As the late great Keith Jackson said, “Whoa Nelly.” What else can be said to describe the contest between the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes and No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions? The first half, it was all Nittany Lions; same goes for a majority of the fourth quarter. However, Urban Meyer’s squad ventured into the Valley, and somehow eked out a win, 27-26. For the second straight season, the Bucks prevailed by one point against the Nittany Lions, needing fourth quarter rallies to make it happen.
With the win, OSU controls its own destiny from here on out. They have the inside track to the Big Ten East crown, and are now clearly the favorites for a College Football Playoff berth. What else did we learn from this marquee win for the Buckeyes? Let’s take a look.
Must be faster to make adjustments
If you only watched the first half of the game, you’d think that Penn State would not only win, but would do it in blowout fashion. Outside of a fumble deep in their own territory that lead to OSU’s only points in the first half, the Nittany Lions out-gained the Buckeye offense in the first half by a whopping difference of 293-93.
A big reason for the offense’s inability to move the ball was because Penn State brought everything but the kitchen sink. Poor Dwayne Haskins had no time to make his throws, and it was all he could do in some instances to just get the ball out of harm’s way. When the passing game can’t get into rhythm, the run game can’t get into rhythm. That’s how you get held to 93 yards in the first half of biggest game of the season.
But, once Ryan Day and the rest of the offensive minds decided to focus the offense on screen passes and short throws to move the ball, the passing game became productive, and the the running game had its spurts as well. It is hard to keep the pocket insulated when the Nittany Lions were blitzing and simply bringing more people than the Buckeyes had blockers. I get that. The problem is that it took more that one half of football for the Buckeyes to change up the strategy.
Somehow, Ohio State only trailed 13-7 at halftime after being out-gained by 200 yards. In some alternate dimension, Penn State’s up 28-0 at the break, and has the game in the bag. The Buckeyes were fortunate to still be in it at halftime despite all of the struggles. One of these games, if OSU is careful, they’re gonna fool around and the the offense won’t get going in the second half either. Certainly you want to stick to your gameplan to a certain extent, but taking too long to adjust to what the opposing team is doing is a recipe for disaster.
If the Bucks aren’t careful, there’s a chance that the ghost performance of Iowa 2017 returns this season. Ohio State is clearly better than every team remaining on their schedule, but a stubborn first half like what we saw against Penn State will eventually allow lesser teams to a shot to win.
Dobbins is the guy
I was a big proponent of the thunder and lightning duo of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. I thought using both of them interchangeably would be a recipe for success, and may very well put one of them on a Heisman list. I would like to amend my statement after Saturday’s game.
Dobbins should be the go-to in the backfield. When they gave him the rock, he wore down the defense. Seventeen carries for 57 yards and a touchdown doesn’t seem like a lot, but once the Buckeye play-callers began adapting their calls to the wall of blue jerseys up front, Dobbins began to find room to maneuver. The sophomore also showed that he is an incredibly potent weapon out catching the ball out of the backfield.
Weber should be called upon as a supplement to the offense after Dobbins turns the football field into a track meet. When Weber got into the game, he made a difference. On two separate drives, he opened them up with first down rushes. Using Dobbins as the primary guy, then giving Weber the rock when the opposing defense gets a little worn down is, I think, a good formula to wearing down the defense even more.
You’ll need a running game to complement Haskins’ passing game. So, you might as well put Dobbins as the primary guy, but after a few series of the J.K. Experience, Weber gets brought in to compound the tiredness of the defense. The alternating series thing we saw the first five weeks with Dobbins and Weber seems like a gimmick— sort of like when Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor were alternating at QB against USC in 2008— and we all know how that ended up.
Penalties will kill you
Often times against Penn State, when OSU seemed to gain a little bit of momentum, it came crashing to a halt because of a penalty. In total, ten penalties— five on offense, and five on defense— were accepted against the Bucks. They ranged from the exotic Unsportsmanlike Conducts to an offensive Facemask on a field goal, to your garden variety Holdings and Illegal procedures, to the more gut-wrenching Pass Interference and Targeting calls.
Now, you can argue that Penn State got away with even more holdings and penalties than OSU was flagged for, and that Isaiah Pryor’s critical pass interference call was weak sauce, but the zebras threw the flag— and they stood by it. Either way, 10 penalties are too many, and if it weren’t for Penn State doing their best to sabotage their own efforts to win the game, the outcome may very well have been different.
Obviously, big games can give even the most seasoned vets a bit of jitters. But being careless with penalties on both sides of the ball is a very good way to lose games. Seventy yards worth of penalties against the defense, and 35 for the offense is not how you’re going to win big games. Doing that against Alabama will leave you in precarious down after precarious down.
The Wade way
The defensive back seven for OSU still has some kinks to work out— to put it mildly. More often than not, McSorley was the catalyst behind big plays once he got away from the line of scrimmage. If he took off, there was almost always plenty of green in front of him. In the first quarter, he was able to break off a 51-yard keeper virtually untouched. His 93-yard TD connection to K.J. Hamler came off of a perfect slant route, that just tore up the middle of the Buckeye secondary.
Even through the miscuses, there was one shining star from the visiting secondary: Shaun Wade. He didn’t tally any tackles, but he stuck like glue to wide receivers and recorded two pass breakups.
Shaun Wade needs to not come off the field. pic.twitter.com/JsG3ZG7CJG— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) September 30, 2018
If Wade didn’t play as tight of defense as he did, McSorley would’ve had a couple more passes completed— and that could’ve been the difference maker. Especially against a pass-happy team, Wade has the ability to cause havoc by clamping down on receivers. In that tweet above, he did about as good of a job as you could’ve done guarding Hamler, who caught four passes for 168 yards on Saturday night (including that 93-yarder).
Limiting playmakers (and big plays) has been a problem all season for Ohio State. Maybe keeping Wade in the secondary— some how or some way— will help solve the problem.
Watch the throne
Nick Bosa being out for the game was noticeable. It’s hard to fill a void left by an All-American defensive end. But, Chase Young, in his first real test anchoring down the end position, did some serious work against Trace McSorley and the Penn State offense. He recorded six tackles, two sacks, and three tackles-for-loss in the victory. That includes the game ending stop in the final minutes.
Chase Young. Game over. pic.twitter.com/eRWtWKUkSN— Garrett Stepien (@GarrettStepien) September 30, 2018
Earlier in the game, Young deflected a pass on fourth down. If it would’ve gone through, Penn State would’ve had yet another scoring chance. But no, Young closed the door on that. His heroics on defense, in conjunction with Wade’s play, were the real defensive bright spots against PSU.