopeful Iowa. They enjoyed an off week after routing the Hawkeyes and, with a bit of help, could still end up in the Rose Bowl.
But if the Buckeyes are confident heading into their game against Penn State, they also are wary.
Players said the Penn State team they've been watching on film in recent days is far different from the one they've beaten the past three years. Last year's Nittany Lions really needed an upgrade in speed and talent, safety Donte Whitner said. That upgrade has arrived the form of freshmen Derrick Williams, Justin King and Deon Butler.
Whitner, a junior from Cleveland, said Williams reminds him of Ted Ginn Jr., the heralded receiver/kick returner who scored eight touchdowns for the Buckeyes as a freshman. Williams' presence figures to make this year's game more competitive than last year's, in which Ohio State took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and was never seriously threatened the rest of the way. But his resemblance to Ginn has, paradoxically, given the Buckeyes a measure of confidence as they prepare for Saturday's game.
We see guys with that kind of speed in practice every day, Whitner said. We've had a lot of experience practicing against fast receivers. Last year we played Michigan with Braylon, Avant and Breaston. I don't think we have to change up a lot.
Maybe not. But for what it's worth, the Buckeyes didn't shut down Michigan's vaunted receiver corps in their 37-21 victory last November. While Jason Avant and Steve Breaston combined for only 57 receiving yards, Braylon Edwards had 11 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown.
It would be asking a lot for Williams or any of Penn State's freshmen to equal those numbers. So the Buckeyes won't be expected to tamper with a defensive scheme that has surrendered only 12.8 points and 249 yards a game, both league-lows. Said Whitner: We have good DBs here, so we're going to man up. We're going to match our athletes against their athletes.
Another athlete Ohio State must account for is Michael Robinson. The Buckeyes were impressed with Robinson's performance against Minnesota in which he threw for 175 yards and rushed for 112. Whitner, perhaps recalling the run on which Robinson bowled over Gophers safety Brandon Owens, referred to the senior quarterback as a tailback who can throw.
The Buckeyes have already faced a fleet-footed quarterback in Texas junior Vince Young. And, as Whitner noted, Ohio State starter Troy Smith bears a resemblance to Robinson, giving the defense a leg up in preparing for Penn State.
But that doesn't mean Robinson's strong running and improved passing don't pose concerns. Young, after all, threw for 270 yards and ran for 76. And Robinson, while hardly a Young clone, does have some of the same characteristics.
He's a big physical kid, defensive tackle Marcus Green said. He's played a lot of positions and he brings a toughness factor to the position. He's one of those guys who gets in the open field and can juke you or run you over.
It'll be a challenge containing him. But it's a challenge we look forward to.