COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — There’s always the danger of a powerhouse looking past a couple of struggling teams to the marquee game on its schedule.
But Urban Meyer says that won’t be the case for No. 13 Ohio State at Penn State on Saturday.
“I think if you play a really bad team, that happens,” Meyer said on Monday. “Going on the road in front of 110,000 people, knowing we didn’t play great on Saturday, we expect to play great.”
That doesn’t mean such focus is easy. The players are surrounded by people who disregard Penn State and the game the following week at home against Illinois and are already talking about how No. 8 Michigan State is lurking on Nov. 8 in Spartan Stadium.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” H-back and punt returner Jalin Marshall said. “You know — Michigan State, Michigan State.”
Most people who saw the Buckeyes dismantle a Rutgers team last week which had won three in a row and came in with a 5-1 record would say Ohio State is on a tear — despite Meyer saying they didn’t play great.
The Buckeyes (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) have won four in a row by an average score of 56-17.
Didn’t play great? J.T. Barrett completed his first nine passes, ran for two scores and threw for three plus the defense also chipped in with a TD in the win over Rutgers that perfectly matched the average score of those last four games (56-17).
(Coincidentally, Michigan State won by that exact same score at Indiana on Saturday.)
Meyer’s measuring stick of how good his team is differs from that of most fans’. Meyer was downright thrilled that his coaching staff did not rate Barrett’s as a winning performance after a video review, even though he ran for 107 yards on seven carries and completed 19 of 31 passes for 261 yards.
“That’s tough coaching,” Meyer said with an almost evil grin. “And I like that.”
Barrett, not honored in his own meeting room, was the Big Ten’s offensive player of the week.
Penn State (4-2, 1-2) hasn’t been bad but it certainly isn’t having a vintage year. The Nittany Lions opened with four wins but have since lost to Northwestern 29-6 at home and 18-13 at downward-trending Michigan two weeks ago.
The Lions, coming off a bye, have had the last week to chew on those defeats and think about what a win over the Buckeyes might just do for them now that they are eligible to go to a bowl.
Meanwhile, Ohio State’s players bump into fellow students, family members and friends who are already talking Michigan State, 24/7.
“You try not to look ahead as far because we’ve got two big games coming up before that,” Marshall said. “But people talk about it and you have to kind of try to stay away from them.”
Linebacker Joshua Perry believes that the Buckeyes will not look past anybody because of a mix of young players with a lot to prove and wizened veterans who know the pitfalls of getting ahead of yourself.
“I was talking to (defensive tackle) Mike Bennett earlier today and he was saying that he likes the guys we have because our guys know that we’re good and we’re confident,” Perry said. “(But) we’re not so cocky that we’re going to overlook anybody or want to skip ahead to any games.”
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