Ohio State’s quest to put together a complete game continues, but the Buckeyes came much closer this week than the previous two in their 35-23 victory in Happy Valley. As the kids say, the best thing about 9-0 is a chance to go 10-0, and it’s hard to argue with that kind of logic. Ohio State has now avenged four of its seven losses from a season ago, with TTUN still ahead and no viable way on the schedule to get back at Miami or Florida. Illinois, Wisconsin and the Wolvereenies stand between Urban Meyer’s team and a 12-0 season.
Entering this past weekend, I felt like the Buckeyes on defense matched up well against Penn State’s offense (and I even said so, publicly). With Braxton Miller running the offense, I feel that Ohio State can put up 24+ points on any defense that isn’t Alabama’s, so it’s on the defense to hold the opposition under that mark. I likened Bill O’Brien’s offense to a more efficient version of what Michigan State runs, only with a heavier dose of tight ends and a more experienced quarterback (who also happens to have more moxie than Andrew Maxwell). Defensively, the Buckeyes stopped Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, and even though Penn State threw for 327 yards, much of that came after Ohio State built a sizable lead. This is how I saw it:
The wall: The Buckeye defensive line was able to impose its will on this game. John Simon, Hungry Hungry Hankins, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel, Michael Bennett, and Noah Spence played well. Penn State was unable to get any ground game going, which kept third downs in longer distance situations than the Nittany Lions had seen over their recent five-game winning streak. The downhill play by the linebackers assisted with shutting down the run game. The Nittany Lions finished with 32 net rushing yards and none of their rushers averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry. Belton was held to 27 yards on 10 carries and Zwinak did slightly better, with 42 yards on 12 carries, but some of that came at garbage time. With the pressure the front four were able to bring (plus an additional linebacker at times), Matt McGloin was forced to throw short and the Buckeyes tackled well in the secondary when they weren’t breaking up passes. Ohio State broke up nine passes in all, including balls tipped at the line by Simon and Bennett. The defensive line was able to disrupt Penn State’s screen game, as well with good pursuit and hands in the passing lanes. The defensive line played in concert with the linebackers and secondary on Saturday and it made for perhaps the best looking defense we’ve seen this season.
Winning on third down: The Nitts were 5-17 on third down in the game for only 29% on the night. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes went 8-16 (50%, duh) and most of those that weren’t converted came in the first half. Once Ohio State started getting positive yards on first and second down, conversions started happening and the offense started to roll. Putting up 234 rushing yards on the road against a pretty stout defensive front and the best set of linebackers in the B1G is a nice accomplishment for Tom Herman’s offense. It was good to get into third-and-3 situations and be able to run Carlos Hyde for four yards. Hyde finished with only 55 yards on 22 carries, but it seemed like he may have had 50 of those yards after halftime. Miller showed some hesitancy in the first few series’ and his passing was certainly not crisp, aside from that fourth quarter strike to Jake Stoneburner, but after the hit he sustained last week, it’s understandable that it took him some time to get comfortable. One thing I noticed was that Penn State’s linebackers and safeties did the best job so far at “spying” Miller, which caused him to throw some passes where he may have been better served running. When he approached the line there were often two defenders waiting. Penn State did a nice job early in forcing Miller to throw instead of run in the first half. Then he started gashing them.
Ryan Damn Shazier provides a turning point: In just two plays, Ryan Shazier turned the game on its head at the start of the third quarter. Penn State opened the second half at its own 11 and gained six yards on its first play. On second down, Shazier lined up behind Johnathan Hankins, who slanted his rush. Shazier shot into an empty gap and nailed McGloin for a 9-yard sack. On the next play, Shazier again lined up behind Hankins and this time he dropped into coverage, where McGloin forgot about him. The sophomore linebacker read McGloin’s eyes, and moxie, made the pick, and sprinted into the end zone, adding to “Pick Six University” lore. Stoneburner said he thought “game over” on the play, which electrified the Ohio State sideline and seized momentum in the game.
A second turning point averted: Following Shazier’s pick six, Penn State had an opportunity to change momentum. The Nitts embarked on a nine-play drive, culminating in a short Sam Ficken field goal and cutting the lead to 14-10. Ohio State started the ensuing drive on its own 8 and three plays later Miller floated an interception to Adrian Amos. The Lions took over at the OSU 44. Ohio State’s defense responded by stuffing Zwinak on first down; then Nate Williams sacked McGloin on second. Zwinak caught an 8-yard pass on third down and Bill O’Brien sent on the punt team. Adam Griffin did not give one damn about the fake punt, however, knocking away Alex Butterworth’s pass to Derek Day. Butterworth did have an open man inside of his intended target, but had no time to find him, with the Buckeyes nearly registering a punter sack on the play. Ten plays and 57 yards later, Braxton Miller dove into the end zone to extend the lead to 21-10.
Other random thoughts/observations:
- If you had told me before the game that both Corey Brown and Devin Smith would get shut out this week, I’d have assumed a Penn State victory.
- Ohio State was able to play more man coverage and be more aggressive with McGloin not being a big run threat.
I’ve seen way too much whining from the Penn State side on the defensive holding call that kept alive Ohio State’s eventual first touchdown drive. That’s to be expected, since it’s a call I generally see maybe two or three times all year (college and NFL combined). What I didn’t expect was to see that some Ohio State fans also thought the call was odd. Yet the officials, for a change, applied the rules of the game correctly. In punt formation, the long snapper is an important position and has unique rules about what is permitted in defensive alignment. You may have noticed that long snappers are often in on the tackle, including Ohio State’s Bryce Haynes. In college, often a long snapper has no blocking responsibility and is considered a “free release” player. Haynes has been terrific on punt coverage this season. He smacked down Penn State’s Jesse Della Valle on the first OSU punt for just a 2-yard return. One wonders if Bill O’Brien mentioned to his team that he didn’t want Haynes to get a free release down field after that. Brad Bars made sure of it. Bars grabbed Haynes by the jersey sleeves outside the shoulder pads and pulled him to the turf. In the photo you can see this happening and Ben Buchanan still has the football. Often on punts, holding is called after the kick and the receiving team keeps the ball after a 10-yard penalty. In this instance, the foul occurred before the kick, and is treated as defensive holding.
- Bradley Roby is an amazing player who is performing brilliantly right now.
- Part of the reason Ohio State struggled offensively in the first half was poor field position. The average OSU field position in the first half to start a drive was its own 19-yard line. Four of the first seven drives started inside the 20 and two were inside the 10. Skewing the average was a drive that started on the 43 after a shanked 24-yard punt by Butterworth. Penn State’s first half average starting position was its 23, with only one drive starting inside its 20, at the 16. Out of 12 drives, Ohio State started seven of them at its own 3, 11, 6, 17, 8, 15, and 8. Two more started at the 25. Penn State never started inside its 10, and started inside its 20 only three times.
- Zach Boren picked up seven more tackles and continues to impress as he’s learning the position of linebacker.
- As much as I love when Ohio State blocks a punt, I hate it 10 times as much when the Buckeyes get a kick blocked, which is happening with frightening frequency this season. I have, incredibly, seen people blaming Buchanan for being too slow with his kicks. While Buchanan doesn’t have the fastest trigger, the blocks this season are a result of protection failing to account for a rusher. Buchanan had no chance in the second quarter on Saturday, with an unblocked rusher coming straight up the middle. Please fix this soon, Urban.
- Ohio State’s offensive line had a pretty good game overall, but Marcus Hall got manhandled at right guard.
- Receiver watch: where did you go this week, Chris Fields? I noticed Michael Thomas once, but it was when he was failing to make the last block Braxton Miller needed on a long run. Evan Spencer quietly had a nice game though.
- Penn State entered the game having run an insane 90 or more plays the previous two contests. I felt like that statistic had to change for Ohio State to get a favorable result in Happy Valley. On Saturday, the Nittany Lions ran 74 plays, with 49 of those coming after halftime and 30 coming on the last two drives, when the OSU lead had been padded to three scores (twice). The Buckeyes ran 72 plays, with 40 coming before the break. Importantly, Ohio State won the time of possession battle, 32:07 to 27:53. Penn State held the ball for only 3:59 in the second quarter. This kept Ohio State’s defense fresh when it had to be.
- I’m still waiting for that Braxton Miller/Kenny Guiton package, you guys.