STATE COLLEGE — As Penn State charged onto the field Saturday, Ohio State kicked a field goal to force overtime in its epic, and very relevant to Penn State, scrap with Michigan.
You know the story — An Ohio State win meant Penn State was playing for everything here Saturday. A Michigan win meant the Nittany Lions were playing for a lot, but a lot less.
Penn State coach James Franklin preaches relentless tunnel vision, and the Beaver Stadium video boards pointedly did not show the telecast, but the battle in Columbus was impossible to ignore.
"We addressed it (during the week),'' Franklin said, "but that was really it. I thought our guys tuned it out pretty good.''
The Lions got slapped around pretty good by Michigan State in the opening moments, as overtime (and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh) raged in Ohio.
Penn State had the ball, and was doing very little with it, when suddenly 97,418 at the Beav stood and went nuts.
"What's going on?'' quarterback Trace McSorley asked Franklin.
"I told him, ‘I assume Ohio State won,’ '' Franklin said. "He didn't bat an eye.''
No, the Lions weren't suddenly fortified by the good news, raising their game to a celestial level, because this isn't a Disney film.
The entire first half was a struggle. Michigan State had an effective game-shortening approach, killed Penn State on the line of scrimmage, racked up 17 first downs and led at the half, 12-10.
Only red-zone failures by Sparty kept it that close.
Which meant that, of course, the Lions had them right where they wanted them.
Penn State 45, Michigan State 12. The mind reels.
The Nittany Lions (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) have won eight straight since being demolished by Michigan 49-10 Sept. 24.
A week after that, it bears repeating, they were down 13-3 in the third quarter at home against Minnesota, staring down the barrel of a 2-3 record and inevitable rumors that Franklin's job was in jeopardy.
Now they will play for the Big Ten championship, against Wisconsin, Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. A win there would make them perhaps even-money to get a berth in the four-team playoff for the national championship.
Even a loss Saturday would likely leave Penn State in position to play in one of the biggest bowl games, perhaps the Rose, Orange or Cotton.
"We've overachieved and we keep overachieving,'' Franklin said afterward.
That was after he sang the alma mater on the field with his players and family at his side and his daughter on his shoulders, as part of a giddy postgame that included presentation of the charmingly ugly Land Grant Trophy.
"It's heavy,'' said linebacker Brandon Bell, who helped haul the Land Grant to the stands. "Weighs 50 (pounds), easy.''
They also got a smaller, sleeker division title trophy from the Big Ten. The players got garish black-and-blue championship hats.
"This is just the beginning,'' Franklin said.
That sounds reasonable, even in the short term.
This is starting to feel like more than a hot streak.
The Lions are still beat-up up front. That's probably not going to change this season. They never did clearly win back the line of scrimmage Saturday.
As was the case a couple weeks back at Indiana, when the O-line was hopelessly beat up, it somehow didn't matter.
They ran for just 77 yards, or 2.3 per carry. The brilliant Saquon Barkley managed just 14 yards in 12 tries Saturday, and left with an ankle or foot injury that will provide one of this week's major storylines.
Again, it didn't matter.
It didn't matter because Penn State has weapons with ball skills who can make explosive plays and a fearless battler at quarterback who can give them the chance to make them.
Nine Lions caught passes Saturday. Wide receiver Chris Godwin was targeted just five times. He caught ’em all, for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
There were pass plays of 59, 45, 43, 40 and 34 yards. McSorley completed 17 of 23 for 376. That's an insane 22 yards per completion and over 16 per attempt.
The defense started the second half with a dominant three-and-out that included a quarterback sack on third down.
Five plays later, Godwin was winning a contested ball for a 34-yard TD and it felt like the whole deal had turned, utterly and completely.
That feeling turned out to be correct. Ridiculously so.
"They were coming with those cross-dog blitzes, with the ends wide and coming up the field to take away the outside run game,'' Franklin said in coach-ese. "They were playing really soft at defensive back, and we've got some wide receivers and tight ends who can make plays and hold on to the ball.''
And there you have it. Still can't say this is a great football team. Wisconsin and almost everyone they face from here on out will be more powerful and athletic, especially in the trenches.
But when the ball's in the air and Godwin and Co. are jockeying for position, a "chunk'' play is about to happen.
Maybe that element gives this crazy, remarkable team a puncher's chance against almost anybody.