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Commentary: Resilient spirit needed for Ohio State football to advance to 9-0

Courtesy of MCT

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Ohio State’s game against Purdue on Saturday appeared to be over.

With the Buckeyes trailing by eight points, and just two minutes and 40 seconds remaining on the game clock, OSU redshirt junior backup quarterback Kenny Guiton’s deep ball had just been intercepted by Purdue sophomore safety Landon Feichter. As it seemed the 7-0 Buckeyes were headed for their first loss of the season, many OSU football fans began their exodus from Ohio Stadium.

It was hard not to give up on the Buckeyes at that point.

OSU’s star quarterback, sophomore Braxton Miller, had left the game in the third quarter with a head injury. In his place, Guiton had failed to lead the Buckeyes to points on three consecutive drives.

For the Buckeyes’ offense to even get another shot at tying the game, a defense that had given up 49 points to Indiana one week earlier needed to force Purdue’s offense off the field in four downs or less.

If the Buckeyes were going to win, they needed a miracle.

At that point, the Buckeyes showed the resilient, never-say-die attitude that first-year coach Urban Meyer has clearly instilled.

The defense did exactly what it needed to do, not allowing a single first down and forcing a punt, which gave Guiton and the offense 47 seconds for one final shot at a game-tying drive. Guiton took advantage of his moment to shine.

Guiton’s first pass was a 39-yard connection with sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith, which kicked off a drive that reached completion with a two-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Fields. Still needing two points to send the game to overtime, Guiton subsequently completed a pass to wide-open sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman in the end zone.

From there, the Buckeyes did their job again on both sides of the ball, as another Guiton-led scoring drive and a defensive stop gave the Buckeyes an improbable 29-22 victory in overtime.

The Buckeyes may be 8-0, but they certainly haven’t made it easy to stay undefeated. While they have been heavily favored in most games, they have trailed in the second quarter or later in seven of eight games, and have either gone to overtime or won by three points or less in three of their four in-conference games this season.

As should be expected of any team with a postseason ban and a first-year head coach, the Buckeyes have their issues, but they have displayed a knack for coming through and making the plays necessary to escape each game with victory. In games where the Buckeyes have failed to play up to their ability, as was certainly the case against Purdue, they have seemingly willed victories away from their opponents when the game is on the line.

On Saturday, however, the Buckeyes will be facing a team that has shown even greater resiliency.

The Buckeyes are traveling to University Park, Pa. this weekend to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions, a team that has overcome an 0-2 start to win five consecutive games.

The Penn State football program was rocked within the past 12 months by the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal that cost legendary head coach Joe Paterno his job, and later had to overcome the death of Paterno and NCAA sanctions levied against the program as a result of the Sandusky scandal, all the while adjusting to a new head coach of their own in Bill O’Brien.

In the first two weeks of the season, the effects of this tumult seemed to have their effect on the Nittany Lions, who suffered surprising losses to Ohio and Virginia. Since then, however, Penn State has rolled off five consecutive wins, and comes into Saturday’s matchup as a serious threat to give the Buckeyes their first loss of the season.

As both teams are ineligible for postseason play, some would say they have nothing to play for, but don’t tell that to the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions. After overcoming major adversity leading into their 2012 seasons, both of these teams have taken on new identities under their new coaches, and are making their regular seasons count.

Meyer’s Buckeyes are composed largely of the same personnel from the 2011 team that went 6-7, and he has reignited the winning tradition that OSU football is known for. What O’Brien has done at Penn State this season, however, is remarkable.

Filling the shoes of Paterno after his 46-year career coaching PSU, and following what is arguably the worst scandal in college football history, O’Brien did not take an easy job. It will continue to be a challenge, as the Nittany Lions are in just their first year of four years of NCAA sanctioning including a postseason ban and scholarship reductions. But by bringing his no-nonsense attitude, installing an up-tempo offense and redefining the image of Penn State football, O’Brien has the Nittany Lions headed back in the right direction.

On Saturday, the Nittany Lions have a chance for their first post-scandal marquee victory if they can upset the Buckeyes. Given the way PSU has rallied together and won their past five games, the Buckeyes are going to need to be on top of their game to stop that from happening. Playing an ambitious team in Beaver Stadium, the nation’s second-largest stadium, a will to win won’t be enough to remain undefeated. 

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