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Special teams failures spark Ohio State’s unraveling at Penn State

But first let me tell you a little story about the Louisiana Purchase.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In case you’ve been put off by the never-ending source of schadenfreude that is the Big 12 expansion sphere, here’s some real news for you: this past week marked the 213th anniversary of the Senate ratifying the Louisiana Purchase.

On paper, the transaction—which cost the United States $15 million and roughly doubled the size of the country—appears like a swindle on par with the Yankees’ purchase of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox in 1919. In reality, French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte badly needed immediate cash to fund an impending war with Great Britain, so he cashed out and moved the French troops that were defending Louisiana across the Atlantic.

Another Louisiana Purchase tidbit that I can’t remember from my grade school history books: despite netting what would become 13 states worth of land for under three cents per acre, the U.S. could not actually afford the deal when pen was put to paper! Thus, the American government had to borrow from European banks, a loan the Yanks didn’t repay until 20 years later!

So, as much as I’d like to say James “the Last Cocked Hat” Monroe and U.S. Minister to France Robert Livingston got the best of Bonaparte, the deal helped and hurt both nations.

Speaking of a nation hurting, Ohio State lost to Penn State on Saturday night? You don’t say...

1. A beautiful disaster

Well, if you’re going to blow a game, you might as well do it like Ohio State did, eh? Following a Penn State safety early in the third quarter, the Buckeyes led 21-7. Another touchdown—hell, even a field goal to push the Nittany Lions’ deficit to three scores—would have iced the game and given the visitors their third super-impressive road triumph of 2016.

Alas, Ohio State’s next five drives happened...

Punt. Punt. Punt. Blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. Turnover on downs.

It gets worse: Penn State won despite its starting quarterback (Trace McSorley) completing 35 percent of his attempts and its best player (Saquon Barkley) receiving only 12 touches.

Potential bright side: as noted by LGHL’s Colton Denning, Urban Meyer’s teams often need a kick in the tush to regroup and actually address clear weaknesses, the most recent and cited examples being the setbacks to Michigan State last season and to Virginia Tech in 2014.

We’ll find out next Saturday when Northwestern visits the Horseshoe if the Buckeyes have taken a few steps forward.

2. Marcus “Gronk” Baugh

The best play of Marcus Baugh’s career capped an 11-play, 78-yard scoring drive to provide Ohio State with its first touchdown of the game in the second quarter. Baugh finished with a career-best five receptions and battled through what appeared to be a leg injury he suffered in the second half.

3. Special teams hijinx

All of the following happened in the first half: Ohio State was credited with a blocked field goal after Penn State’s first possession even though kicker Tyler Davis just laser-booted the pigskin into the mass of humanity at the line of scrimmage on his 38-yard attempt. Both teams also dropped punts; the Buckeyes were lucky enough to fall on their miscue while the hosts were not so fortunate, as the Nittany Lions’ misfire led to the Buckeyes’ first (three) points of the night. Later on in the half, a bad snap led to Ohio State kicker Tyler Durbin missing his second point-after try of the season.

In the second half, a snap went sailing over the head of Penn State’s punter following its second possession, resulting in a safety for the Buckeyes.

But the most startling developments were saved for the fourth quarter, when the Nittany Lions blocked a punt early in the frame—their subsequent drive cut Ohio State’s lead to 21-17—and a blocked+housed a 45-yard field goal attempt that put Penn State up for good. The latter seemed like a rushed job after Meyer contemplated going for it on 4th-and-7 from the Penn State 28; it was at the least surprising not to see Meyer burn a timeout for tranquility purposes. To cap it off, on the ensuing kickoff Parris Campbell dropped the ball and only managed to reach the Ohio State 11.

To recap: two blocked field goals, a blocked punt, two muffed punts, and a bad snap on a punt that resulted in a safety.

4. Road warriors

Saturday night’s loss was the first L in a true road game in the Meyer era and snapped the Buckeyes’ win streak in true road games at 20. The last team to win 20 straight games away from home and/or neutral sites? The University of Miami from 1984-88.

Over the streak, Ohio State had its fair share of impressive wins. A sampling of the victories along the way include: wins at Wisconsin in overtime (2012, 2016); at Penn State in double overtime (2014); a nail-biter (2012) and a blowout (2014) at Michigan State; an escape (2013) and a beat down (2015) at Michigan; and a non-conference thumping at Oklahoma last month.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

5. Dontre Wilson, punt returner

Padawan Wilson has done well in following the footsteps of his Jedi Master, Jalin Marshall, in the art turning punt returns into an adventure sport.

In all seriousness, Wilson muffed a punt for the second week in a row and misjudged at least one punt where he should’ve run up and fair-caught the ball.

6. The shunning of Curtis Samuel

Curtis Samuel entered Saturday night averaging about 15 touches per game (just over 10 carries, just under five receptions) and 143.2 all-purpose yards per game, good for ninth in the country. He’s a good ball player.

For whatever reason, Samuel was ignored on Ohio State’s first handful of drives for the second time in three weeks. Samuel did not receive his first touch until the Buckeyes’ 25th play vs. Indiana, and it took Ohio State 24 plays to successfully get Brooklyn’s Finest’s hands on the ball on Saturday night.

Samuel finished the game with two carries for 71 yards (including this 74-yard TD scamper) and eight catches for 68 yards.

That’s not enough touches for Samuel, especially in the carries department. It’s difficult to A) call this anything but an utter coaching failure and B) wonder how the hell it happened again?

Inexplicable, to be sure.