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No. 7 Penn State looking for first win in Columbus since 2011 as game with No. 3 Ohio State looms

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The first half of the season went about as well as it could for Penn State. It’s about to get much tougher.

If the seventh-ranked Nittany Lions (6-0) want to maximize their chances of playing for a Big Ten championship, they will need to do something they haven’t done in more than a decade — beat Ohio State in Columbus.

They’ll have their shot against the No. 3 Buckeyes (6-0) on Saturday in the Horseshoe, a place where Penn State hasn’t won since 2011.

“It is another top-10 opponent,” defensive end Adisa Isaac said. “Obviously we’ve been battling these guys for years and years, so this is a great test for us.”

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There weren’t many of those in the first half of the season, when the Nittany Lions found different ways to blow out every opponent they faced.

Sophomore quarterback Drew Allar carved up West Virginia in the opener and still hasn’t turned the ball over. Running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen helped the offense run over Illinois, Iowa and Northwestern. Special teams lifted the Nittany Lions to their latest win with a pair of punt return touchdowns in the rain that jump-started them against UMass.

Meanwhile, coordinator Manny Diaz’s defense has been nearly perfect as the Nittany Lions sit atop the country’s total defense rankings and at No. 2 in scoring defense through six games.

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Except for its 17-14 victory over then-No. 9 Notre Dame, Ohio State has had an equally easy time with its schedule.

“I feel really good about the team,” Allar said. “I think we’ve done a great job of improving our process each week and just focusing on ourselves and correcting the mistakes we’ve made so far. We’ve just got to keep building on that.”

The process started Sunday when Penn State players gathered to self-scout their previous performance and begin preparing for the Buckeyes.

“We always talk about enjoying the moment, enjoying the win, then taking some time to flip the switch,” tight end Theo Johnson said. “We had a lot of focus and attention this week coming in to this game, and we’re definitely going to have to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row for this next week.”

Historically, that’s usually been the case when these two teams meet.

While Penn State hasn’t won in the series since 2016, each of the last six games has been decided by an average of eight points. The Nittany Lions let a handful of those games slip away after they had controlled the pace.

The Buckeyes overcame fourth-quarter deficits in 2017, 2018 and 2022 to hand Penn State hard-to-swallow losses. Ohio State won the Big Ten in 2017 and 2018.

Penn State’s win at Beaver Stadium in 2016 helped propel the Nittany Lions to their only Big Ten championship under coach James Franklin.

Defensive end Chop Robinson has all but blacked out the memory of last season’s game, when Ohio State’s J.T. Tuimoloau intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown to cap the Buckeyes’ comeback.

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“I remember the atmosphere before the game,” Robinson said. “That’s about it.”

Penn State has won 11 in a row since then.

Allar, who grew up in Ohio, said he believes Penn State has what it needs to ready a winning game plan for the Buckeyes.

“I feel like we’ve definitely been battle-tested, we’ve played some really good opponents,” Allar said. “I feel like offensively, we’ve gotten better each week, gotten more consistent each week and we just need to keep building on that. We can’t change our routine based on the opponent.”

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll