The Breakdown: Ohio State vs. Penn State
It wasn’t pretty at times, but in the end the Buckeye escaped Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley with a win over the 9th ranked Nittany Lion’s and their white out crowd of nearly 111,000. At times the offense and defense struggled, but in the end the Buckeyes did just enough to get a win, in this article I’ll be breaking down what this big win means, what Ohio State did good and what they must improve on to become a championship caliber team.
So what does this win mean for the Buckeyes you may ask, well pretty much it means that the Buckeyes control their own destiny. Currently the number three Buckeyes find themselves in the driver seat of the Big Ten East, at this point needing to lose two games the rest of the season to fall behind Penn State. The Buckeyes also find themselves theoretically with a loss they can use up without being knocked out of Championship contention based on what the Playoff Choosing Committee has shown us over the last couple of the years. Don’t get me wrong though, there is much to be improved for Ohio State if they hope to compete with the Alabamas and Georgias of the world.
One thing that I find alarming about this year’s Buckeyes is the defense at times. Over and over this season we have seen the Buckeyes defense burned and hurt by the big play. For example Trace McSorely connected with KJ Hamler in the first half for a 93 yard passing touchdown and against TCU gave up yet another 93 yard play, this time to TCU running back Darius Anderson. From what I have observed is that if the Ohio State defensive line is not getting pressure on the quarterback or stuffing the run, the back end of the defense becomes very vulnerable. Will the defense come, yes, with time the defense will only improve, but must improve before the back end of the season, because come conference championship and bowl time if it hasn’t, they will be playing with fire.
Another problem the defense faced against Penn State was once again the athletic, dual threat quarterback. For years it has seemed the downfall for the Ohio State defense has been this style of quarterback and this game was no different. In this game the Buckeyes gave up 461 total yards to Penn State quarterback Trace McSorely, including 286 passing yard 2 touchdowns and a passer rating of just over 145. Rushing the defense gave up 175 yards on 25 attempts, and average for about 7 yards and a long of 51 yards. In the end McSorely ended with an adjusted QBR (quarterback rating) of 73. Even though McSorely only completed fifty percent of his throws, at times the Ohio State defense seemed to not have an answer for Trace McSorely and his athleticism. The Ohio State defense must better equip themselves to better defend dual threat quarterbacks as we will face another one this weekend against Indiana in Peyton Ramsey and surely will face more later in the season. I believe that the defense will come in time, especially considering most of the secondary and linebacker core is made up of first year starters, however they must develop quickly if the Buckeyes want a shot at a national championship.
Another problem that must be fixed is the penalties. The discipline at times this season hasn’t been great. Time and time again it seems the Buckeyes have killed a good drive because of a false start or holding penalty or gave away a defensive stop with a pass interference or defensive holding penalty. Don’t get me wrong, some of the calls Ohio State has seen this year have been head scratchers to say the least, however it is something that must be cleaned up, and has seemed to improve every week. However, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, once we face teams like Michigan, Wisconsin or Alabama, we cannot extend drives for them on offense, or squander offensive opportunities that great teams rarely give up on defense. Ohio State’s offense needs to be able to score when the opportunity is given and they need to get the defense off of the field and not give great teams free yards.
Even though Ohio State has a lot to fix in the coming weeks, there was also a lot of good to pull from this win. First thing is first, they are 5-0 and control their own destiny in the Big Ten East, and possibly a playoff run. Another good take away is that Haskins may have established himself as a Heisman contender, leading the Buckeyes to two road wins against tough opponents. Although Haskins looked shaky at times in both games, his performance in the end was good enough, and more importantly his leadership was good enough, to lead the Buckeyes to wins both times. In my opinion leadership is the most important quality a Quarterback can have. Haskins finished in this game 22/39, 270 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 pick and an adjusted QBR of 60.3, he also finished the game against TCU with 3 total touchdowns as well. I really good sign for Ohio State this year has been great quarterback play with consistency.
Another position with great depth and consistency, is the Ohio State running backs. JK Dobbins had 57 yards of 17 carries for an average of 3.4 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 receptions for 61 yards, for a 30.5 average and 1 touchdown. Mike Weber finished with 9 carries for 51 yards and an average of 5.7 yards a carry. Over the last few years it is safe to say that Ohio State has had some of the most dominant and well rounded running backs in the country. Pass blocking, running and receiving out of the back field, the running backs have excelled at it all. The only difference is this year Ohio State has the luxury of having both, each with a different play style. Weber is a home run hitting, fast, big play back, where Dobbins is a more sturdy power back. Either way your defense is built, we have a back that can handle it. Throw Ohio State speed, Weber will burn you, pick power, Dobbins will burn you. This will be a great commodity come late in the season, into the post season.
With the skills that both the running backs and quarterbacks bring, Ohio State’s defense has been a choose your poison kind of offense. The opposing defense will face one of the toughest problems any defense could face, how to defend the Ohio State defense. Do they stack the box and let Dwayne Haskins air raid them and sling the ball all over the field? Or do they defend out wide allowing Weber and Dobbins have a career game? Ohio State’s offense is a puzzle that every defense has failed to solve for a whole game. With this double edged sword that Ohio State calls an offense, they will be a tough team to beat come Big Ten and bowl season.
If there is one positive to take away from the Ohio State defense, it is that they showed up at the most crucial of times. Lead by great play from the defensive line, especially Chase Young (we’ll get back to him coming up) the Buckeyes defense came up big late in the fourth quarter. With a big stop after Binjimen Victor’s 47 yard touchdown catch and run the defense was able to put the ball back in Haskins and the offense’s hands, where Haskins capped a 96 yard touchdown drive with a touchdown with a 24 yard touchdown pass to K.J. Hill. After this turn of events the defense was able to cap the comeback with a fourth and five stop of Penn State, before they got into field goal range. Chase Young was able to run a successful twist route on his rush, penetrate the backfield and hit Miles Sanders for a big loss, on quite a questionable play call by James Franklin and his staff. If our defense is going to give the big play and scores, at least they have shown they can show up in the big time moments.
Lastly the best thing I have seen from Ohio State against TCU and Penn State has been the fight, grit and determination they have shown. Tough tests and grit are what championship teams are made of. On the ropes against TCU and Penn State, Ohio State put the defense and offense together and raised to the occasion. Whether the 12 point comeback in Happy Valley or the 20 point burst in Arlington, this team doesn’t quit. When pushed down they quickly get up and push back and win. Penn State went up 12 late in the fourth, what did Ohio State do? Only put up 198 yards in the fourth. These tough games will build experience, build experience and build the idea that no matter how things go they can comeback. In the end no matter how many things Ohio State needs to fix, they are still 5-0, and being undefeated is the best time to fix mistakes. Also with being 5-0 and Urban Meyer saying the quote, “… because you’re 5-0 and we haven’t played close to our best game,” as a Buckeye fan you should be excited for what this season holds and what this team’s ceiling could be.