Guts and Glory
Herb Brooks, the head coach of the legendary “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal hockey team, used to say, “We had to go the well one more time and this time it was a little colder and a little deeper.” Just two weeks after “going to the well” to come back and beat a tenacious TCU team, the Buckeyes did it again Saturday night. This time it was against highly motivated Penn State, on the road, and in front of a record crowd in the Nittany Lions’ annual “White Out” game.
I’ve read where some claiming the Buckeyes were lucky to pull out a 27-26 win because the statistics favor Penn State. Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin put it best when he said, “The stats don’t matter.” He’s right, they don’t. It is very simple why the Buckeyes won: they made more plays when they HAD to than Penn State. Too often Penn State had opportunities to blow the game open, but were not able. They dominated the first half, but only led 13-7. Three of their first four possessions ended in OSU territory, but they could only manage two field goals. The Buckeye defense stopped them when they had to in these situations. This all came back to haunt Franklin’s team.
Penn State led by twelve with eight minutes to play. The Nittany Lion defense was harassing Dwayne Haskins into poor throws and their quarterback, Trace McSorley, was driving the OSU defense crazy with his running ability. The crowd was celebrating. Buckeye haters everywhere were high-fiving to their hearts delight. When Haskins began the next drive with a 5-yard completion to C.J. Saunders, it certainly didn’t make blue and white supporter nervous. When he hit Austin Mack on the next play for eight yards and a first down, I’m sure many thought the Penn State defensive line would take over and bother Haskins into more poor throws. Next came a pass interference penalty on the Lions when Mack was mugged. That moved the ball just across the Penn State side of the 50-yard line. Judging from the crowd noise, I don’t think this dampened the PSU faithful’s celebration. But, after the next play, the raucous cheering turned to nervous tittering. From the Penn State 47-yard line, Haskins felt pressure from the Lion’s defensive line, stepped up in the pocket and fired a pass to an open Binjimen Victor, who was running a crossing route. Victor made the catch and managed to hang on despite the effort of a PSU defensive back to pull his arm away from the ball. Shaking off that tackle attempt he turned up field, got good blocks from Parris Campbell and Rashod Berry, and weaved his way into the end zone. The Buckeyes had made a play when they had to. All of a sudden it was 26-21 with 6:42 to play.
The Buckeyes weren’t done making plays. After a McSorley run and a facemask penalty moved the ball into Ohio State territory, Penn State was faced with a third and six. When McSorley dropped back to pass and saw an opening, he briefly looked like he was entertaining the idea of taking off and running for the first down. But, unlike other times when he had exploited the openings created by Ohio State’s man-to-man coverage, Buckeye linebacker Malik Harrison had been assigned the duty of being a “spy” on McSorley. When the Penn State quarterback stepped up in the pocket, Harrison quickly closed ground on him and forced an incompletion. Once again, the Buckeyes made a play. Penn State’s punt was downed at the Ohio State three with 4:35 to play.
Herb Brooks was fond of saying, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” Late in the fourth quarter, 97 yards away from the winning touchdown, and playing in one of college football’s most difficult atmospheres, the Buckeyes were faced with a great opportunity. From his own end zone, Haskins dumped a screen pass to J.K. Dobbins, who weaved his way for a 35-yard gain. None of the Penn State defensive linemen recognized what the Buckeyes were doing when the play began to develop. The Buckeyes made a play, Penn State didn’t. On 3rd and 3 from their own 46-yard line, the Buckeye offensive line sealed off the right side and allowed Mike Weber to pick up eleven yards and a first down. The Buckeyes made a play, Penn State didn’t. A bubble screen to Parris Campbell went for fourteen yards. J.K. Dobbins gained five on a run.
The Buckeyes were making plays, Penn State was not. On 3rd and 5 from the Nittany Lion 24-yard line with just over two minutes to play, Haskins took advantage of an adjustment the offensive coaches made at halftime. With a safety giving a huge cushion to the Buckeyes' three receiver formation, Haskins did not handoff to J.K. Dobbins and, instead, quickly got the ball to K.J. Hill on another bubble screen. Austin Mack made an excellent block at the point of attack, and when Hill made a PSU defensive back miss, he was off down the sideline. Terry McLaurin threw yet another of his outstanding blocks, which took out a total of three Nittany Lion defenders, as Hill ran by on his way to the end zone, and all of a sudden the Buckeyes led, 27-26. The Buckeyes made a play, Penn State did not. Ohio State made a great moment from a great opportunity. But, they weren’t finished yet.
Another Herb Brooks quote, “You can’t be common, the common man goes nowhere: you have to be uncommon.” On Penn State’s final drive, the most uncommon of all the Buckeyes on Saturday night, would be heard from twice. After McSorley completed a 27-yard pass to put the ball in Ohio State territory to open the Lions’ final possession, Chase Young made his presence felt. Already with a sack, two quarterback hurries, and having batted away a key fourth down McSorley pass in the third quarter, Young got another sack to put PSU in second and long. Two plays later James Franklin’s team had a 4th and 5 at the OSU 43 with just over a minute to play. Young was uncommon again.
At the snap, Jashon Cornell, who was lined up at defensive tackle, drove the Penn State offensive lineman across from him backwards, Young looped to the inside behind Cornell. Instead of calling for a play that would give McSorley the option to throw or run, Franklin elected to give the ball to Miles Sanders, who the Buckeyes had bottled up all night. The stunt defensive coordinator Greg Schiano called for brought Young into the hole Sanders was looking to run through. He easily put Sanders on the turf to seal the Buckeyes’ second consecutive soul crushing, come-from-behind win over Penn State. Once again, the Buckeyes made plays, Penn State did not.
“The reality is, we had opportunities, but we didn’t make plays,” said James Franklin. The Buckeyes simply made more plays when they had to than Penn State. Great moments are born from great opportunities. Ohio State made the most of those opportunities.
What I Liked
This team’s resiliency and intangibles remind me of the 2002 Buckeyes. Sometimes the wins may not be the prettiest, but they keep battling and find a way to win. This team hangs in, makes plays when they have to, and figure out a way. Resilient, resourceful teams like this are just as dangerous as one who steamrolls everyone. They will be well prepared come late November for Michigan and the Big Ten Championship Game.
What I Didn’t Like
I could go with Haskins struggling to throw in the face of a heavy pass rush or special teams penalties, but I think I’m going to go with play calling. I fully believe offensive football ultimately comes down to blocking and execution. The Buckeyes didn’t do much of either in the first half and parts of the second. But, after saying he was going to be more of a game manager and allow offensive coordinator Ryan Day and co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to continue to call the plays, I’m not convinced Meyer did that in the first half. The play calling seemed to have Meyer’s imprint on it. An insistence on doing the same thing over and over until it worked instead of taking what the defense gives you. Seven points and less than one hundred yards of offense says it didn’t work in the first half. Penn State had a linebacker and a safety flying to the line of scrimmage on each run play, but we did not see play action passes in the first half. Nor did we see bubble screens, which is something Day had relied on often in the first four games. In the second half, when they went to play action passes and, especially, bubble screens, the offense began to roll. During those sequences, the play calling reflected of Day. More tempo, running the same play from various formations, taking what the defense gives you. Obviously I don’t know for sure if Meyer had too big of a hand in first half play selection, but if I were a betting man, I’d say that was the case. He needs to stay out of the way and let Day and Wilson do their thing.
Random Stuff From A Glorious Win
In an interview with ESPN, Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller said Haskins would “fold” if you hit him. While Haskins didn’t have close to his best game, he hardly folded and led his team to consecutive touchdowns in the game’s final eight minutes. Miller was nowhere to be found on those drives. While he did have five tackles for the game, Miller did not have a sack or quarterback pressure thanks to the job Buckeye right tackle Isaiah Prince did blocking him in pass protection.
Haskins was 22-39 for 270 yards with three touchdowns and an interception off of a tipped ball. While those numbers are respectable, they are nowhere near what he had put up in previous games. He struggled to find any rhythm because of the heavy rush he faced. He was sacked just once, but had players in his face or chasing him for most of the night. Give Penn State’s defense credit for harassing him into a subpar performance. But, let’s all keep in mind he maintained his composure and led the Buckeyes down the field twice in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. That 97-yard drive for the winning touchdown was a thing of beauty and will be remembered as one of the great drives in program history. Haskins will have to learn to handle this kind of pass rush if the Buckeyes are to seriously contend for a national title. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to work on it, because I think teams are going to pin their ears back and come after him.
For the second year in a row, Penn State has struggled to run the ball effectively with anyone other than their quarterback. Last year the Buckeye defense held Saquon Barkley in check, and last night they made Miles Sanders a non-factor. Sanders had entered the game averaging seven yards per carry, but was held to just 43 yards on 16 carries.
Urban Meyer and the defensive staff need to come up with a solution at field safety. On K.J. Hamler’s 93-yard catch-and-run, Isaiah Pryor, once again, took another bad angle and allowed what should have been a 15-20 yard gain into a long touchdown. He’s done this numerous times already in five games and it needs to be fixed. Pryor will miss the first half of this week's Indiana game because of that ridiculous targeting rule. At his weekly Monday press conference, Meyer said either Jahsen Wint, who replaced Pryor when he was ejected, Shaun Wade, or Brendan White will start at field safety.
The Buckeyes seem to be going with the 3-3-5 look in passing situations rather than the Rushmen. In that package, Baron Browning was replacing Tuf Borland at middle linebacker. Later in the game, Dre’mont Jones was moved outside to defensive end in place of Jonathan Cooper and Robert Landers was remaining in the game at tackle. Cooper is a solid defensive end and excellent against the run. But, it is becoming obvious the coaching staff are not completely happy with his pass rush skills and are looking for ways to create more pressure.
Dre’mont Jones injured his left ankle late in the fourth quarter. He managed to return for the final Penn State offensive series, but was in a walking boot after the game. Today, Meyer referred to it as a sprain. Cornerback Damon Arnette left the game in the fourth quarter after taking a blow to the head and did not return. Meyer said both are probable for this week. I'm guessing they play only if absolutely necessary.
There have been entirely too many penalties on special teams the last two weeks. Against Penn State there was offsides on a kickoff, unsportsmanlike conduct, and holding on a punt return. The most costly was the facemask penalty on Luke Farrell on a made field goal. It took points off the scoreboard and backed them up fifteen yards. Sean Nuernberger missed the subsequent attempt from 48 yards. The wings on the field goal/extra point team have been an issue the last two weeks. Against Tulane, Rashod Berry was twice called for holding. Three penalties in two games from a position that might get called once during a season for a penalty is not good.
Speaking of play calling, the worst of the night had to be the read option on 4th and 1 at midfield. You simply can’t line up your quarterback seven yards deep in that situation and expect to pick up a first down running the ball. The defense has its ears pinned back and is attacking. When I saw the formation, I thought they were going to throw something quick. I nearly lost my mind when they tried to run from that formation. But, I thought I was going to have a stroke when I saw Rashod Berry run past Shareef Miller and not block him. Miller stopped Haskins well short of the first down. Regardless of who you’re assigned to block, you never run past an unblocked defensive player at the line of scrimmage.
Chase Young is the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. He finished Saturday night with six tackles, two sacks, three tackles-for loss, two quarterback hurries, and two passes batted down. He was a difference maker Saturday night and if he continues to play that way, he will virtually take away one side of the line of scrimmage like Nick Bosa. He seems much more under control and aware than he was in the spring. Meyer revealed Young has been playing through a bit of an ankle injury.
Dwayne Haskins is the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for third time. I've heard some complaining Trace McSorley deserved the award over Haskins based on his 461 yards of total offense. But, let's keep one thing in mind, when the game was on the line, Haskins twice led his team down the field for touchdowns. On Penn State's last two possessions, McSorley could manage just two first downs.
For all of the plays he made with his feet, McSorley is still just a so-so passer. He connected on just 50% of his throws last night and is under 54% for the season. Much like J.T. Barrett, he’ll make a few beautiful throws, but is capable of throwing some really bad balls. We saw lots of both Saturday night. When a team is running quarterback draws on third and long, like the Lions did numerous times, you know there isn’t a lot of confidence in the guy’s arm.
Ohio State’s linebackers have come under a lot of scrutiny, but I thought they played their best game. You don’t shut down a running back like Sanders without strong linebacker play. Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison, and Pete Werner combined for 21 tackles, 1 ½ sacks, and 2 ½ tackles-for-loss. Borland forced a fumble in the second quarter that led to the team’s first touchdown. All three were graded as "Champions" by the coaches.
Terry McLaurin was named by Ohio State as the Offensive Player of the Game. How much of a premium does Meyer put on blocking by his receivers? McLaurin did not catch a pass in the game. Young was named for defense, while McLaurin, Jeffrey Okudah, Justin Hilliard, and Drue Chrisman were honored for special teams. Chrisman’s high, floating punts allowed McLaurin and Okudah time to get downfield and force the Penn State returner to fair catch or limit them to minimal yardage. Chrisman had three punts of over fifty yards and had three downed inside the 20-yard line.
While Michigan is unquestionably Ohio State’s biggest rival, the Buckeyes are without question Penn State’s biggest. It’s their Super Bowl and they play like madmen against OSU. Time for everyone in scarlet and gray to understand that. I doubt if the Nittany Lion defense plays that well again all season. Tackling in their secondary is certainly an issue.
I’m hoping this game goes along way in helping Haskins mature as a quarterback. He’s was so good through the first four games, we forget how young he is. Yes, the offense struggled a lot and McSorely ran all over the place. But, considering how often PSU had to settle for a field goal or were stopped on downs, there were a lot of empty yards in his rushing total. In the end, the Buckeyes believed they would win and kept making plays when they had to. They are now in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten East. One more from Herb Brooks, “Success is won by those who believe in winning and then prepare for that moment.” The Buckeyes are a team that believes and prepares.
Oakland’s Gareon Conley intercepted a tipped pass from Baker Mayfield and returned it for a touchdown. Jonathan Hankins recovered two fumbles that the Raiders turned into touchdowns in their 45-42 OT win against the Browns.
Zeke Elliot rushed for 152 yards and caught passes for another 88 in the Cowboys win against the Lions. The 240 all-purpose yards are a career high. John Simon, who was signed this past week by the Patriots, had five tackles and a sack in their win over Miami.
Enjoy basking in this win as you relax and recover this week; that was a tough one. The Hoosiers come to town on Saturday.