Ohio State lost to Penn State for a variety of reasons. A missed pass interference call is certainly one of those reasons, but the Buckeyes were also soundly beaten at the line of scrimmage all night and failed to make the type of game-changing turnovers we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
The chase is far from over, of course. The Buckeyes still control their own destiny to reach the playoff and they possess one of the best defenses in the country despite the loss. Ohio State only allowed 276 total yards to the Nittany Lions -- fewer total yards than they allowed in victories over Wisconsin, Indiana and Oklahoma. Special teams mistakes ultimately did more harm than the Silver Bullets last Saturday.
Despite the realization that Urban Meyer is capable of losing a road game, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic for the rest of the season. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why.
It’s still hard to throw deep on Ohio State
Part of what has made Ohio State’s defense so good over the past few seasons has been their ability to limit big plays. This usually consists of providing extra safety help for cornerbacks, but in Ohio State’s case, it just means having lock-down corners that can cover their man all the way down the field:
Marshon Lattimore has played great all season and Saturday wasn’t any exception. In the clip above, he doesn’t jam the Nittany Lions’ receiver at the line of scrimmage, but his speed and fluid hips allow him to match the route step for step. Lattimore stays with the receiver all the way down the field before reading his eyes to know exactly when the ball is getting close. With the ball arriving, Lattimore is able to hold his position, gets his head around, and make a play on the ball.
We often see questionable pass interference calls down the field because the cornerback never attempted to make a play on the ball. Fortunately for Ohio State, their entire secondary thinks any pass thrown in their general proximity is theirs, so refs have allowed them to be more physical at the point of the catch since they’re often going for the ball. Few in the country have done this better than Lattimore this season.
Robert Landers is the playmaking interior defensive lineman the Buckeyes need
The Buckeyes have had a lot of success getting to the quarterback this season thanks to the great pass-rushing abilities of Tyquan Lewis, Jayln Holmes, Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa. However, they’ve been lacking a consistent force in the interior of the defensive line. In the past two seasons Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett filled this role. It wouldn’t be surprising if red-shirt freshman Robert Landers is eventually the next Buckeye to consistently wreck havoc in the middle of the line
Landers uses a rip move to bypass the guard and then is able to engage the pulling tackle while keeping his outside arm free. Penetration into the backfield is great, but oftentimes linemen are dealing with too many blockers to actually make a play on the ball carrier. Landers’ ability to brush aside two offensive lineman so quickly allows him to not only slow down the Penn State running back before he had a chance to get going, but it also allowed linebackers Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan to get to the ball without any threat of being blocked.
Ohio State has all the talent in the world at linebacker, but nobody can get downhill and make plays if they have a 300+ pound lineman blocking them. Run-stuffing defensive lineman are needed to occupy blockers, but few are able to combine this ability with the quickness to get into the backfield themselves and make plays. Landers is one of those special players and we should expect to see more of him as the season goes on.
Malik Hooker isn’t just a ball hawk
Hooker’s early season plays on the ball may have unfairly given him a reputation as more of a cover safety. Well, he’s plenty good at that, but his unnerving speed is just as effective when utilized around the line of scrimmage:
Hooker is still about four yards from the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball, but his acceleration allowed him to get five yards into the backfield before the quarterback even had a chance to run. Ohio State hasn’t blitzed a ton this season since they’ve been more than capable of getting pressure with just four guys, but plays like this show that the defense has an unlimited set of options to send at opposing quarterbacks.
Meyer has often stressed that an event plus a response will equal the outcome. Well, Ohio State didn’t respond properly to too many of the issues that Penn State was able to bring up and they now have a loss because of this. The defense will need to improve if the Buckeyes want to take down the nation’s elite, but there’s no reason to believe they aren’t still firmly in the conversation as the best defense in the land.
The final: 24-21, Penn State
Defensive player of the game: N/A
Defensive play of the game: N/A
Next Victim: Northwestern. See you all next week.