Buckeyes, Nittany Lions to settle first place in the Big Ten

Published 12:40 am Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Having proven for at least one game that they’re better than they’ve seemed, the No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes now have to impress No. 3 Penn State.

‘‘The mindset was, ’Let’s show how good we are.’ I think we did,’’ offensive guard Jim Cordle said after Saturday’s 45-7 rout of No. 20 Michigan State, undoubtedly the Buckeyes’ most impressive game of the season. ‘‘We wanted to get some momentum going for the back end of the Big Ten season.’’

That ‘‘back end’’ of the season kicks off with a national spotlight game under the lights Saturday night at Ohio Stadium. On the line is first place in the Big Ten for both the Buckeyes (7-1, 4-0) and Nittany Lions (8-0, 4-0).

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For the Buckeyes, it’s a last chance to redeem themselves after falling apart in the last two national championship games and a 35-3 blowout loss at Southern California earlier this season.

‘‘I definitely think if we could come out with a win it would force some people to respect us again,’’ cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said Monday. ‘‘It seems right now they don’t have any (respect for us) nationwide. But we’re more worried about getting a win and trying to win a Big Ten championship.’’

The Buckeyes had played lethargic, uninspired ball for most of the season, barely scraping by against teams such as Ohio (26-14), Troy (28-10), Minnesota (34-21), Wisconsin (20-17) and Purdue (16-3). That was not the case against Michigan State. They had more than 160 yards just in fumble return yardage in the game, and jumped on every mistake the Spartans (6-2, 3-1) made. And Michigan State made a lot of them, turning the ball over five times.

‘‘It’s what I would term a good, tough win on the road,’’ coach Jim Tressel said. ‘‘This is huge. It was a ranked opponent, a team playing with a lot of confidence. It was a great atmosphere.’’

The Nittany Lions, one of the biggest surprises in the nation so far, rolled over everything in their path while winning their first seven games. Faced with a Michigan team that was coming off a humiliating 13-10 home loss to Mid-American Conference member Toledo the week before, Penn State was favored to swamp the embarrassed Wolverines.

But the Wolverines not only hung around, they led 17-14 at the half and were tied at 17 late in the third quarter. Then things fell apart, with the Nittany Lions going into hyperdrive to roll to a 46-17 win.

Now there are only two teams left atop the standings in the conference.

‘‘This week is so big for us and it’s so big in the Big Ten conference,’’ Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis said.

One of the reasons why the Buckeyes were clicking so well was the play of freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor. He had shown flashes of the talent that marked him as the nation’s No. 1 QB recruit last spring, but had also shown a propensity to take a lot of negative plays.

He sure didn’t against Michigan State, going 7-of-11 passing for 116 yards including a 56-yard TD throw against a blitz to wide receiver Brian Hartline — the Buckeyes’ longest play from scrimmage this year.

They raced to 21 quick points in the opening quarter and never looked back, one of the few times this season they’ve been able to put a team away early.

A week after not scoring an offensive touchdown against Purdue’s lightly regarded defense, the Buckeyes almost scored at will against Michigan State.

‘‘If feels good to know we stepped forward as an offense,’’ said receiver Brian Robiskie, who caught also caught a TD pass from Pryor.

In addition, Chris ‘‘Beanie’’ Wells rushed for 140 yards on a season-high 31 carries and two touchdowns.

Pryor is from Jeannette, Pa., and Penn State was among his final three choices in colleges before picking Ohio State. So he knows the magnitude of what’s ahead on Saturday.

‘‘It’s going to be fun because they’re a Pennsylvania team,’’ he said.