Monday brought us another Urban Meyer press conference. It’s been awhile since we had one; the Ohio State Buckeyes just came off a bye week, which means no presser in the lead up, and there wasn’t a presser going into the Nebraska game because of a personal matter Meyer attended to.
Now with the Penn State Nittany Lions headed to Columbus, Ohio this week, Meyer spent some time with the media at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and previewed this clash of Big Ten powers.
Let’s take a look at the three biggest things we learned from that presser.
1. “And as I've said for many, many years, the quarterback gets too much blame and too much, you know, success aimed at him when it's really because we protected much better the last few weeks.”
The Buckeyes’ offense has been scary efficient over the past five games. Since the upset at home to the Oklahoma Sooners, the Scarlet and Gray have rattled off five straight games where they’ve compiled over 500 offensive yards.
That’s pretty good.
A big reason for that was because quarterback J.T. Barrett has played good. Actually, he’s played exceptional; the Buckeyes’ three-time captain has a stat-line of 1,351 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and zero interceptions in the last five contests.
Is Barrett getting better? It appears so. But, according to Meyer, another reason for why the Buckeye signal caller and offense have gotten better was because of the pass protection. Against Nebraska, it seemed like Barrett had all night to make his throws— at the same time, his receivers were constantly open. Were the Cornhuskers a good litmus test? Probably not. Barrett torched the defense for seven (!) total touchdowns, and threw for 325 yards. However, the Buckeyes did get more experience on how to operate on both sides of the ball.
Penn State is, arguably, a better team than Oklahoma. The Nittany Lions have one of the stingiest defenses in college football, giving up an average of 282.9 yards per game. Barrett will definitely need his offensive line to show up again on Saturday if Ohio State wants to score some points—which, against PSU, is a premium. If the Buckeyes pull off the “upset”, the offensive line will be the MVP.
2. “It's settled. It's day to day. I'd like to think there's other guys on the program that are going to keep swinging and fight as hard as they possibly can for that spot. He did grade a winner. This will be hell of a challenge this week.”
Let’s get more micro on the offensive line. Since Branden Bowen went down with a fractured tibia and fibula against Maryland, Demetrius Knox got his first career start at right guard against Nebraska.
He did well enough to earn a champions grade against the Cornhuskers (and Meyer’s quote above is a peek into whether or not Knox has the RG position locked down).
While Knox is the guy right now, you have to figure that the Nittany Lions will be focused on trying to bust through his side of the line. If Knox holds his own on Saturday, then there is no doubt that he is the starter the rest of the season. However, if he falters, and shades of Fiesta Bowl vs. Clemson start to reemerge, then an outright battle may be among us for the RG spot.
Competition is a helluva motivator. I completely expect the guys below Knox (and the rest of the starting offensive line) to have some of the best practices this week leading up to the showdown in the ‘Shoe. Guys in the No. 2 spot on the depth chart have things to prove, and they become good dry runs for what to be expected by a Penn State team that is out to prove that they are a College Football Playoff contender.
With a big game like this looming, the preparation is key—and it’s a way to figure out who the next man up is going to be.
3. “A lot of those are run plays, a little bit like what we've done with J.T., the run plays. And the catch phrase is RPOs, run, pass, options. And the quarterback has to be a very good decision-maker, yet he's got to have very good players. This is one of the top offenses in America.”
Penn State, like Ohio State, utilizes the run, pass, options when on offense. In a way, both offenses are clones of each other. However, the Buckeyes have a Heisman dark horse at QB, and the Nittany Lions have a Heisman front runner in Saquon Barkley at running back.
When Meyer says the Nittany Lions are one of the best offenses in America, he’s not lying. Penn State pulls in roughly 463.3 offensive yards per game, and has been outscoring the opposition 90-0 in the first quarter. Against Michigan, the James Franklin coached squad put 14 points on the board in a hurry, with Barkley playing a big role in the scoring.
Yes, Penn State has an efficient offense, but Ohio State is averaging over 100 yards more on offense per game (577.3). So far, the options at the disposal of both QBs have allowed for a running game and passing attack to get established. However, points may be hard to come by for both sides, as both squads sport defensive juggernauts.
On Saturday, this game may very well come down to whoever gets the ball last. Already this season, the Nittany Lions have, literally, won on the last play of a game.
It’s a Big Ten football cliché we could be walking into on Saturday: a defensive battle that could yield a weird, low-scoring game.
Meyer is well aware that stopping quarterback Trace McSorley and Barkley is the key to shutting down the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten division dreams. With national eyes back on Ohio State at home in a big game, this is the best opportunity to show the country and pundits that OSU is for real, and that they’ve shaken off the Sooners loss from Week 2.