LINCOLN — As Ohio State football players left Memorial Stadium after their 56-14 win over Nebraska, Buckeyefans chanted “Beat Penn State!”
Now, OSU can try — on its own turf.
The biggest game of the Big Ten season plays out Saturday when the Nittany Lions visit the Buckeyes. It’ll also be Penn State running back Saquon Barkley’s Heisman spotlight game. Barkley leads the nation in all-purpose yards — 757 rushing, 448 receiving and 273 in kick returns — and poses a versatile threat to OSU’s defense.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said in his press conference Monday that Barkley may be the best all-around back he’s ever faced “and as good an all-purpose back that we’ve seen in 30 years.”
“They do a good job of creating matchup issues,” Meyer said of Penn State’s game plan for Barkley. “I think back when we had Percy Harvin (at Florida), we did some of that. His body couldn’t take the pounding a running back takes.”
Since Penn State beat Ohio State 24-21 last season — preventing the Buckeyes from winning the Big Ten championship — Meyer said he’s not opposed to using revenge as a motivation.
“You’re talking about 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds,” Meyer said. “We’ll use that quite a bit. But other times we’ll move on.”
Ohio State had a bye week but played a half-pads “game” last Thursday, Meyer said. It was 55 to 60 plays and designed to keep the Buckeyes in game mode after several dominant victories in a row.
Harbaugh not forthcoming
Over 13 monochromatic minutes of his Monday press conference, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh reiterated the same themes about his football team in the wake of its 42-13 loss to Penn State.
“There’s a great phrase: When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” Harbaugh said at one point. “It’s a cliché — maybe you call it a cliché — but clichés are usually clichés because they’re true. We control a lot.”
Reporters prodded Harbaugh for specifics a few times. He wasn’t forthcoming.
At one point, he said the offense has to do more of what it’s good at doing and less of what it’s bad at doing. Quarterback John O’Korn — filling in for an injured Wilton Speight — managed the game well, Harbaugh said, but didn’t always make plays under duress. Michigan’s offensive line has allowed 23 sacks in seven games and many more pressures. The Wolverines have thrown just four touchdown passes against six interceptions.
One Wolverine player, cornerback Lavert Hill, apologized Monday for flipping two middle fingers at the Penn State crowd.
“He feels bad about it and vows it won’t happen again,” Harbaugh said. “On the field he’s been very good.”
» Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor — again the Big Ten freshman of the week — ranks fourth nationally in rushing yards with 1,112. He’s tied for seventh nationally in rushing touchdowns (11). Taylor is the latest in a long line of Badger running backs who have topped 1,000 yards, including Corey Clement, Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball and James White.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said he’s reluctant to compare Taylor to any of those backs, in part because he pays at least as much attention to the players around those backs.
» Michigan State and Northwestern combined for 94 points last season in the Wildcats’ 54-40 win. The over/under on the 2017 game: 41.
“Last year was a unicorn. Last year was an anomaly,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said of MSU’s defense last season. The Spartans gave up 27.8 points per game last season and are giving up 16.9 this season.
» Four Big Ten defenses — Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin — rank among the nation’s 10 stingiest in yards per play allowed. Penn State and Wisconsin are Nos. 1 and 6, respectively, in points per game allowed.
» Nebraska has two of the Big Ten’s top five leaders in receiving yards. Stanley Morgan (540) is No. 2 and JD Spielman (475) is No. 5. Since NU joined the Big Ten, two Husker receivers have ranked in the top five at the end of the season. Kenny Bell was No. 2 with 863 yards in 2012 and Jordan Westerkamp was No. 5 with 918 yards in 2015.