STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- There was a stark contrast in the post-game press conferences of the head coaches following Ohio State's 27-26 win over Penn State at Beaver Stadium. There was a smiling, understated but blatantly satisfied Urban Meyer and a fiery, furiously restless James Franklin.
In Franklin's own words, it was the difference between the coach of an "elite" team and a "great" team, desperately clawing to take the next step.
"We have gotten comfortable with being great," Franklin said after the game. "We will no longer be comfortable being great."
A great team dominates the first half. Penn State outgained Ohio State by 200 yards before the break. An elite one responds in the second half. Ohio State outgained Penn State by nearly 100 yards to close things out.
A great team makes big plays. KJ Hamler recorded the second longest play from scrimmage in Penn State history when he caught a 93-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. An elite team makes big plays in the biggest moments. Ohio State's Binjimen Victor and K.J. Hill each had a long catch and run in the fourth quarter to take the decisive lead.
A great team moves the football. Penn State had nine drives of 30 or more yards, but also settled for field goal attempts, punts or turnovers on downs on six of them. An elite team scores touchdowns. Ohio State had four drives of 30 or more yards. Three of them resulted in touchdowns.
You get the picture.
Ohio State survived one of the most hostile environments in the country and while the performance wasn't perfect, it was a perfect example of how a championship team responds to adversity. As loud and hostile as the Penn State white noise got, the noise turned nervous late as 110,889 people felt the Buckeyes closing in. It was an elite response from an elite team.
Saturday night could have been an arrival of sorts for Penn State. A win would have put the Nittany Lions in the driver's seat for a Big Ten title and a playoff berth. It would have bumped Franklin's record against Meyer to 2-3 and cast him as the biggest threat to one of the greatest coaches in the game. It would have indicated that Penn State is no longer a recruiting class away but is in fact already here.
Instead that one point, for the second straight year against the Buckeyes, looks like a motivational burr in the saddle for Penn State and like a championship confidence boost for Ohio State.
"We're not an elite football team yet," Franklin said. "As hard as we worked to go from average to good and good to great. The work that it's going to take to get to an elite program is going to be just as hard as the ground and the distance that we've already traveled."
Ohio State has seen that journey and, at least in the Big Ten, it remains the standard.