Saying this weekend's trip to State College will be Ohio State's biggest test to date might not be giving the Penn State Nittany Lions nearly enough credit.
While the Buckeyes are currently on top of the Leaders Division in the Big Ten standings at 8-0 overall and 4-0 in league play, the Nittany Lions have certainly figured things out under rookie head coach Bill O'Brien, who has persevered and shined despite the firestorm that was the Nittany Lions' program during the off-season.
"We're playing against a team that's playing very well at this time," said OSU head coach Urban Meyer. "We have to be on our game."
Penn State, which dealt with the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal, Joe Paterno's firing and then death, harsh NCAA sanctions and then several players took the option to transfer to a different school and play immediately leaving the Lions extremely short handed, are now 5-2 on the season and have won five in a row.
"For me to sit up here and say it's not a big game, that's crazy," said O'Brien. "This is Ohio State (coming here). It's a great tradition, great players, great head coach and a great coaching staff."
The Buckeyes are gearing up for the first and only night game of the season in State College. The time was originally announced for 6 p.m., but television elected to push the game up a half hour.
Meyer, who admitted he's never been to a game at Beaver Stadium, has prepared his team all week for what he's heard is "the loudest place in the Big Ten to play."
"Playing at night will only assist (the noise)," Meyer said. "We'd better be on it. Whenever you go on the road, you pack your defense and don't turn the ball over and be smart. I know it was loud at Michigan State, and I understand this one's louder."
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions come into this Saturday's game, which will kickoff at 5:30 p.m., riding different feelings of emotions.
Yes, obviously, the Buckeyes haven't lost, which is the most important stat, but the way they've gotten to the start wasn't exactly the way Meyer, any player, or fan, probably drew it up since they needed overtime to post their eighth win against struggling Purdue when the offense was totally out of sync and sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller left the game in the third quarter with an apparent head injury, which Meyer later categorized as "whiplash."
The Lions, meanwhile, went on the road and dismantled Iowa. Their offense has been clicking on all cylinders as the former New England Patriots' offensive coordinator has implemented the pro-style offense and has quarterback Matt McGloin doing his best Tom Brady impression every week.
The way of the Nittany Lions have played of late has been of absolutely no surprise to Meyer.
"I have great admiration for Penn State," Meyer said. "Penn State was undefeated at this time last year. As a result, when you're undefeated, you've got very, very good players. I mean, very good. I think it's going to be a good draft day for the Penn State Nittany Lions."
Meyer doesn't know O'Brien all that well. He went and visited the New England Patriots a few seasons ago, but Ohio native Josh McDaniels was still the offensive coordinator and Meyer actually focused on defense on his trip.
"I think as a head coach, you've got to be well versed," Meyer said. "So, I spent all of my time on defense the times I went up there and sat in meetings with Josh and Tom Brady. I have great respect for Coach O'Brien and obviously he's doing a great job."
Last week's hot topic around the Buckeyes surrounded the play of the defense. Meyer obviously got his message across - a little bit - at least. Outside of the opening play the Boilermakers took for a touchdown, the defense played pretty well for the most part against the Boilermakers, including getting a stop in regulation and then again in overtime.
This week the issue might have been even greater since it was dealing with the health of Miller. Obviously, the defense's play is highly important, but Miller is the engine that makes the Buckeyes go.
After breaking his first lengthy run of the game, Miller was slammed to the turf and came up extremely woozy. He actually lost his balance and seemingly had no concept of where he was. He was eventually taken - via ambulance - to the Ohio State Medical Center where all tests came back negative.
In his absence, "the old right hander" Kenny Guiton came in and guided the Buckeyes on the game-tying drive when he found seldom-used Chris Fields for the touchdown and then found tight end Jeff Heuermann for the two-point conversion.
"We were cheering and having a great time, and then deep in your heart, you know that we have a lot of work to do," Meyer said. "Obviously, my heart and mind went right to our quarterback to make sure he was okay. There's not a person associated with Ohio State that didn't see that violent tackle."
After the game, Meyer, strength coach Mickey Marotti and offensive coordinator Tom Herman all made their way to the hospital where Miller was given a clean bill of health other than a sore neck.
"He was rattled," Meyer said. "Once he settled down, he seemed to be fine. And he made a comment to me that he's never really been hurt, never really been as far as a bruise or sprained ankle, but never been like that, so it rattled him a bit."
Miller has run for 959 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He's passed for 1,384 yards and 11 touchdowns. Guiton has proven himself to be serviceable.
"Has Kenny earned the confidence to go in the game and perform?," Meyer asked. "He has. I'm so proud of that guy right now."
Tailback Carlos Hyde, who scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime, has run for 545 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Corey "Philly" Brown is the team's leading receiver with 44 catches for 447 yards.
He left Saturday's game dinged up, but Meyer expects him to be able to play as well on Saturday.
Devin Smith is the big-play threat with 23 receptions for 505 yards and six touchdowns. He had the big gainer that ignited the Bucks' final possession in regulation.
The Penn State defense has been exceptional. It's allowing just 15 points a game with Michael Mauti, who Meyer raved about, leading the way with 65 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 3 interceptions. Gerald Hodges has also been impressive with 54 tackles.
"What I love about our defense is they play extremely hard," O'Brien said. "It's not always pretty, but they compete. They play extremely hard, which is the number one thing in defensive football."
The Nittany Lions' offense doesn't run the ball much and the Buckeyes' major defensive deficiency has been in the passing game. McGloin has thrown for 1,788 yards and 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
"I coached against (McGloin) in the Outback Bowl a couple of years ago," Meyer said. "He's much improved. He's always been an accurate passer. The guys around him are playing better as well."
Zach Zwinak is the leading rusher with 372 yards and three touchdowns. Bill Belton also has three touchdowns. Allen Robinson is the leading receiver with 47 receptions for 536 yards and eight touchdowns.
Kyle Carter is also a big-play threat with 29 catches for 364 yards and a touchdown.
"I went home (Saturday) and watched their game on television and they did what they wanted at Iowa," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes' defense played much better as evidenced by when the coaches graded the tape. Travis Howard, Nathan Williams, John Simon, Johnathan Hankins and Bradley Robey all graded out champions last week.
Ettiene Sabino has been ruled out again this week by Meyer, meaning Zach Boren will continue to play on the defensive side of the ball.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier was the defensive player of the game for the Purdue encounter. He made 11 tackles, two assists, broke up a pass and had a quarterback hurry.
"That was the best game I've witnessed him play, including film I watched prior to last year," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes' special teams unit, which allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, took another hit when it was determined that Devan Bogard had been lost for the season with a knee injury.