STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Ohio State’s special teams meltdown against Penn State was so swift and so complete, it’s almost incomprehensible that it came from an Urban Meyer-coached team.
Here are the Buckeyes’ greatest hits from a 24-21 loss to the Nittany Lions on Saturday:
- Kicker Tyler Durbin missed his second extra point of the season, helped by poor placement from holder Cameron Johnston.
- Dontre Wilson fumbled a punt that was recovered by teammate Gareon Conley.
- Johnston had a punt blocked in the fourth quarter, leading to a Penn State field goal that cut the deficit to 21-17.
- Kickoff returner Parris Campbell’s returns on Ohio State’s final two drives of the game only advanced the ball to the Ohio State 13 and Ohio State 11.
- Durbin’s 47-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter was blocked and returned for a touchdown, providing the final margin of victory.
That’s a stunningly poor performance, especially considering Meyer puts so much time and effort into making sure the Buckeyes are superior in that facet of the game. He is fond of asserting the correlation between special teams blocks and wins, and his teams are 24-0 in games in which they’ve blocked a punt.
Knowing that, it wasn’t shocking that when asked about what went wrong in Happy Valley, the first topic Meyer drifted toward was the kicking game.
“Special teams, we had two blocked kicks,” he said. “Two blocked kicks.”
Such a poor showing was something that would never be expected from one of Meyer’s teams, but this season has featured plenty of signs that a performance like this might be coming.
Although the walk-on Durbin inherited the role because scholarship kicker Sean Nuernberger wasn’t healthy at the start of the season, he’s kept the job with seemingly no resistance. Despite holding on to the job, he still doesn’t appear to have the full trust of the Ohio State coaching staff.
Before the rushed 47-yard attempt that was blocked, only two of his previous 10 attempts were longer than 33 yards and the longest was 40. Meyer routinely passed him up to instead go for it on fourth down. The Buckeyes have attempted 14 fourth-down conversions and are on pace to easily eclipse 2015’s total of 19. Maybe that trepidation is justified, though. As stated above, the PAT miss against Penn State wasn’t his first of the season.
Ohio State also let Oklahoma back into the game on a 99-yard kickoff return from Joe Mixon, even if it shouldn’t have counted because he dropped the ball early. Indiana also came perilously close on multiple occasions to breaking a kickoff return for a score.
And then there is Wilson, whose decision-making this season on punt return duty has Ohio State fans reaching for a defibrillator.
I should buy a Fitbit just to monitor my heart rate for the adventures of Dontre Wilson.
— Adam V. Buente (@AVBuente) October 23, 2016
Dontre Wilson be giving me mini heart attacks with him back returning punts
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) October 23, 2016
It wasn’t hard to see that Ohio State had inconsistencies in just about every aspect of special teams play. It was easy to overlook the problems — or dismiss them because of youth and inexperience — when the Buckeyes were blowing out teams at the start of the season. When games are won by 21 points, field goal concerns don’t really come into play.
Against Penn State, however, it was all laid bare. The Buckeyes have real problems on special teams, and there’s no question now that those can cost them a game.