Charboneau: With UM on schedule, all of OSU’s goals alive

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is sacked by Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda in the fourth quarter Saturday night.

So much for that unstoppable run to the Big Ten championship game.

It was just a week ago that Ohio State rallied to win at Wisconsin and started to take on the look of a champion — one that isn’t great every week but manages to win, regardless of anything else happening on the field.

Well, I think we know now that proclamation was fairly worthless.

Just a week later, the Buckeyes went into State College and handed Penn State coach James Franklin the signature win he’s been desperate for in the quest to bring the Nittany Lions back to relevance.

That victory checked off quite a few boxes for Penn State: the first victory over Ohio State since 2011; the first win over a ranked team under Franklin; the first win against a top-five team since 1999 against Arizona; the first victory over a top-two team since 1990 against No. 1 Notre Dame; and the first victory at home against a team ranked so high since 1982 against No. 2 Nebraska.

Quite the haul for one win, and it was one Franklin intended to enjoy.

“Obviously these types of wins are important,” Franklin said. “To be honest with you, I don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture right now, I just want to soak this all in. I just want to enjoy tonight.”

Henning: Harbaugh cautious now, but wait until Saturday

The bigger picture for Penn State will be determined down the road. Yes, it technically keeps the Nittany Lions alive in the Big Ten East, but what it means for putting the program on the map is far bigger for a coach that has been fighting to keep his head above water.

For the Buckeyes, however, it’s always big picture. And while it was the type of loss no one saw coming — much like Michigan State last year — it at least comes at a time that allows the Buckeyes a chance to recover. That’s because there’s still that minor little tussle at the end of the regular season with Michigan.

The reality is, if Ohio State runs the table with wins over Michigan and whichever team it would face in the conference championship game, it will reach the College Football Playoff. Now, actually making that happen might be more difficult.

There is little doubt the Buckeyes will be favored in each of their final five games, but if it doesn’t start playing better up front and moving the ball on a consistent basis, scoring points on the Wolverines will be a daunting task. Against Penn State, the consistency was absent and the Buckeyes were held scoreless after taking a 21-7 lead into the fourth quarter.

“Offensively, we didn’t control the line of scrimmage,” coach Urban Meyer said. (Quarterback J.T. Barrett) was under pressure all night when he threw it, we didn’t move them off the ball in the run game and we gave up some big pass plays.”

That sounds a lot like a team still searching for answers when it would normally be time to be hitting its stride. Michigan looks like that team right now.

Ohio State? Not quite, but at least there’s a reasonable path to becoming that team.

“Every goal is still alive,” Meyer said. “(But) we’re not a great team right now.”

Nebraska best of the West

Nebraska might be the most unassuming top-10 team in recent college football history, and it failed to wow anyone again Saturday with a 27-14 win over Purdue. But the Cornhuskers are still unbeaten and sit atop the West Division.

“These games, they haven’t been pretty,” linebacker Josh Banderas said. “My heart’s been going in a lot of them. I’d like to have a couple where that’s not the case. But we’re going to find that our will to win is up there with the best in the country. No matter what team is in front of us, we’re going to find a way to win somehow.”

Plenty of teams are in pursuit. Northwestern is one game back, Iowa is 1.5 games behind while Wisconsin and Minnesota sit two games back and each still face the Huskers. Nebraska, however, remains in control with a win over Northwestern and in the position where it would need to lose twice in the final five games to lose its spot in Indy.

Next week’s trip to Wisconsin will be a doozy and there’s a little trip to Columbus the week after that. And there’s still a meeting with Iowa to close the regular season. That makes for a tough path, but the Huskers are at least in control at this point.

“This will sound like a little bit of a broken record, but we’re extremely happy to win the game,” coach Mike Riley said after beating Purdue. “My feelings are Purdue came here and played hard and their intentions were to win. … We struggled in a lot of ways and just had to stay with it.”

‘No quit’ in Rutgers

Gotta give a little credit to Rutgers for almost getting that first conference victory, only to give up a field goal in the final seconds at Minnesota to lose, 34-32.

But for a team that had been outscored 160-7 in the previous three weeks, it was impressive to see the Scarlet Knights rally from a 21-0 hole in the first half to take the lead and have a chance to win. It’s going to be a struggle for first-year coach Chris Ash, but it’s at least promising to see some signs of fight.

“I feel for them,” Ash said. “We’re going to get better. We’ll get over that hump. I don’t know when it’s going to be, but we’ll get over that hump. There’s no quit in these guys. The attitude’s extremely high.”

Twitter @mattcharboneau