Inside turnarounds for Ohio State, Auburn and others after shaky starts

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State didn't look sharp Saturday night against Penn State, delivering a product not unlike the one it had 50 days earlier against Oregon.

After a month of scoring at will, the fifth-ranked Buckeyes finished the first quarter with three points and punted three times in the first half, twice in Penn State territory. They drew a season-high 10 penalties and struggled to finish drives. From the opening possession, which ended in a Jeremy Ruckert fumble, Ohio State looked to be in for a slog.

But this time the slog ended with smiles. Ohio State churned out a 33-24 win to remain afloat for the College Football Playoff and stay undefeated in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes won their sixth straight after falling to Oregon on the same field and showcased some of the key improvements, especially on defense, since the defeat.

"Across the board, we were gritty," coach Ryan Day said. "We didn't panic, we kept swinging. And that's what these games are going to take. Now, in the second half of the season, the goal is just to win."

Few wrote off Ohio State after the Oregon loss. After consecutive playoff appearances and no regular-season losses under Day, Ohio State is in a select group of programs -- Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma -- that should never be eliminated until after a second loss. But there were significant concerns early on about the Buckeyes' inexperienced and leaky defense, about new starting quarterback C.J. Stroud and other areas.

Ohio State has made necessary changes, especially with the defensive scheme and operation, to reroute its season.

"We heard all the noise," Stroud said. "Especially after the Tulsa game [an unimpressive 41-20 win], we heard everything. But we just kept together."

Ohio State isn't the only team looking different following a shaky start. Auburn began the season looking like a team under a first-year coach (Bryan Harsin) and still dealing with a roller-coaster quarterback (Bo Nix), but the Tigers have since made themselves a surprise contender in the SEC West Division.

Washington State started 1-3 and had the ongoing distraction of coach Nick Rolovich's vaccination situation. But the Cougars started to surge before Rolovich's firing and have continued to play well since, putting themselves in the Pac-12 North Division mix. Wisconsin also was 1-3, unfamiliar territory for the Badgers. But Paul Chryst's team has bounced back with a familiar formula of running the ball with a big back and playing ferocious defense.

Here's a closer look at how Ohio State and three other teams have turned things around after shaky starts.