To beat Ohio State, we knew, everything would have to go our way.
And so, of course, absolutely nothing did, which led to, well, this, and there's no use spelling it out because we all watched it.
We knew we'd have to contain Braxton Miller; he slipped out of a half dozen tackles, scrambled his way for big gains, or bought himself time with his legs, and hit wide open receivers. We knew we'd have to stop Carlos Hyde from running through the defense; he powered through two and three Nittany Lions at a time and gained, aside from his 40-yards-untouched touchdown run, the majority of his yards after first contact. We knew we'd have to avoid making big mistakes; the first three Penn State drives featured two interceptions and a fumble. We knew we'd have to stick around early, we knew we'd have to get some calls, we knew that Ohio State was more talented and so we had to be better coached and better prepared and better inspired, and so, of course, none of those could have happened.
Two weeks ago, Al Borges stubbornly refused to change course from a gameplan that clearly wasn't working. Urban Meyer, on the other hand, recognized what did from the first series--and shocker, it was the same playbook anyone who watched the Indiana game could've drawn up; this was Indiana part two, but with better personnel and better coaching on the other side. Ohio State is a damn good team, a national title contender, and even the most steadfast of Penn State homers--hell, the vast majority of this site's writership--could've told you they were going to win this game. And yet, somehow, it was even more disheartening than we could've predicted, despite how obvious it was.
Despite the fact that we had an 18-year old quarterback playing his first road game outside of Bloomington, despite the fact that we were playing at the #4 team in the country, a team on a 19--now 20--game winning streak, despite the fact that at the end of the day, we're still down to 57 scholarship players, more than a handful of whom wouldn't have been at Penn State if we weren't down to 57 scholarship players, going against a team with 85, almost all of them parts of top-5 or top-10 recruiting classes, despite the fact that we were 16-point dogs, despite the fact we were playing for nothing more than a chance to ruin the season of a team that refuses to acknowledge that this is a rivalry, this still hurts, though it would've hurt more if we didn't have the last two and a half hours of that shitshow of a game to build up our emotional defense mechanisms. At least we had the opportunity to put this one behind us while it was still ongoing, took the chance to move on with our Saturday night, even if we didn't change the channel.
What's there that can be said? The Buckeyes are a good football team, and this Penn State one is a talented but extremely flawed one, flawed, especially defensively, in ways that are blatant and clear and easy for any well-coached offense to exploit, and flawed on offense with youth and with inexperience, destined to repeat the past because they must before it gets any better. It's not that Penn State didn't learn from the Indiana game, it's almost that they couldn't, and they certainly won't, so don't get your hopes up for any improvement the rest of the way.Trevor Williams wasn't a culprit tonight, but Jordan Lucas and Adrian Amos aren't going to somehow turn into Bradley Roby and Darqueze Dennard any time soon. Penn State has tried, with varying successes, to cover for a talent deficiency with coaching in its secondary for decades now, but it's not 2008 anymore and this is what happens when the talent is worse and the coaching is far worse, and the guy going against you is Urban Meyer.The talent isn't there, but then there's finding a scheme that puts your players in the best position to succeed, and whatever the hell John Butler is doing clearly isn't working. The first defensive breakdown came about a minute in, when Devin Smith caught a pass with no Nittany Lion defender within 20 yards, and they didn't stop until Meyer finally, sort of, and not entirely convincingly took his foot of the gas in the fourth quarter. We criticized Ted Roof last year, but at least he seemed to understand the concept of being a defensive coordinator. John Butler had long been a special teams coach and then directed the mediocre-at-best defensive backs last year before getting a promotion because he's Bill O'Brien's buddy.
Like we said after UCF, and then after Indiana, and now again tonight, it's entirely clear that he's not capable of being a defensive coordinator. Despite everything else that's happened these last few years, we're Penn State, and we shouldn't be embarrassed like this, not on a regular basis against every decent offense we line up against. For the first time in 114 years, Penn State has allowed more than 40 points in three straight games. I don't know what the answer is, but something has to change, because right now, inertia isn't our friend.
There are excuses for the offense: Christian Hackenberg is a freshman, and he is getting better, and he hasn't been in anything remotely like this kind of position before, so can we really fault him for struggling, even as mightily as he did? His two interceptions were brutal, so were his incessant overthrows of wide-open receivers, and so was his lack of any internal clock that would've allowed him to avoid the constant Ohio State pressure. These are the growing pains we must endure along with him. Unlike his defensive counterpart, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien had the right idea: running the ball with Bill Belton worked, and he was great--after yet another unforced fumble, Zach Zwinak sure better be a firm #2, maybe #3, on the depth chart next week--and early on, even when Hack misfired, there were open receivers. The issues were in the execution. But then the game was over, so quickly, that no matter what Penn State did, it wouldn't have been enough.
And though it wasn't even remotely a proximate cause of Penn State's loss, I can't go this long without mentioning how unconscionably bad the officiating was. Of course, I need the caveat: even if every one of these calls, and literally every other close call, went the Nittany Lions' way, we still lose this game, and we still lose by a lot. But this was almost a replay of last year's game, at least in the first half while it still almost mattered: Ohio State's offensive line sprung Miller loose with flagrant and conspicuous holds that were glaring to everyone but the referees. After a play was blown dead, an Ohio State defender was able to run over Christian Hackenberg, who'd long since dropped the ball. And on a bomb down the sideline to Allen Robinson, Bradley Roby not only pushed Robinson out of bounds and tugged at his jersey, but literally pulled him down before the pass came without drawing a flag, and yes, Dave Witvoet is probably more stunningly incompetent than shamelessly one-sided, but you could've fooled me, or anyone else watching the game. The fact that the Big Ten employs him, and trots him out for primetime games like this, would be an indictment on the conference if it weren't for the fact that referees across the country seem to be just as bad, so what the hell's the difference, anyway.
Listen: The sun will come up tomorrow. We'll beat Illinois next week. Let's just wipe the slate clean and never speak of this again. Literally everything that could have gone wrong did. All there's left to do is hope that Christian Hackenberg's okay, and drink until we forget this game. The latter will accomplish a whole lot more than the former. We beat these guys just as bad twenty years ago, and they had a full compliment of scholarships, and a 9-win team that only lost one other Big Ten game. Anyway, what comes around goes around.
And by the way, the year after that beatdown? The Buckeyes won 11 games, and the Rose Bowl.
Here's some more solace: Urban Meyer, the absolute slimeball who called for an onside kick at the end of the first half, ran up the score throughout the third quarter, and up 56-7 challenged a first down spot, aside from all the crap he pulled down in Gainesville, isn't our coach, and that might not have been the case if the NCAA hadn't swung its hammer of justice two summers ago. Give me Bill O'Brien any day. Ride or die with his group of fighters. I just can't wait until we're back at full strength, BOB's at the helm, and it's our turn to return the favor.
No grades tonight. No more dwelling on the past. This game is over, and it can't hurt us anymore, and we will bounce back, just like we always bounce back, because above all else, We Are...