COLUMBUS, Ohio — Suspense, which had neither visited nor even seemed to contemplate a visit to any Ohio State football game this season, jazzed up a brooding Saturday with a jolting cameo. WhenPenn State narrowed a 21-0 deficit to 21-17 in the thick of the third quarter and the majority of 104,355 concerned citizens at Ohio Stadium had to reboot their unused nervous systems, all the witnesses had to wonder whether the suspense would prove fleeting or life-shortening.

It proved fleeting, and respiration did ease. That’s because the Buckeyes had enough of everything to subdue Penn State, 28-17, despite three fumbles. With that, No. 2 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten and sitting No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings) booked passage to Indianapolis on Dec. 7 for the Big Ten championship game, looked to Michigan next week as a still-towering CFP contender and spotted the value often contained in a dose of difficulty.

The Buckeyes’ first-year coach, Ryan Day, sang the soundtrack, saying at varying times: “To win a game like that, that was not clean, shows the toughness that we have … I said to one of the coaches, ‘Maybe it’s been a little too easy at times.’ … Absolutely think it will [help], because we haven’t really faced that before … That could’ve cost us our whole season … I think when you win games like [blowouts], you know your team but you don’t see them in that [challenged] environment …”

For a team whose third-quarter scores had been 35-6, 35-0, 51-10, 63-5, 48-7, 27-10, 38-3, 24-7, 52-7 and 49-14, a coach could say of a 28-17 final: “It was just good to get an ugly win like that.”

As herculean defender Chase Young returned from a two-game suspension and amassed three sacks and a hundred fears, giving him a school-record 16.5 sacks this season, the day could have doubled as a metaphor of Chris Olave’s reference to his clinching 28-yard touchdown catch with 13:18 left.

“Had to go up and get it,” the sophomore wide receiver said.

They had to go up and get it, and they did so after Day gathered all the starters during a third-quarter delay for some boxing references about responding to punches, a moment of which star running back J.K. Dobbins said, “We just rallied around each other and told each other, ‘We got this.’ ”

Once they recalibrated themselves early in the fourth quarter, the only remaining fret would be a moment with 2:17 left, when Justin Fields, the quarterback with 33 touchdown passes to one interception this season, and who ran a hard 21 times Saturday, went down with a slight awkwardness with help from Penn State (9-2, No. 8 CFP) star of the game Lamont Wade. Fields stayed down for a few moments, with the whole national football landscape in limbo.

When he got up and jogged off, a partly scattered crowd made a pretty good roar. “He’s good,” Day said later. “Yeah. He’s good.”

Early on, it seemed as if Fields could have responded to the fumble he had knocked from him at the goal line by Wade by saying, “That’s okay; we’ll be back shortly.” By then, Ohio State had a 7-0 lead on an uncluttered path toward a halftime total-yardage margin of 255-64.

Shortly after halftime, that margin reached 330-64 as Ohio State led 21-0 with a touchdown in each quarter: a 13-play, 91-yard song of running plays to start things; an 11-play, 48-yard move in the second with two fourth-down conversions, including Fields for 22 yards through an alley that looked like nearby High Street, and with Dobbins scoring from the 1 behind a mighty right side of the line; and a 10-play, 75-yard drive that started the second half and ended with Fields’s gorgeous 24-yard touchdown pass aimed to the left of the end zone and to K.J. Hill.

Dobbins, the Buckeyes’ 5-foot-10, 217-pound bale of muscle who always looks like hell to tackle, stood well on his way to his eventual 157 yards on a workhorse 36 carries. “I’ll take more,” he said with a beaming smile of such a workload.

Ohio State led by a 21-0 that felt more like a 42-0.

The rest of the day could pass without incident.

Only soon there came one of football’s curious phenomena, that of the second-string quarterback who turns up and gums up all the plans. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, that native Cincinnatian who won a state title in this stadium, had just completed a 12-yard pass to tight end Nick Bowers when Clifford stayed down.

After the redshirt sophomore successor to Trace McSorley needed help leaving the field, his injury unspecified, in came backup Will Levis. “I think he was a little bit stronger running, so they kind of leaned on some quarterback runs,” Day said. Levis, a big lad at 6-3 and 229 pounds, began reading and running around, and Ohio State began fumbling around.

When the Nittany Lions (9-2) completed that same drive of 75 yards on Journey Brown’s 18-yard touchdown run, then Micah Parsons plucked a fumble from Dobbins on a first play of a possession, then soon Wade knocked another fumble from Fields on a third play of another, soon Penn State had a touchdown off a 12-yard drive and a field goal off an 11-yard drive and, whoa, a chance with the deficit down to 21-17.

Then the Nittany Lions even got the ball again, after a stop, at their own 11-yard line, but the first play quelled tension. Levis muffed a snap and faced two of the toughest sights a quarterback can face: a ball on the ground near the goal line and Young emerging into full-on view.

Young didn’t get a sack for corralling Levis — it went as a team sack because of the muff — but he almost squeezed Levis into the end zone as the line of scrimmage became the Penn State 1-yard line. Soon came the first play of the fourth quarter and a troubled line-drive punt from the back of the end zone that seemed to creak and croak along its course, and Ohio State got the privilege of a short field it could cover in five plays, 44 yards.

After Olave’s catch finished that, suspense began leaving. And when Levis directed a good drive but then threw a thudding pass into a muddled crowd that included Justin Hilliard, who intercepted at the Ohio State 20, suspense pretty much departed. “If you can’t get hyped for this,” Young said, “you’re [just] not that type of dude,” on a day when the country’s most consistent team this season pretty much had to get hyped twice.

Culpepper reported from Columbus, Ohio. Bogage reported the in-game updates below from Washington.

Read more: