No. 3 Ohio State won a defensive battle on Saturday afternoon, knocking off No. 7 Penn State by a score of 20-12 in Columbus. The Buckeyes had some struggles on offense — and were once again without both Emeka Egbuka and TreVeyon Henderson — but Marvin Harrison Jr. picked them up when they needed it, and Jim Knowles’ defense stood on its head all afternoon as OSU won itself a good ole fashion Big Ten rock fight to move to 7-0 on the season.
Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from Ohio State’s victory over Penn State.
The Entire Defense
A truly impressive performance by the Ohio State defense as a whole.
While Penn State’s offense lacks any real explosiveness, the Silver Bullets completely shut them down. Drew Allar was just 18-of-42 passing for 191 yards and a touchdown — and those stats were even inflated by the Nittany Lions’ final drive when guys were exhausted and the game was virtually out of reach. Penn State was 1-of-16 (!!) on third down, and that lone conversion also came on that last drive. The Nittany Lions’ star running back duo of Nicholas Singetlon and Kaytron Allen mustered only 74 yards on 18 carries, with 36 of those yards coming on two long runs in the first quarter.
Jim Knowles had his guys fully ready to go, even with his top corner Denzel Burke sidelined with an injury. The defensive line did a great job of getting pressure on Allar all afternoon, tallying four sacks and eight tackles for loss. The secondary, led by Jordan Hancock, was equally excellent, recording six pass breakups. The linebackers, which had been a trouble spot for Ohio State over the last two weeks, stepped up to the plate as well. There was nothing not to like about the Buckeyes’ defensive performance, which is ultimately what won them the game.
Marvin Harrison Jr.
While Ohio State’s offense looked out of sync for most of the afternoon, Marvin Harrison Jr. was always there when the team desperately needed to move the chains. The Buckeyes picked up 22 first downs against the Nittany Lions, and 10 of those were on catches by the star wide receiver. MHJ finished the game with 11 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown. Harrison Jr. has eclipsed 100 yards in five of Ohio State’s last six games, and Saturday was his 12th career game passing the century mark, leaving him just two games shy of tying David Boston’s program record.
Even with some rare drops the last couple weeks, Harrison Jr. is invaluable to Ohio State, and one of the best pure receivers the school has ever seen — which says a lot with some of the names to come through Columbus lately.
I have had my gripes with Cade Stover in the past. I think Ohio State uses him incorrectly at times and puts him in positions to fail, making the tight end look bad in the process. That being said, Stover is undeniably valuable in the passing game. With so much attention paid to Harrison Jr. and, when healthy, Emeka Egbuka, being able to get four catches for 70 yards from Stover in this game was huge. He made two huge grabs in the second half against Penn State for 30 and 29 yards, including one where he completely Moss’d the defender. For all of Stover’s shortcomings in the blocking department, which is a real concern, he makes some big plays in the Buckeyes’ biggest games when it matters most.
I know I already talked about the defense as a whole, but J.T. Tuimoloau deserves a special shoutout before we move on. The former five-star defensive end never seems to put up numbers that really ‘wow’ you in the final box score, but it feels like Tuimoloau makes at least one massive play in the fourth quarter of every game. This time, it was a sack of Allar on the first play of the final frame to put Penn State behind the sticks and ultimately force a punt. Tuimoloau officially finished the afternoon with the sack, a TFL, one pass break up and one QB hurry, but his impact was felt throughout. He’s not a Chase Young-level pass rusher, but he makes plays all over the place and has a flair for the dramatic.
The Run Game
TreVeyon Henderson has missed the last three games with an injury he suffered against Notre Dame, and as a result Ohio State’s rushing attack has really struggled. With Henderson on the shelf, the Buckeyes have averaged 1.9 yards per carry against Maryland, 3.9 YPC against Purdue and 1.9 YPC on Saturday against Penn State. Chip Trayanum and Miyan Williams have their moments, but they lack the explosiveness of a guy like Henderson. The duo combined for just 84 yards on 33 carries against the Nittany Lions.
It hasn’t helped that Ohio State’s offensive line really struggles with zone running schemes, which is seemingly all Ryan Day is willing to call. On top of that, Day refuses to let Dallan Hayden get involved more since they want to redshirt him, even though Hayden might be the Buckeyes’ best all-around running back. Day said that Henderson was close to playing against Penn State, so hopefully that means he can finally return to action against Wisconsin next week.
Either way, the scheme in the run game must improve. Justin Frye should be allowed to use more of the run designs he learned under Chip Kelly at UCLA, as it doesn’t seem he has a ton of say right now, and the boundary stretch runs and pitch plays that keep resulting in negative yards need to be scrapped from the playbook entirely.
The final stat line for McCord doesn’t look all that bad: 22-of-35 for 286 yards and a touchdown. However, both McCord’s own stats and Ohio State’s final margin of victory could have looked a lot better had the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback connected with some wide open receivers at various points in the game. All too often this season McCord’s passes have been off the mark, resulting in incompletions and stalled drives. It seems like the QB is either speeding things up too much and failing to set his feet, leading to off-target throws, or holding the ball too long and taking a sack — one of which nearly costed Ohio State a touchdown had Penn State’s fumble recovery not been called back on a penalty.
Ohio State isn’t asking McCord to make too many tough throws, and many of the guys he is missing are completely open. The deep ball really has not been there, with many attempts down the field falling short of the intended target or going well over their head. The level of quarterback play in Columbus has been so good for so long that maybe we are just nitpicking here, but you have to at least make things happen on the easy throws. The Buckeyes’ offense isn’t where it needs to be just yet, and a lot of that seems to fall on the shoulders of its quarterback.
Short Yardage/Red Zone Offense
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Ohio State really struggled to move the ball in short yardage situations and in the red zone. Prior to Harrison Jr.’s late touchdown to seal the game, the Buckeyes managed only 13 points on four trips to the red zone. OSU’s one TD on those four trips came after Penn State gift-wrapped them field position after a trio of flags. Twice they were forced to kick a field goal, and they were also stopped on fourth down after failing to get into the end zone on two plays facing third-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Ohio State also went just 6-of-16 converting third downs.
Needless to say, that is not going to cut it. A big part of those red zone struggles are a direct result of the lackluster run game, and that got compounded when Devin Brown — who has become a big part of Ohio State’s red zone package — went down with an ankle injury. As a whole, the Buckeyes ran the ball five times on third down, netting seven total yards. A lot of the failure to move the chains in this game was on incomplete passes by McCord, who converted on third down just four times through the air. For whatever reason, short yardage and the red zone continue to allude Day’s teams, and nothing ever really seems to change.
Parker “Waste of a Coaching Spot” Fleming
Holy hell, how does this guy still have a job? I’ve said it a million times at this point, but if you are going to waste a full-time assistant coaching position on special teams, that unit had better be excellent. Ohio State’s special teams isn’t even average — it’s actively bad! The Buckeyes’ special teams unit has turned the ball over twice in just the last three games alone, including what could have been a game-losing blunder on a punt against Penn State had the defense not stood on its head. This is in addition to generally poor blocking and returns on both kicks and punts.
It’s a miracle that Fleming’s key card to the Woody wasn’t deactivated before the final whistle. Fleming’s employment is hamstringing Ohio State in more ways than one. While he is clearly bad at the job itself, leading to a special teams unit that will at some point lose the Buckeyes a football game, he is also keeping OSU from having James Laurinaitis on staff as the full-time linebackers coach. It would be fantastic for Laurinaitis to get more of a hands-on role with the ‘weak’ link of the Buckeyes’ defense, and perhaps even bigger to get the charismatic three-time All-American on the road as a recruiter.
The $500,000 albatross has got to go.