Ohio State football: PSU win Rorschach test for football observers
Looking at Ohio State’s 33-24 win over Penn State on Saturday is like the famous Rorschach inkblot test — you can see whatever you want to see and the meaning is largely in the eye of the beholder.
To be candid, this is true because OSU’s win didn’t deliver a single definitive narrative to help understand the Buckeyes’ season. And in part, it’s true because the win provided plenty of evidence for several different narratives.
After a series of wins over relatively lightweights, Ohio State handled a ranked Penn State team in Columbus. But they didn’t dispense with the Nittany Lions comfortably; OSU never led by more than 10 points, and the game remained in doubt until Penn State missed a field goal with 1:19 to play.
Ohio State’s defense did a great job on the ground, holding Penn State to a meager 1.1 yards per carry. But the defense struggled with Nittany Lions QB Sean Clifford, whose 361 passing yards was the second-highest mark of his season, trailing only a game with FCS Villanova. That said, the defense’s sack, strip, and score 57-yard rumble from Jerron Cage was pivotal to the 9-point victory. But OSU allowed two different Nittany Lions to eclipse 100 receiving yards.
The Buckeyes offense was sharp, with C.J. Stroud having another 300-yard passing game. But Stroud had just a single TD pass, and he missed a wide-open Chris Olave on a 4th down play early in the 4th quarter that could have salted the game away.
TreVeyon Henderson looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate with a career-high 28 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown. On the other hand, Henderson’s first-half numbers were 9 rushes for just 6 yards. Ohio State was fortunate to have the luxury of pounding away with Henderson in the 2nd half until he caught fire. But he caught fire and led the Buckeyes down the stretch.
Ohio State’s offense was efficient enough to take control down the stretch and deliver the victory. But then, OSU had the fewest points (33) and yards (467) all season. But the offense did enough to outlast Penn State, which has historically been OSU’s toughest opponent in the East Division. The Nittany Lions lost their 3rd game in a row.
Buckeyes coach Ryan Day won again, meaning he has still never lost a Big Ten game. But the back of the schedule feature top-10 foes in Michigan State and Michigan, both of which have been significantly better than Penn State in recent weeks. OSU has lightly regarded foes Nebraska and Purdue up next. But then, assuming no stumbles, the Buckeyes have to finish with the two Michigan schools to win the division.
Heading into Saturday against Penn State, many were unsure what to make of the Buckeyes. Sure, they were 6-1. But they’d lost to the best team they’d played, and while they were on a run of 50-plus point performances, they were piling up yards and points against subpar competition. And while Saturday delivered another Ohio State win, it left the ultimate meaning of the game up for subjective interpretation.
Is OSU the top team in the Big Ten and the odds-on favorite for the CFP? Maybe. Have the Buckeyes padded their stats again the league’s weaker siblings? Probably. How will they stack up against Michigan State and Michigan? By the time we have that answer, it won’t be open to multiple interpretations anymore.