COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nike calls them “rivalry” uniforms, and yes, Ohio State will be wearing them tonight.
The Buckeyes had already unveiled special alternate jerseys to wear in big games this season. Tonight’s tussle against Penn State under the lights at The Horseshoe certainly counts.
The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, spent much of the week downplaying the word “rivalry” altogether.
To be sure, Ohio State is the closest thing the Lions have to a rival on the schedule these days. But that’s an angle that Bill O’Brien and his players weren’t interested in playing up this year.
“I understand, I totally understand the rivalry thing,” the Penn State coach said. “But I think everybody is a rival, because everybody comes on the football field and wants to beat you and you want to beat them. So that’s a rival.
“But I also know that I have a tremendous amount of respect, too, for the teams in the Big Ten, and I think all of the teams in the Big Ten are very well‑coached, good football teams. So I think any time we take the field, we respect them all, and they’re all rivals. You know what I mean? They’re all rivals.”
Perhaps the point is to not rile up a team that is undefeated, ranked fourth in the BCS and riding the nation’s longest winning streak at 19 games.
Ohio State will already be looking to leave an impression in the minds of voters and the Lions would prefer not to give them any more motivation.
“I’d see it as a big rivalry, but to be honest, every single game this year is big for us,” senior guard John Urschel said. “With no bowl game, no postseason anything, every single game is like a bowl game. Honestly, you could see it like we have 12 one‑game seasons even.”
Semantics, maybe. But what isn’t up for debate is that the Buckeyes are the toughest opponent on Penn State’s schedule. It’s not a surprise to see the Lions installed as two-touchdown underdogs headed into a particularly hostile environment.
Though they gained some important confidence from their upset of Michigan their last time out, the Lions’ margin for error tonight is much, much smaller. They beat the Wolverines despite turning the ball over four times and also getting stuffed on fourth down from their 34.
A similar performance tonight won’t end nearly as well for them.
Ohio State’s offense looks to be firing on all cylinders now with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde both in rhythm after missing time back in September.
Glenn Carson is looking forward to the challenge.
“I really like playing on the big stage when you know the game’s gonna be a bloodbath and it’s gonna come down to the very end,” the senior linebacker said. “That’s when I play my very best, against a tough opponent.”
The Buckeyes are going to score their points. Ranked seventh in the country at 45 per game, their low total for the season is 31. It will be up to Christian Hackenberg at Penn State’s offense to keep up with them.
It won’t technically be the first road start for the true freshman quarterback. But it’s tough to compare a neutral site game against Syracuse with mostly Penn State fans, or the lukewarm atmosphere at Indiana, to what he’ll face tonight.
“People say, well, you’ve got to block it out,” O’Brien said. “I mean, that’s easier said than done. There’s 90,000 people there, and it’s a fantastic place. And they’re not for Penn State, obviously.
“I think what you have to do is be very, very focused on what your job is. … Focus on every little detail of every play that could possibly run in the game. And I think if you do that, that’s what keeps you focused.”
Penn State’s focus on offense could be on Jesse James and Kyle Carter. Ohio State’s defense looked vulnerable last week against Iowa in large part because Hawkeyes tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey combined for 10 catches, 167 yards and two touchdowns.
James and Carter both had bigger roles in the win over Michigan. To beat the Buckeyes, however, it’s going to take something truly memorable.
“It would be a huge win for us,” Urschel said. “But it’s not enough to talk about it.”