Game Grades: Ohio State
The Nittany Lions narrowly won the time of possession battle by a 31/29 margin and were unblemished in the turnover category. Trace McSorley played a very solid all-around game, completing 17-29 passes for 192 yards and three total touchdowns. McSorley made a few big-time accurate throws down the field throughout the game, particularly on his two touchdown throws to DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins and a throw to Mike Gesicki for a first down on third-and-13 late in the game. Despite being under frequent duress from an exceptionally talented Ohio State defensive front, McSorley continually extended plays with his legs and ran the offense at a high level. However, similar recurring problems persisted for the offense. The offensive line was atrocious and looked completely overwhelmed. Not including his 36-yard touchdown run early on, Saquon Barkley ran for an abysmal eight yards on 20 carries. Even though McSorley played well, he was pressured almost every time he dropped back to pass. With such little time to throw, it was very difficult to create big plays in the passing game. The Penn State offense performed almost well enough to result in a win, but they compiled just 283 yards of total offense and could not make enough key plays in key moments.
It appears that concerns over the fact that Penn State’s defense had not matched up against any quality offensive teams so far this year were warranted. Ohio State’s defense exposed this concern on Saturday night and, frankly, moved the ball quite effortlessly against the Penn State defense. The Nittany Lions forced two big turnovers, but outside of that, most of the stops that Penn State made were the result of Ohio State’s offense pushing themselves back with penalties. The Buckeyes gashed Penn State for 529 yards of offense and gave Penn State all sorts of problems with their up-tempo attack. The trio of J.T. Barrett, J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for 201 yards on the ground. Barrett’s mediocre play against top competition had been well documented, but Penn State made him look like Tom Brady on Saturday. He completed a school-record 16 passes in a row and finished 33-39 for 328 yards and four touchdowns. Penn State had virtually no pass rush, as Ohio State’s offensive line allowed Barrett to sit back in the pocket for as long as he wanted and go through all of his reads. The secondary was frequently lost in coverage and overall just could not match the speed and athleticism of the Ohio State wide receivers. The worst part was that Penn State maintained an 11-point lead with less than five minutes to go and could not make just one play to seal the deal. Barrett also completed all 13 of his pass attempts in the fourth quarter. What we learned is that Penn State has a very solid defense that can slow down most teams in college football, but it clearly is not at the level to contain a team with the offensive firepower that Ohio State possesses.
Special Teams: B+
Penn State continued to show that they have one of the better special teams units in the country with an overall outstanding performance on Saturday. It started with Saquon Barkley returning a 97-yard kickoff for a touchdown right out of the gate. On the next kickoff, when Ohio State smartly decided not to kick to him again, Koa Farmer incredulously almost returned a kick for a touchdown. Tyler Davis also made his lone field goal attempt and all five of his extra points. The reason this grade is not higher is there was one key play that may have been the difference in the game. Early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State’s Denzel Ward blocked a punt in plus territory that would set up a quick and easy scoring drive for Ohio State to cut the lead to just five points. Had Penn State given Blake Gillikin the opportunity to pin Ohio State deep into their own territory, Penn State likely escapes Columbus with a win. Gillikin was fantastic once again, but the Nittany Lions’ poor blocking plagued them in this case as well.
The ferocious Ohio State fourth quarter comeback had numerous parallels to last year’s meltdown in the Rose Bowl to USC. Joe Moorhead got a little too predictable in play-calling and did not devise as many creative ways to get his best players the ball like he did last week against Michigan. Like last year’s Rose Bowl, the end of the game was managed very poorly, as the play calling got much too conservative towards the end of the game. There were also no visible adjustments made to sharpen things up in the secondary and get pressure on J.T. Barrett late in the game. Great coaches are supposed to learn from their past shortcomings, but seeing the end of this game unfold in a strikingly homogeneous way to the Rose Bowl was painful. Unfortunately, Penn State’s hopes of repeating as Big Ten champions and earning a trip to the College Football Playoff may have been dismantled because of an inability to do so.
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.