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Penn State at Ohio State Game Preview

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Moments after becoming the first major college football coach to win 400 games, Penn State’s Joe Paterno was already thinking a week ahead.

“Now that the celebration’s over, let’s go beat Ohio State!”

The legend’s trips to Columbus have rarely ended with similar enthusiasm.

A loss two years ago to the Nittany Lions was the eighth-ranked Buckeyes’ lone home blemish against Penn State in Big Ten play, a result Ohio State will be eager to make sure doesn’t happen again Saturday as it tries to stay in a crowded conference race.

Penn State (6-3, 3-2) has bounced back from consecutive losses with three straight wins, including one that left Paterno with a record that may be untouchable.

The Nittany Lions trailed 21-0 in the second quarter against Northwestern on Saturday before scoring five consecutive touchdowns for a memorable 35-21 win that left Paterno alone among Division I coaches at 400 wins.

As usual, Paterno didn’t wait too long to start thinking about his next victory.

“I’m hoping to get to 401 for crying out loud,” Paterno said. “We’re getting to be where we can be a pretty good football team. We’ve got a long ways to go before we can go around thinking we’re better than pretty good.”

That won’t be easy against the Buckeyes (8-1, 4-1), who come back from their bye week knowing that three more wins will give them at least a share of a sixth straight Big Ten title.

Whether simply sharing the conference crown gets them to a sixth consecutive BCS bowl game is unclear, but Ohio State certainly figures to be prepared. It’s 26-4 under coach Jim Tressel – 14-1 since 2005.

“We know November is going to be turned up a notch,” Tressel said. “If we’ll go to work and get ready for November, you never know what can happen.”

With 237 wins in 25 years between Ohio State and FCS Youngstown State, Tressel is the second-winningest active coach in Division I behind Paterno.

The Buckeyes have won six of the last eight meetings overall, including a 24-7 win last season in Happy Valley behind three total touchdowns from Pennsylvania native Terrelle Pryor. The Nittany Lions won 13-6 in 2008 at Ohio Stadium, aided by a late Pryor fumble.

That’s Paterno’s only victory there since Penn State joined the Big Ten. They’d lost the previous seven visits by an average of three touchdowns.

“It’s going to be tough to stay with these guys,” Paterno said. “I’m telling you, I’ve stated if not the best, they’re one of the three, four best football teams in the country.”

Considering how much Pryor has improved in his junior season, Paterno’s statement might be fairly accurate. Pryor is the nation’s fifth highest-rated passer and is tied for the Big Ten lead with 20 TD passes.

Perhaps most impressively, he’s completed 67.6 percent of his passes – 11 percent better than his sophomore season.

“He’s all business. He’s not out there trying to out-do anybody,” Paterno said. “He’s just out there trying to get his football team to win. He’s the kind of guy a coach likes to see have success.”

Penn State missed out on luring Pryor during the quarterback’s much-publicized 2008 recruitment, but it may have a future fixture under center in Matt McGloin.

The sophomore threw two touchdown passes Oct. 23 at Minnesota when freshman Rob Bolden suffered a concussion. McGloin has thrived as the starter the past two weeks, throwing for 475 yards and five touchdowns without an interception.

The Nittany Lions had four TD passes in their first six games.

“I don’t want to take anything away from (Bolden), but obviously (McGloin) has come in here … and made some big plays,” Paterno said.

McGloin’s first few tests as a starter have been considerably easier than what he’ll face in Columbus, however. Northwestern and Michigan’s pass defenses rank 100th and 115th, respectively, in FBS. Ohio State’s is third (150.2 yards per game).

The Buckeyes also expect starting weakside linebacker Ross Homan to return Saturday after missing two games with a foot injury, which could help against a Nittany Lions running game that’s averaged 223.5 yards behind Evan Royster and Silas Redd the past two weeks.

Penn State is 25-2 when it runs for at least 130 yards the last three regular seasons and 2-4 otherwise. Ohio State is 27-1 when it hits triple digits on the ground, and 1-4 when it doesn’t.