For the first time in five seasons under Urban Meyer, Ohio State lost a Big Ten regular-season road game and its 20-game road winning streak also ended on a damp Saturday night in State College, Pa., when Penn State pulled off a 24-21 upset.
After a rare conference loss and a narrow overtime win the road the previous week, the Buckeyes dropped from No. 2 to No. 6 in the latest Associated Press poll. They now trail Michigan by a game in the Big Ten East Division standings.
It was the first defeat for Ohio State in October under Meyer, whose record dipped to a still-spectacular 56-5 with the Buckeyes.
The good news for Ohio State (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) is the loss doesn't damage their title aspirations. Win out the rest of the way, including a victory over Michigan in the traditional regular-season finale, and the Buckeyes will go to the Big Ten championship game in December in Indianapolis.
"Every goal is still alive," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after the loss. "We're not a great team right now."
Ohio State returns home this weekend to face Northwestern (4-3, 3-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the first of two straight games in Ohio Stadium that could define the season. The following Saturday, the Buckeyes play host to No. 7 Nebraska.
Neither game figures to be easy. Northwestern brings a three-game winning streak to Columbus. Nebraska, which plays at Wisconsin this weekend in his first real test of the season, is unbeaten.
"Wow, that is as improved a team as I've ever seen from beginning to now," Meyer said of Northwestern. "They've had three big wins with two on the road. Their defense is outstanding."
While the Wildcats are on a roll, the Buckeyes are licking their wounds after falling at Penn State. Though the Buckeyes have lost only five times since Meyer's first season in 2012, they do have some experience bouncing back from tough losses.
Last year, they fell at home to Michigan State late in the season but responded the following week with a win over Michigan. In 2014, after the stunning early season loss to Virginia Tech at home, Ohio State ran the table and won the College Football Playoff national championship.
Meyer's Ohio State teams have lost two straight only once -- in 2013 when the Buckeyes were beaten by Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
"We have to move forward," Meyer said. "You have to let it hurt for a while. If you lose a game, you're not a loser. If you lose a game, you accept it. That was the message to our players. ... It happened, so move on and get ready for a very good team coming in here."
Saturday night's game at Penn State turned when Ohio State was outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter after building a 21-7 lead.
Ohio State outgunned Penn State 413-276 in total yards and had a 17-minute advantage in time of possession and yet still couldn't come away with a win.
The loss raised questions about Ohio State's passing game -- in particular its offensive line play -- that had been bubbling toward the surface the past two games. Barrett doesn't believe it's a catastrophic issue.
"Overall, the passing game, I think we put our O-line in bad spots early on in drives, so we were second-and-long," he said. "I think that harmed us."
Meyer doesn't expect any personnel changes this week on the offensive line, which gave up six sacks, including two at the end of the game that stopped Ohio State's final drive.
"There are a multitude of things (that went wrong)," Meyer said. "We did not play very well in a couple of areas on offense. What do you do? You identify it and work on it.
"(The offense) has regressed a little bit. Certainly there were plays to be made. If we hook up on those plays, we go on and win the game."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB J.T. Barrett -- The redshirt junior was called upon to put the ball in the air 43 times against Penn State last week and completed 28 for 245 yards and one touchdown. But Barrett was sacked six times and pressured throughout the game. He ended up with 17 carries for 26 yards after the sacks resulted in 38 yards of losses. Ohio State's final drive ended with Barrett being sacked twice on third and fourth down to end its comeback hopes in the fourth quarter. Barrett remains among the Heisman Trophy candidates, but the loss in a prime-time game likely didn't help his chances. With 90 career touchdowns accounted for, Barrett is one behind Denard Robinson (91) of Michigan and five away from tying Big Ten record-holder Drew Brees (95) of Purdue.
--S Malik Hooker -- The redshirt sophomore led the Buckeyes in tackles against Penn State last week with seven. Two of those were tackles for loss. Hooker also broke up one pass. The Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist continues to lead the Buckeyes with four interceptions and is third in tackles with 36, including four tackles for loss and three breakups. Last week, Hooker was named to several midseason All-American teams.
--H-back Curtis Samuel -- Coach Urban Meyer has said he'd like to get the ball in Samuel's hands more because of his game-breaking ability, but Ohio State's offense still didn't him enough touches in Saturday night's loss to Penn State. Samuel tied with running back Mike Weber for the team lead in catches against Penn State with eight. He touched the ball twice on running plays and gained 74 yards, all of that coming on a touchdown run early in the third quarter to give Ohio State a 19-7 lead. That play was a perfect illustration of how the explosive Samuel can affect a game.