There are few things more enjoyable than the chance to be inside a college football stadium on Saturday afternoons in the fall.
The pageantry of college football is unmatched in American sports. Up close, it’s awe-inspiring, especially watching it from the sidelines in a way that is only a dream to most folks. Because I’m really, really fortunate, I get to do that every weekend.
When you’re watching it from the sidelines, though, there are things you’re sure to miss. That’s why it’s important to get home and watch it again from the couch. With a beer.
That’s what I’m doing now, taking a few hours to have a Scarlet and Gray replay and seeing things that might’ve been missed at first glance during Ohio State’s unbelievable collapse at Penn State. It’s 9 on Sunday night, I arrived home from Penn State roughly five hours ago and, after a nap, we’re ready to go. Let’s re-watch the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.
This week’s format will be slightly different, as I see no value in going play by maddening play.
Penn State surprisingly opted for the ball first. I’d have imagined that considering the Buckeyes’ slow starts, combined with the incredible atmosphere at Beaver Stadium, that James Franklin would have wanted his defense to have a shot to rattle J.T. Barrett and Ohio State straight away.
In the game’s opening quarter – as they have in every Big Ten game this season – the Buckeyes did start slow, on both sides of the ball. Last week, Urban Meyer said he “hasn’t thought about it,” but it’s now front and center for this Ohio State team. J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes ran 16 plays in the first quarter for 61 yards and had two feeble three-and-out series before finally getting some plus-field position on a muffed punt by Penn State’s John Reid.
The Ohio State defense surrendered 81 yards rushing to the Nittany Lions, including four plays of 10-plus yards. For the second straight week, the Buckeyes’ opponent came out of the gate quickly and outmuscled their front seven. If Penn State hadn’t tried to get cute on its opening drive with a tight end screen that led to a 4-yard loss (and, ultimately, a blocked field goal), it’s likely they’d have found the end-zone because they had Ohio State off-balance.
When it was all said and done, we entered the second quarter tied at zero, but the Buckeyes were in striking position after John Reid’s muffed punt, which was recovered by Terry McLaurin at the Penn State 38-yard line.
1st Quarter Keys
- Field Position: Backed up against the raucous Penn State student section, Ohio State started drives at its own 5-yard line, 25-yard line and 8-yard line, following another muffed punt by Dontre Wilson that was serendipitously recovered by Gareon Conley.
- Penn State only handed the ball to Saquon Barkley four times in the first quarter, but he picked up 53 yards rushing and was on his way to really big night before the Nittany Lions went away from him.
Ohio State opened the scoring with a field goal as Tyler Durbin connects from 33 yards out. Unfortunately the possession – which started with a 23-yard run by Mike Weber to the Penn State 15-yard line, was once again derailed by a false start penalty in the opponents’ red zone. I’ve mentioned it every single week, but it seems that every time this Buckeyes team gets a rhythm going offensively, its offensive line has a false start or a holding penalty that slows it down – and, more often than not, it has been when they were in prime scoring position.
Penn State picked up its only penalty of the game – for having 12 players on the field – early in the quarter, but it was on a drive that did not result in any Ohio State points. The Nittany Lions handed the ball to Barkley only three times in the second quarter (for three yards) and, in general, the Buckeyes dominated every facet of the game until Penn State’s final drive of the half when, inexplicably, it couldn’t be stopped. Seventy-four of the Nittany Lions’ 101 second-quarter yards came during that one minute, and 73 of those came on three passes completed by redshirt freshman Trace McSorley. They were the only three passes Penn State caught in the quarter.
All the momentum the Buckeyes had gathered throughout the quarter was rendered moot by one drive that was completely out-of-the-blue, which resulted in a halftime score of 12-7.
Curtis Samuel did not have a carry in the first half, but he did have four receptions. In fact, Samuel, Mike Weber and Marcus Baugh caught 10 of Barrett’s 13 completions in the first half.
2nd Quarter Key Plays
- Marcus Baugh made a man-sized play for a 26-yard touchdown. He flashed the athleticism that has had coaches raving about him physically for years.
- A missed extra point for the Buckeyes, which is never not a harbinger of doom, was flat-out ugly.
- Ohio State, ahead 9-0 and with first-and-10 from the Penn State 13-yard line with under two minutes left in the half, threw the ball three times, all incomplete, and settled for a field goal, again.
When the Buckeyes opened the second half with Mike Weber rushing twice for nine yards, one might have thought he understood how Ohio State would win. Then, on a third-and-1 from its own 28, Penn State’s Garrett Sickels – who sat out the first half – pummeled Barrett for a 9-yard loss, forcing a punt. On Ohio State’s next series, it was a 7-yard completion to Curtis Samuel followed by a 74-yard bolt by Samuel for a Buckeyes touchdown that put them ahead, 19-7.
That’s where this football game should have ended. On Penn State’s next possession, the Nittany Lions aimed to punt from their own 30-yard line and snapped the ball over the head of punter Blake Gillikin, who again – inexplicably – outraced Ohio State’s Terry McLaurin to the goal line, diving on the ball in the end zone for a safety rather than a Buckeyes touchdown. Ahead 21-7 and with a defense that had seemingly figured out what happened during the final drive of the first half, everything was trending in Ohio State’s direction.
Then something happened: Ohio State just flat-out stopped trying to win the football game. There’s no finer example of this than when, on the drive following the safety, the Buckeyes had moved the ball to the Penn State 38-yard line and were faced with a fourth-and-3 and – rather than maintaining their usual aggressiveness on fourth-and-short, Ohio State opted for an intentional delay of game penalty and a punt.
I think, in re-watching this, that there was a sense of “OK, we’ve got this sorted out and there’s nothing Penn State can do to beat us.”
In a way, that was true. Ohio State had completely eliminated the crowd. Penn State managed minus-7 yards in the third quarter to the Buckeyes’ 115. Yet, somehow, the Buckeyes were losing control of the line of scrimmage. A two-score lead led to conservative play calling. As Isaiah Prince and the offensive line were being blown up and J.T. Barrett was under constant duress when he dropped to pass, one could just feel it: something was going to happen.
3rd Quarter Key Plays
- Curtis Samuel’s 74-yard touchdown run. His ability to hit top speed quickly is incredible and boy, oh boy, Mike Weber did his part on the play by dominating a Nittany Lions defender to open the big hole.
- Again, the decision to punt on fourth-and-3 from the Penn State 38-yard-line. I know that’s not an ideal spot to go for it because Ohio State didn’t want to risk waking the crowd up with a stop, but the lack of aggression reminded me so much of the 2014 game at Happy Valley. One could just tell the Buckeyes were afraid to do anything to possibly reverse the momentum. By doing nothing, they did just that.
As Cam Johnston punted to the Penn State 10-yard line to start the final quarter with the Buckeyes ahead, 21-7, I was standing next to Larry Johnson, Jr. on the Ohio State sideline and told him: “I guarantee Penn State is scoring on this drive. Every time this year when you think the Buckeyes defense has total control, they just give up a totally unexpected drive for a score.”
Then it happened. Under pressure, McSorley hit a wide open Mike Gesicki for 16 yards. Then Saquon Barkley burst up the middle for 37 yards. Then Ohio State forgot to cover Saeed Blacknall, who picked up 35 yards to the 2-yard line. Two plays later, McSorley outraced Chris Worley to the corner and, just like that, the score was 21-14 and the once-dead crowd was as loud as ever. Five plays, 90 yards. Inexplicable.
When the Buckeyes took the field after that touchdown, the players appeared as though they’d seen a ghost. The first play was blown up in the backfield almost before it started and Mike Weber fumbled, losing five yards, but, fortunately, recovering the ball himself. Ohio State was forced to take a timeout a play later. A play after that, Cam Johnston ran right into an incoming defender who blocked his punt. Penn State’s ball at the Buckeyes 28-yard line.
As they’ve done all year, Ohio State’s defense stepped up, but a questionable (read: bad) personal foul on Tyquan Lewis for a horse-collar tackle kept Penn State’s drive alive. The Buckeyes bowed their backs again and forced a field goal, making it 21-17.
With a leader like J.T.Barrett at the helm, when everything seems to be going awry, things somehow got moving again for the Buckeyes. He hit Noah Brown for a big 34-yard gain to the Penn State 42. Ohio State had regained control of the line of scrimmage, but the drive – after inexplicably throwing three straight times after a first-and-10 from the Nittany Lions 31, stalled.
On fourth-and-10, Meyer and the Buckeyes had no idea what they wanted to do. The offensive stayed on the field looking toward the sideline until about 12 seconds remained on the play clock before the field goal unit scrambled into action. Ohio State ran them to the line, hurried a snap to avoid a delay of game penalty (which would have certainly led to a punt from the 36-yard line, which Meyer said postgame he was considering anyway) and a low kick was blocked and returned for a Penn State touchdown. Once more, despite doing nothing on offense, the Lions had stolen momentum from Ohio State and now led, 24-21.
Ohio State had two timeouts left when they hurried the kick that should have never been attempted. Curtis Samuel had one more carry after his 74-yard touchdown run. J.T. Barrett was sacked six times, three by Garrett Sickles who entered the game and absolutely embarrassed Isaiah Prince and Jamarco Jones on a number of occasions.
This was a complete systems failure by the Ohio State offense and specials teams. At every single turn, when something was working, they stopped doing it. Barrett completed 28 passes – 21 to the running backs and Marcus Baugh – as the wide receivers, thought to be a strength of the inexperienced offense coming into the season, continue to be M.I.A. Barrett and Weber combined for 97 yards rushing on 38 carries.
Penn State was not as “bad” as people assumed they’d be, and the atmosphere and weather in Happy Valley were not in Ohio State’s favor, but to lose the game as it did – by its own doing – was again, inexplicable.