Debuting its black uniforms on Saturday, Ohio State had yet another slow start against Penn State. The Buckeyes traded possessions early on, but trailed 3-0 after the first quarter. J.T. Barrett got things moving for OSU on his first drive, speeding up the tempo of the offense as he eventually rushed into the endzone to give Ohio State a 7-3 lead. Urban Meyer's squad didn't look back from there, and despite a good effort from the Nittany Lions and running back Saquon Barkley, the Buckeyes rolled for the rest of the night.
With the offense firing on all cylinders in the red zone, Ohio State cruised to a big conference win over a 5-1 Penn State team that seemed like they were ready for a battle early on. Unfortunately for them, the Buckeye defense came to play as well, holding the Nittany Lions to just three points in the first half.
The second half was pretty uneventful, especially the third quarter. J.T. Barrett was given the nod at starting quarterback near the end of the third quarter, after a shaky couple of drives by Cardale Jones. With a somewhat comfortable lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes wrapped things up and sealed the deal by playing solid defense and simply running the ball until Penn State was able to stop them.
Penn State seemingly had one final gasp at coming within striking distance, near Ohio State's goal line midway through the fourth quarter, but a Tommy Schutt sack on fourth and short would give the Buckeyes the ball back en route to the final nail in the coffin that saw Braxton Miller catch a pop pass from Barrett on the goal line for a touchdown.
Here are three things we learned from Ohio State's 38-10 win.
3 things we learned:
1. J.T. Barrett looks like the guy for Ohio State. When Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett takes over for Cardale Jones in the redzone, the Buckeyes are a perfect 11-of-11 in converting drives into 10 touchdowns. Jones struggled to start the game, completing only one of four passes in the first couple of drives, including some wide open misses and a near interception. But once Barrett stepped in, the offense had a complete shift in attitude. The up-tempo game with Barrett at the helm catapulted the Buckeyes into a three-score lead entering halftime. Barrett had two rushing touchdowns, both coming on read options at the end of the first half.
With Cardale Jones having a lackluster performance (in part due to the offensive line woes), there were plenty of calls for Barrett to step in for the rest of the game. As the second half progressed, Urban Meyer eventually made the decision to switch to Barrett as the starting quarterback. Though there weren't any fireworks after the switch, Barrett provided a couple of nice runs to keep some drives alive. Still, the passing game overall struggled as neither Jones or Barrett was able to connect with a wide receiver for a score until Barrett found Braxton Miller on a pop pass late in the fourth quarter and then followed it up with a toss to Michael Thomas in the endzone. Barrett finished the night 4-of-4 passing for two touchdowns and 11 carries for 102 yards with two rushing touchdowns.
It remains to be seen if coach Meyer will stick with Jones for the remainder of the season, but if there was ever a time to make a change, it feels like now would be as good of a time as ever. Given Barrett's performance so far this season, especially in the red zone, it's a decision that would make sense.
2. Ezekiel Elliott is a serious Heisman Trophy contender. As if there was ever any doubt. Still, the junior running back continues to impress on every outing donning the scarlet and gray - and black. In addition to leaping over Penn State defenders, Elliott put himself higher in the Ohio State record books as the ninth Buckeye in its history to rush for over 3,000 yards in their career. Elliott had 78 yards rushing and a touchdown at the half.
Elliott finished the game with over 150 yards and a touchdown, adding to his streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games, which has hit 12 straight. Even through all the offensive line struggles this season, Elliott has been the mainstay for this Ohio State team and continues to put the team on his back. He produces when the coaching staff calls upon him and he's a threat to break loose nearly every time he carries the ball.
Though much quieter in the second half, Elliott still had success rushing against a quality Penn State defensive line, and broke open a few sizable runs. He was a headache all night for the Nittany Lions as when they would converge on the running back, Elliott would surge ahead to fight for extra yardage. Though he has stiff competition such as LSU running back Leonard Fournette and TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Elliott has a shot as long as Ohio State keeps winning.
3. Cameron Johnston is a true weapon to have. You could certainly make the argument that without Cameron Johnston, Ohio State's slow start on offense might have cost them a lot more than what it did. Penn State only managed to get three points in the first half, in large part due to the flipping of field position from Cameron Johnston. Johnston had a long punt of 56 yards and pinned the Nittany Lions inside their own 20-yard line twice in the first half. Other than a single awful punt against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season, Johnston has been a superstar at punter for Ohio State and one of the most consistent in the country.
Johnston is known as one of the best punters in the nation and it was on display against the Nittany Lions. Even with Ohio State's inconsistency on offense, Johnston's ability to pin Penn State deep in their own territory allowed the Buckeyes defense to go after a hobbled Christian Hackenberg multiple times. The stops often resulted in great field position for the offense - which in turn would lead to scores since J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott would simply run over, through, and around the Nittany Lions defense in the red zone.