What next for Buckeyes after loss?

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — After a loss, so much seems wrong with Ohio State. Even though very little has changed.

The passing game has all kinds of problems, from poor protection to lack of separation by the receivers. Ohio State’s most explosive player touched the ball only 10 times against Penn State. And the special teams came completely undone in that 24-21 loss Saturday night.

The Buckeyes (6-1, 3-1) slipped four spots to No. 6 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday and now have to worry about getting involved with a tiebreaker with the Nittany Lions just to win the Big Ten East.

Coach Urban Meyer fell back on a most common coaching cliche after the Buckeyes let one slip away in Happy Valley: “Well, every goal is still alive.”

True. If Ohio State wins all its games, starting Saturday at home against Northwestern and beating No. 2 Michigan along the way to a Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes are a good bet to reach the College Football Playoff.

“We’re just not a great team right now,” Meyer added.

Also true.

Ohio State has things to fix, but if an autopsy was performed on the Buckeyes’ first loss of the season, it would reveal the most classic of upsets: The better team lost because it made crucial mistakes and allowed its opponent to hang around long enough to steal one.

The Buckeyes outgained Penn State 413-276 and held the ball for almost 15 more minutes. Ohio State went up 21-7 in the third quarter after Curtis Samuel ripped off a 74-yard touchdown run on one of those 10 touches, and then Penn State gave up a safety on a high punt snap that landed in the end zone.

A few minutes later Ohio State had a second-and-5 at the Penn State 40. The Buckeyes were set to deliver a decisive blow. Instead a sack mucked up that drive and Ohio State punted from the Penn State 38.

No harm. Ohio State forced a three-and-out and again had good field position, starting at its 40. Another drive reached Penn State territory and another sack stalled it. The Buckeyes allowed six sacks after allowing only five in the first six games.

“We just didn’t get our jobs done up front,” senior center Pat Elflein said.

Even after Penn State scored to cut the lead to 21-14 early in the fourth quarter it seemed like Ohio State was going to be able to grind out a victory, leaning on its defense on a windy and damp night.

Far from a thing of beauty. But after beating Wisconsin in overtime last week, a second straight win in a hostile environment would have been something for the Buckeyes to feel pretty good about.

Then the special teams fell apart. Penn State blocked a punt in Ohio State territory and turned it into a field goal, and then blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt by Tyler Durbin that Grant Haley returned 60 yards for a score.

Ohio State got the ball back with plenty of time to mount a decisive drive, but two more sacks ended it before it could ever turn into a threat.

Penn State’s white out turned into a wipeout of Ohio State — and the Buckeyes had been favored by about 20 points.

“(Barrett) was under pressure all night when he threw it and we didn’t lead him off the ball in the run game,” Meyer said.

Samuel, who is 11th in the nation in yards from scrimmage per game (142.6) and averages 9.9 per touch, finished with eight catches and two rushes.

“We probably should have gotten it to him more,” Meyer said.

Two years ago the Buckeyes lost in September at home to unranked Virginia Tech and went on to win the national championship. Most of the main contributors from that team are gone, but those that were key parts such as Barrett, Elflein and linebacker Raekwon McMillian had a message to the rest after the loss.

“A lot of guys have been through it,” McMillan said. “We just have to come back next week and get the job done.”

COMMENTS