STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Ohio State’s 24-21 loss to Penn State was a brutal wake-up call for a team that looked well on its way to a 7-0 start and its third big road win of the season.
Instead, the Buckeyes completely collapsed in the fourth quarter and left Happy Valley with their first loss of the season and a whole bunch of questions about issues that contributed to the loss. From offense to defense to special teams to coaching, there are plenty of areas to sort out where things went wrong.
Here’s how Ohio State graded out, on a scale of zero stars to five:
Offense (2 stars)
It wasn’t pretty for the Ohio State offense, mainly because really poor offensive line play left quarterback J.T. Barrett under constant duress. The Buckeyes were dealing with tough conditions — the winning quarterback completed 8 of 23 passes and once had 11 straight incompletions — but that doesn’t fully absolve them of their execution issues, nor does it explain their reticence to involve H-back Curtis Samuel. It looked even more foolish when Samuel finally got his first carry of the game in the third quarter and housed it for a 74-yard touchdown.
In spite of that good sign, Ohio State was completely dysfunctional in the fourth quarter. Being even moderately competent would have led to a win.
Defense (3 stars)
The Silver Bullets looked really good for much of the game — as noted above, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley had plenty of trouble — but they had their share of lapses. McSorley averaged 19.25 yards per completion and connected on passes of 35, 34 and 26 yards.
Allowing Penn State to go 74 yards in 1:00 to score in the final seconds of the first half was a killer, as was the fourth quarter drive in which the Nittany Lions covered 90 yards in 1:20 to pull within one score.
Special teams (0 stars)
Punter Cameron Johnston had seven punts that averaged 45.4 yards, three of which were downed inside the 20-yard line. But the Buckeyes also had a punt blocked. Kicker Tyler Durbin made two field goals but also missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown.
Both of those miscues were directly responsible for Ohio State’s loss. For good measure, the decision-making displayed on Ohio State’s punt returns and kickoff returns is slowly taking years off fans’ lives.
I don't know why in back to back years Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall want to give people heart attacks just fielding punts
— jbook™ (@jbook37) October 23, 2016
Coaching (2 stars)
This might be overlooked by some, but I can’t get over Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s decision to take an intentional delay of game and punt instead of going for it on fourth-and-3 from the Penn State 38. The Buckeyes were up 21-7 and could have driven a stake into Penn State, and it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a team averaging 6.1 yards per play at the time to gain 3 yards. That was the type of decision he made in the 2015 loss to Michigan State as well.
On top of that, the coaching staff had no answer whatsoever for the offensive line woes, and special teams were an abject disaster. There’s just nothing really redeemable here about getting outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter to lose, plain and simple.
Overall (2 stars)
The loss wasn’t pretty, but it should be tempered ever so slightly because Ohio State was going up against a solid opponent in a wild atmosphere. It would be unfair to be flippant about the difficulty of what the Buckeyes were up against, but there’s no covering up the fact that Ohio State lost a game it should have won. That’s what this comes down to. With that being said, Ohio State still has a clear path to the playoff.