Five Things We Learned: Penn State vs. Ohio State
Decked in white, Penn State traveled Saturday to Columbus for its first road game since week 1, where they faced a Buckeye crowd of over 108,000 in their program's first ever blackout. The Nittany Lions got on the board first and kept the game respectable until falling behind big in the 4th quarter, submitting to No. 1 Ohio State 38-10. Here is what everyone can take away from the Nittany Lions' second loss of the season.
1. Penn State beat themselves
Ohio State is the No. 1 team in the country and showed exactly why on Saturday. Having said that, the Nittany Lions still had their chances and could have completely changed the game if not for their constant mishaps.
From dropped balls, notable a 30-yard wide open pass to Mike Gesicki, to a Saquon Barkley called-back touchdown run thanks to a holding penalty, Penn State had every opportunity to capitalize early and came up short.
The team seemed visibly shaken by the atmosphere in Columbus, messing up a snap on a fake jet sweep by Brandon Polk that caused a fumble.
Against No. 1 Ohio State, the room for error is zero, and Penn State was unable to hold that standard.
2. Saquon Barkley is legit
Along with several other injured players, Saquon Barkley returned to the field for the first time in two games and picked up right where he left off.
The true freshman tore up the Buckeye defense with 194 yards on 26 touches and included one that went for 56 yards, the Lions biggest offensive play of the night. Barkley contributed for nearly two-thirds of Penn State’s total yardage and kept the Lions competitive until the game’s end.
This performance helped validate the freshman phenom’s early-season success, where he went for a three-game stretch of 372 yards. Barkley’s potential was still fairly uncertain, however, since he had accomplished that feat against the struggling defenses of Buffalo, Rutgers and San Diego State.
A standout performance over the number one team in the country silences any who were still skeptic and gives Nittany nation hope for the future.
3. Punting and field position are important
How many punters does it take to give a defense decent field position to work with?
Penn State found out that number is apparently more than two, as both Chris Gulla and Daniel Pasquariello struggled to get the ball down field, shanking three punts for 30 yards or less.
It did not take long to hear Coach James Franklin’s frustrations about the recent dysfunction his team has had in punting the ball.
“We’ve had major issues for two years with punting the ball,” coach Franklin said just 30 seconds into his opening postgame statement. He even continued to say that they team may “need to have to have open tryouts” in order to solve the recurring problem.
Meanwhile, punting was the key for Ohio State, as Cameron Johnston pinned Penn State within its own 10 yard line four times. Every ensuing drive resulted in a Penn State punt.
As trivial as it seems, Coach Franklin may have to put punting towards the top of his recruitment agenda for the offseason.
4. Nassib’s talent is undeniable
Senior Carl Nassib, a former walk-on who worked his way onto the starting defense this season, has been a force all season and continues to put up numbers.
Against an Ohio State front that previously had allowed just nine sacks on the year, Nassib recorded one-and-a-half sacks and brought his nation-leading total to 11.5 sacks on the season.
He also was credited with three-and-a-half tackles for a loss through some personal success against J.T. Barrett and the read-option.
Nassib’s story is one that has seen him come from irrelevance to become one who should be highly coveted come draft day in April.
5. Hackenberg gets swallowed up by the moment
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has lead his team to victory in big-game situations before,
including a last-minute drive against Michigan freshman year and a bowl victory over Boston College this past December.
Despite his prior success, this game was different. After going on a slew of 714 pass yards and eight total touchdowns in the last three games, Hackenberg threw for just 120 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. All but 19 of those yards came on two deep bombs to Chris Godwin.
The quarterback came up short on one of the biggest plays of the game. With 10 minutes left on a 4th and 2 opportunity in Buckeye territory, Hackenberg took a sack, turning the ball over, when he never even noticed a wide open Saquon Barkley that would have been an easy score and made it a one score game.
Whether it was the packed Ohio Stadium painted black, or his lingering injury that included a gash on his leg from his knee brace, Hackenberg seemed out of sync and failed to perform in the biggest game of the season.
Ryan Berti is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter: @RBirdman7