Before I talk about tomorrow’s game, let me start this week’s I Got Five on it by saying good riddance to Saquon Barkley. I’ve been waiting 3 years for this moment, and the joy I get from him never tormenting Ohio State again is only rivaled by the joy I get watching him try to run behind the Giants’ offensive line, but suddenly realizing they’re worse than the 2015 group he had at Penn State. Happy trails, Saquon. I respect and fear you.
Like many of you, I can’t stand Penn State. The fans, the fight song, Happy Valley. Everything about them brings out the worst in me, and Ohio State winning this game is just as sweet for me as beating Michigan. (Probably because Penn State has actually beaten OSU recently.)
It’s hard to remember the last time this wasn’t a dusk/night game —2011 doesn’t count/exist— and with this being another top-10 showdown, the atmosphere is going to be just as crazy. We all remember what happened last time Ohio State was here, —and Penn State damn sure remembers what happened last year— so you can bet that emotions will be running high. With that in mind, here are the five things I’m watching for:
Dumb things will happen if kicking is involved
Have you realized how bad special teams have been in this game lately? Here’s everything that happened just in 2016:
If you’re scoring at home: That’s a blocked kick, fumbled punt, missed extra point, failed punt resulting in a safety, and (deep breath) blocked kick returned for game-winning touchdown, ALL IN ONE GAME.
There were “only” two things last year, but both plays were huge:
That blocked punt sparked one of the most incredible rallies in recent Ohio State history, and without it, I have a feeling we’d be talking about this game very differently right now.
Anyway, I’m not saying that something big happens on special teams again, but join me in praying tonight that the use of the fair catch signal —on both punts and kicks— is liberal, and Sean Nuerenberger’s only kicks are worth one point apiece.
Chase Young has to step up
I like Chase Young a lot. I think he’ll be one of the best players in the country by the time he leaves Columbus. He’s aggressive as hell, and with more experience he will improve dramatically, and by no means has he been anywhere close to bad this season. That being said, it’s time for him to have a big game.
Young was nearly invisible against TCU from a production standpoint, and with Nick Bosa out for the foreseeable future, he’s somehow the de facto elder statesman of Ohio State’s edge rushers. His ability —or lack thereof— to get to Trace McSorley will play a key role in whether the Buckeyes walk out of Happy Valley undefeated.
Young showcases the potential that has analysts talking about him as a future-top NFL Draft pick in starts and fits —like a lot of young players do— but I don’t think we’ve seen a full game of him playing at a high level yet. With no more Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, or Nick Bosa for offenses to focus on, this is his first chance to prove he can step up and be Ohio State’s next great pass rusher.
So, about the linebackers
This is the only thing I remember about the starting linebackers last week against Tulane:
If you weren’t aware, Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison, and Pete Werner had a combined zero tackles. I know they didn’t play the whole game, but that’s an astounding stat against a triple option team.
Somehow, it was news to Urban Meyer:
So yeah, Ohio State’s linebacker play has been super bad all season (and was bad last season, too), the linebackers coach is the new Tim Beck, the head coach doesn’t know that the starters had zero tackles two days after the game was played, and now they’re playing one of the best offenses in the country. Let’s hope they’ve fixed that in the last five days!
A worthy test
Something that has been fixed are the wide receivers. After three seasons of substandard play, they’ve been great through four games in 2018. Each week, someone different has stepped up and led:
Oregon State: Terry McLaurin - 4 catches, 121 yards, 2 TD’s
Rutgers: Johnnie Dixon - 4 catches, 99 yards, 2 TD’s
TCU: K.J. Hill - 6 catches, 95 yards, 1 TD
Tulane: Parris Campbell - 8 catches, 147 yards, 2 TD’s
They all finally look comfortable in their roles, in addition to— you know— having an actual wide receivers coach teaching them how to play. It’s been great so far, but Penn State is the opportunity to prove that the improvement is real.
This isn’t the best secondary that they’ll face, but they’re solid enough, and with Penn State’s ability to get to the quarterback, it’s imperative that they continue to make some of the contested catches that we saw against TCU. They were great in the fourth quarter of this game last year, and another strong performance can put the issues of 2015-2017 firmly in the past.
Another stealth mission for operative Dobbins
Splinter Cell is one of my favorite video games of all-time. It’s a third-person stealth game that forces you to rely on sneakiness over style and brute force, and in my mind it’s the perfect metaphor for how J.K. Dobbins plays.
Dobbins does his work quietly. He isn’t the most explosive back, but boy can he make a play by himself:
There’s been at least seven to eight games in his career where I’ve looked at the box score in the third quarter and said out loud, “What?! He has how many yards?” and the numbers back it up. Through 18 games, Dobbins has one game of 20-plus carries (his debut last year against Indiana) and yet is somehow closing in on 2,000 career rushing yards.
This is setting up to be another classic stealth Dobbins performance. Everyone’s focused on Dwayne Haskins, and Mike Weber is banged up and probably not as good a play against a defense that can take advantage of the offensive line’s struggle to get a push.
If Dobbins is rolling, odds are high that Ohio State wins, so don’t be shocked if you look up and Dobbins has 15 carries for 105 yards in the third quarter, and you have no idea how it happened.
That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next Friday to either pick up the pieces of a loss that will almost assuredly fall on the coaches for not giving the best players playing time/the ball, or previewing the trappiest of all trap games versus Indiana. Go Bucks.