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Column: The Penn State victory was great, despite what y’all think

Folks just out there making up reasons to be mad online.

Ohio State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Taking a spin around Ohio State Twitter last night was a trip. Despite the fact that the Buckeyes dispatched the best team on their schedule in fairly impressive 38-25 fashion, a certain corner of the OSU interwebs was #MadOnline about the Buckeyes’ performance.

I saw it while running the Land-Grant Holy Land Twitter account (@Landgrant33: follow, like, and subscribe) and then it became even more evident when Gene and George asked for comments and questions for the recap episode of “The Hangout in the Holy Land.”

There were complaints about Shaun Wade, there were complaints about Ryan Day, there were complaints about the running backs, there were complaints about the refs, there were complaints about the fake crowd noise guy in Beaver Stadium, there were a lot of complaints.

Some of those complaints were valid, and I absolutely agree with them — and will discuss some of them below — but what I do not agree with whatsoever was this overarching sense of dread that Buckeye fans had in our mentions after the game. It was almost like by not winning by 40 against the only team that we thought could threaten Ohio State before the season started, Day and company were no longer worthy of consideration in the College Football Playoff discussion. Hogwash.

Penn State might be 0-2, but they are a legitimately good team. They will not lose again this season, at least not until they play in a bowl (if they play in a bowl). Week 1 against Indiana was the flukiest of flukes, and Week 2 against the Buckeyes, they are just thoroughly out-classed, despite your misgivings about how OSU looked.

Folks, it’s the second week of the most bizarre season in college football history. During camp, I warned you not to freak out and that it would take time for the Buckeyes get things figured out — especially on defense, given all of the new players that needed to be plugged in and with Kerry Coombs back to take over the secondary.

While I think Ohio State’s offense is damn-near unstoppable at this point, the defense is a bit more of a work-in-progress, but what’s crazy about it is that the part that looked like it needs the most work after last night’s game is the part of the defense that I had the fewest concerns about coming into the game: the secondary.

This is Not the Time to Panic

I am going to get into some of the early season concerns in a second, but do you remember how weird the CFB games were before the B1G started playing? Crazy upsets, good teams looking lost at sea in wins, completely ineffectual coaching, it was a smorgasbord of mediocrity, and yet, the best teams righted their ships and are looking like what we would expect them to at this point.

Now, Ohio State (and the rest of the B1G) had the benefit of the extra few weeks of practice, and I’m sure that helped, but they still missed out on all of the learning and implementation that happens in the spring.

They still missed all of the bonding and cohesion that’s developed during summer workouts, and despite the fact that the Buckeyes got as close to a normal fall camp as you can get in the time of COVID, it still was weird with the tests and the isolating surely impacting their routines.

So, all teams have had to play a bit of catchup this season, and the Buckeyes are just the last major contender to start that process. In my opinion, they are ahead of where a lot of other teams were after two weeks of play, and considering what the next six weeks look like on their schedule, there’s any reason to think that they won’t be able to course correct anything heading in the wrong direction before the postseason arrives.

If you think that OSU’s cornerbacks are so bad that it’s going to cost them a chance at the playoffs, then you have far less faith in Coombs’ ability to coach ‘em up than I do. If you think that the Buckeyes running backs are so underwhelming that they will be a liability in the postseason, then you have far less faith in Day’s ability to scheme up an offensive game plan than I do.

With all due respect to the co-B1G East leading Indiana Hoosiers, the Ohio State coaching staff will have five weeks to tighten up anything that isn’t yet running smoothly before they play The Game* and head into the postseason.

*= I’m only keeping TTUN separate from the rest of the riff-raff because of how much the Buckeyes focus on that game, not because I think that they are any better than the rest of the B1G cannon fodder OSU will face in the coming weeks.

Things I Was Concerned About After the Nebraska Game

Ok, coming into the game, I think that there were a handful of things that I was concerned about. Let’s take a look at them.

1) Defensive Line

Against Penn State, the Ohio State defensive line was absolutely dominant, especially in the middle, which was the weak spot against Nebraska. Nose guard Tommy Togiai led the way with seven tackles, including three sacks. He was an absolute nightmare for the Nits’ offense all day. Next to him, Haskell Garrett didn’t have the numbers that he did in Week 1, but he was also eating up blockers throughout the game.

On the outside, defensive end Jonathon Cooper likely had the best game of his Ohio State career. In addition to five tackles and half a sack, Coop was blowing up offensive lineman and creating havoc all day.

And over at the other end, we saw a strong performance from Zach Harrison, going for four tackles, 1.5 of which were for loss, including half a sack. Personally though, I feel like this should have counted for two TFLs, if I’m being honest.

Needless to say, the defensive line was an absolute strength against PSU. I don’t know if they can be that dominant against teams like Clemson and Alabama, but last night was encouraging, as was the fact that Taron Vincent finally got his first game action since 2018. If he can continue to get healthy and then live up to anything close to his five-star potential, I will start to feel really good about Larry Johnson’s group.

2) Offensive Line

Admittedly, the fact that I had some concerns about this group was a bit hyperbolic on my part. Coming into the season, we touted them as one of the best offensive lines in the country. Yes, they had to fill some holes created by attrition to the NFL, but they were reloading with five-star talent.

So far, Harry Miller still seems to have a ways to go at left guard, but Nicholas Petit-Frere had a great game yesterday and is finally coming into the expectations that we all had for him when he got to campus. In fact, NPF and left tackle Thayer Munford were damn-near perfect against the Nits.

Ohio State only gave up two sacks on Saturday night: one was an uncharacteristic whiff from Wyatt Davis straight up the middle, and the other was on an unblocked blitz that honestly, Fields should have recognized pre-snap... not that that made me feel any better about it in the moment:

3) Running Game

Whether or not you are concerned about the running game is directly proportional to what your expectations were coming into the season. If you expected the Buckeyes to magically find someone to do what J.K. Dobbins did last year, you were setting yourself up for disappointment. Master Teague and Trey Sermon just wasn’t ever going to happen this season. But, if you were just hoping for a competent running game to balance out and complement the stellar passing attack, then I think you had to come out of last night’s game fairly pleased.

As the game progressed, Teague began to get more and more of the carries, and he ended the game with 110 yards on 23 rushes with one TD. Not Dobbins-type numbers, but if Teague can do that against a pretty stout PSU defense, I feel pretty good about his ability to provide enough balance to keep defenses honest when it comes to this historically impressive passing game.

So, as I said on Twitter last night:

Things I Am Concerned About After the Penn State Game

1) Cornerbacks, specifically Shaun Wade

In my unscientific analysis, the thing that made people the most angry in our mentions during the game (other than the refs) was the play of the Buckeyes’ best defensive player Shaun Wade. Lots of folks accused him of being lazy, sulking, not caring, giving up, etc.

Now, I am not one to tell fans how to react to things (okay, maybe I am), but I generally have an issue with people questioning effort, especially when it comes to unpaid college kids. But it makes me exceedingly anger when you are questioning the effort of an unpaid college kid who opted in to play this season — this opting out of a whole lot of money.

Shaun Wade was gone. He was a professional football player. He could have signed with an agent who would have given him hundreds of thousands of dollars until he signed his first-round rookie deal following the NFL Draft. Wade could have also signed endorsement deals, or joined a Columbus TV or radio station being paid to analyze and give first-hand insight into Ohio State’s season.

But you know what? He didn’t. He chose to come back and risk playing in another season because the goals of this football team are important to him. Sure, if he plays well this year, he can help his own draft stock, but he was already a first-round pick, there’s only so much higher he can go.

So save me your “sHaUn WaDe Is SoFt As ShIt” takes. They’re stupid, wrong, and say far more about you than they do about Wade.

That being said, he didn’t have a great game. That happens. After all, he is still trying to make a position change with far less prep time than he would have had in a regular offseason. He was also a bit of a victim of a defensive design that had him playing off and giving more cushion in the second half than we would normally like. Also, Jahan Dotson had himself a game, both in terms of reliability and highlight-reel catches. Again, it happens.

But when it comes to cornerback play in the Big Ten, I am more than happy hitching my wagon to Shaun Wade. He is an elite talent, and while I’m sure that he will admit that Saturday night was not the best performance of his career, I also have full confidence in him figuring it out.

2) Field goal kicking

On his career, senior kicker Blake Haubeil was 129-for-129 in extra point attempts and 24-for-29 in field goal attempts coming into last night’s game. About as perfect as a #CollegeKicker can get. However, in the pregame warmups, he reportedly told coaches that he was suffering from some sort of injury in his general groinal region. He attempted to play through it, connecting on OSU’s first two extra point attempts. Yet, he missed a normally gimmie 20-yard attempt in the second quarter, and did not return for the rest of the game, giving way to junior walk-on kicker Dominic DiMaccio.

Now, I don’t know if Haubeil’s injury is serious, but it doesn’t matter, at least not for now. For at least the next six weeks (arguably seven), Ohio State is not going to be challenged enough to be in a position for the placekicker to matter. So, if the veteran needs to sit out the next month and a half to be ready for a playoff run, so be it. I doubt he will be out that long, but it wouldn’t matter if he was.

The Big Ten is a dumpster fire and Ohio State is the only team that looks built to withstand the utter 2020-ness of the season. So, as long as the Buckeyes have their kicking situation in order for the College Football Playoff, this is not something to worry about.

Also, true-freshman kicker Jake Seibert is on the roster, but I’m assuming he did not travel to State College given travel roster concerns. Yes, Seibert was the lowest rated player in OSU’s 2020 class all the way down at 1,417 nationally, but that was good enough to be the second highest rated kicker in the class. So, if the Seibert Era needs to start next Saturday against Rutgers, then so be it. Get him ready to start nailing 55-yard bombs against ‘Bama and Clemson when it matters.

3) Conservative play-calling

Over the last two weeks, I have voiced my concern on Twitter about OSU’s offensive play-calling at times, and I think that there is legitimate reason to question one particular sequence from last night that I will discuss in a second, but I have to admit that I was wrong about how Day handled things in the second half.

No, the offense wasn’t airing it out like they did in the first quarter, and no it wasn’t as explosive as we know Fields and company can be, but when I checked out the drive chart, I admit that I was surprised at how strong it was after halftime:

The Buckeyes scored 17 points on their first three drives of the second half while running off 32 plays over a combined 14:11 in game time. Those three drives alone accounted for nearly an entire quarter of the second half.

Would I prefer that the Buckeyes kept their foot on the gas from start to finish in an effort to wrack up points for the playoff committee? Yes I would, but in retrospect, Day might have laid off the throttle a bit, but he definitely kept the offense accelerating for most of the second half, so I can deal with that.

Now, for the play calling that I took exception with; the Buckeyes called their two remaining timeouts after Penn State first and second down plays with 2:13 and 2:06 in the first half. After an eventual PSU punt, Ohio State took possession with 1:16 remaining on their own 32-yard line. However, instead of trying to push the ball down-field and score again before the break, the play calling went Sermon up the middle, incomplete pass, Sermon up the middle, and then after a delay of game, the now infamous Fields kneel down that didn’t end the half.

The thing is, I understand wanting to run out the clock on the half. That’s fine, at the time the Buckeyes were up 21-3; get to the locker room with the lead. But then why use your two timeouts to stop the clock while Penn State had the ball?

If the Nits had gotten a first down on that series, Day would have been gifting them more opportunities to score. So by not really attempting to move the ball as the half wound down, Day made the risk that he took by calling the timeouts meaningless.

Sure, circumstances can change, and the kicking issues made a long field goal unlikely, but if the play calling had trusted Fields to do what he does better than literally anyone else in the country, maybe they could have gone into half up 28-3. But even if not, I feel comfortable in saying that they wouldn’t have given the Nits the momentum of the last-second FG.

After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!