5 things I liked as Ohio State took care of Penn State
It was a good test. For a while.
Ohio State came into Happy Valley wanting to measure how good it was. The Buckeyes showed dominance early, scoring quickly on Penn State and dominating a first half that saw them go into the locker room with a 21-6 lead. It should have been more.
Then the Nittany Lions got off the mat, and made adjustments coming out of halftime. They exploited the middle of the field on four passes to score a quick touchdown and made a game of it. Suddenly, it all felt a little more like what we expected — a meeting of two of the league’s best teams. And it stayed that way for a few minutes. Then things got back to normal and Ohio State rolled.
Here are 5 things I liked as Ohio State took care of Penn State Saturday night:
1. The defense
As our lovely television commentators noted, 7 players from last season’s starting defense are now on NFL rosters. The pressure was on this year’s squad members to step up and make their own names known, and this game was a good chance to do it. Haskell Garrett again wreaked havoc, but was overshadowed by incredible performances by Tommy Togiai (3 sacks, 3 tackles for loss), Marcus Hooker (6 tackles) and Zach Harrison (4 tackles and half a sack).
Aside from a few drives in the second half, the secondary did its job, allowing the front seven to bottle up the offense. By the second drive in the third quarter, the Ohio State linebackers (like Pete Werner, who had 6 tackles) held back and took away that middle passing game. Even a bogus roughing the passer call in the first half and a very questionable personal foul in the second resulted in only field goals. It really took two unbelievable Penn State catches to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Overall, great work by this defense.
2. Wide receiver Chris Olave
For the second straight week, Ohio State had a player who was questionable to play, and that player not only stepped up, but he made a game-changing difference. Olave had a huge block on the first play of the game, which sprung fellow wide receiver Garrett Wilson for a 62-yard gain that led to a touchdown. Was the game effectively over after that? Momentum was definitely on the Buckeyes’ side.
If that didn’t do it, then Olave’s amazing fingertip grab on a 49-yard touchdown pass in the third could’ve done in the Nittany Lions. That was essentially a backbreaker.
It was then fitting that he was able to literally end their chances when he fielded a Penn State on-sides kick with under 7 minutes to play.
3. The offensive line
They guys up front just controlled the line of scrimmage. Whether it was opening holes for the Buckeyes’ two great running backs (Master Teague III — 23 carries, 110 yards and a touchdown, and Trey Sermon — 13 carries for 56 yards) or protecting Justin Fields long enough that he could pick apart the Penn State secondary (28-34, 318 yards and 4 touchdowns), the offensive linemen did their jobs very well.
It was something Wyatt Davis said he thought would happen.
His crew made both running backs look good, and kept Fields upright for the majority of the contest (he was hit really hard just once, with about 5 minutes to go). And it looked like the first sack that was given up was of the coverage variety. If I have any criticism of Fields at all (it’s difficult, I know), it’s that he holds the ball for too long in some instances. That’s not the fault of his line, though. The offensive line played up to its lofty reputation, allowing Fields to make his case for the Heisman Trophy.
If I had to choose between Ryan Day and James Franklin, well … it just simply wouldn’t be a decision. Franklin has showed me too many times that his teams are unorganized, and his clock management is questionable.
Three examples: There was confusion for the Penn State defense on 3rd-and-goal before the end of the half. People were running on the field late and it resulted in the Nittany Lions giving up a Fields’ touchdown pass. The same thing happened on another 3rd-and-2 in the third quarter, and Ohio State got another first down.
Another example? Penn State going for it on 4th-and-2 in the first quarter. It felt like a reach at the time, and it didn’t work.
By contrast, Day went for it on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter and called for Fields to throw a deep pass to a wide open Olave for a completion that moved the chains. The Buckeyes did it again later on a 4th-and-goal and threw for a touchdown.
Imaginative play-calling on these downs works. Of course, it helps when your team is all on the same page. Give me Day. Any day.
5. Overcoming mistakes
I’m sure the Ohio State coaches will have a lot to talk about when it comes to improvements.
We’ve talked about the roughing the passer penalties. On the whole, the Buckeyes had way too many penalties (9 for 80 yards), and I’m sure they will feel like they gave up way too many yards and catches in the second half.
There was also the 2 missed field goals, as well as the high snap on 1st-and-goal right before the end of the half. And lastly, there was the Fields kneel on fourth down to try to end the half, on which officials ruled he downed himself with 1 second left. It might have been poor execution by the clock operator/officials, but Fields needs to make certain to run out that clock before he gets down.
Regardless, none of these mistakes were backbreaking, because — in most instances — the Buckeyes were able to overcome them and still accomplish what they wanted. Example: Oops – Bradley Robinson muffs a punt that could’ve been downed on the 2-yard line? Marcus Hooker picks up his teammate by snagging an interception on Penn State’s ensuing drive. Game officially over.
It was an impressive performance for the Buckeyes.
They looked like a different team from Week 1, and they made a big statement.