STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Urban Meyer said it — speaking generally — following the Buckeyes 24-21 loss at Penn State on Saturday night.
“We’re not a great team right now,” the Ohio State coach said, shattering the illusion that as the country’s No. 2 team the Buckeyes are at their best.
Despite some uncharacteristic special teams difficulties that will be pointed to as the game’s defining moments, it’s hard to watch what happened in Happy Valley and not notice one glaring — and recurring — problem for the Buckeyes. They simply are unable to protect J.T. Barrett in the pocket right now.
Though he accounted for 261 of Ohio State’s 413 yards, Barrett became little more than a tackling dummy for the Nittany Lions defense in the second half, when he was sacked five times, including three times by Penn State’s Garrett Sickels, who sat out the first half because for disciplinary reasons.
Ohio State, in the decisive fourth quarter – which it entered leading 21-7 – ran the ball 10 times for minus-3 yards. Barrett was 9-for-13 passing in the fourth quarter, but the Buckeyes’ final two offensive plays, which both ended in sacks, afforded him no time to even consider throwing the ball.
It was perhaps the offensive line’s inability to protect the quarterback, or open a hole for the running game (Mike Weber and Barrett rushed for just 97 yards on a combined 38 carries), that led the usually uber-aggressive Urban Meyer to rely on his special teams, which led to Ohio State’s undoing.
“Offensively,” Meyer said, “we didn’t control the line of scrimmage. [Barrett] was under pressure all night when we threw it, and then we didn’t move them off the ball in the run game.”
Sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince was, in a word, bad for the Buckeyes on Saturday night, but as you’d expect, captain Pat Elflein said the blame fell on the entire offensive line, not just one player.
“We didn’t get our job done. We just didn’t do our job,” Elflein said. “We didn’t get it done tonight. We didn’t play very good. We like to say nine units strong where every unit is operating at maximum capacity and we weren’t doing that tonight.”
Granted, the elements were difficult. Penn State is one of the country’s best atmospheres and a frenzied White-Out crowd made it even tougher. The weather didn’t help either, with blustery winds, an occasional driving rain and an unexpected bitter cold, so that’s a time where the “The Slobs” really needed to step up and be counted on.
On Saturday in State College, they didn’t do the job.
Between Meyer, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, Elflein and Billy Price, the leaders in the Ohio State locker room have a big task ahead of them now. They all need to help young player like Prince, who played the worst game of his young career, from turning one disastrous outing into a season’s worth of them.
“When stuff is not going your way, how are you going to respond to it?” Elflein asked following the game. “We have great leaders, our coaches are really good leaders. We have some good leaders on this team. [The] heart and soul of this team is the [offensive] line and right now we’re letting the team down. We’re going to get back to work (Sunday).”