I had, amongst others, two completely opposite interactions with Buckeye fans during the day on Saturday. Bright and early on Saturday morning, at our hotel, a Buckeye professor said sarcastically to multiple people at breakfast with his hands held high in mock surrender--"Go easy on us tonight, please"--with a twinkle in his eye that belied what he, and we all, believed would be the case--there was no need for any ease, as his Scarlet and Grey would likely run away with the game.
Then, throughout the day as we hung out tailgating, good friend of BSD Humble Buckeye had a different take. Most of us thought the Vegas line of the game, which started out at 11.5 points before climbing to settle around 13 to 13.5 at gametime, was inexplicably low; I myself predicted that the score would be 35-17, Ohio State, and thought a 18 point differential would be respectable. Humble, though, rightly as it turns out, talked me down and said that Vegas normally knows things that the rest of us didn't--and there was a reason why the line was so low, and that the oddsmakers thought it would be a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Well, as you fine folks of BSD now know, it was indeed a one score game in the fourth quarter; in fact, it turned out to be a no score game in the fourth quarter.
What can I say about this game that hasn't already been said? The refereeing was a catastrophe, such a joke that Brad Nessler got pissed and the mothership weighed in mid-game--and postgame. Any other team would be well within reason to fold after that joke of a first half--hell, I would have expected it out of THIS team four weeks ago. But this Penn State squad rallied, fought back, and played their hearts out--nearly beating out both the Buckeyes and the refereeing crew that previously gave the squad defeat from the jaws of victory, and taking an Ohio State squad that Urban Meyer declared needed a statement victory and giving them more than they could handle.
The defense, which I've been praising since preseason as much improved and probably since around week 2 as one of the best in the conference, has shown itself to be the tops in the league, holding JT Barrett and co, previously averaging 46.5 points per game in regulation, to just 17 in four quarters--really, 7 if the refs don't get involved. They averaged 533 yards a game, and the Penn State D held them to under 300. Yes, over 200 of that was on the ground--bye, bye, #1 ranked rush defense--but holy hell, what stops when they needed them.
And if you want to talk halftime adjustments? Many have been down on the staff for not making them, and yet this game was basically a tale of two halves. All of Ohio State's regulation points came in the first; all of Penn State's came in the second. If that doesn't smack of halftime adjustments, changing your game plan and finding what works and going with it, I don't know what does.
I haven't been this optimistic after a loss since the 2012 UVA game, when we also were ever so close to victory only to see a loss--but I saw glimpses of what was coming, and what this team can do in the future. Yes, ultimately Penn State lost last night, on paper to the Ohio State Buckeyes and possibly to another awful Big Ten reffing crew. But any Big Ten football coach that isn't scared shitless of Franklin and Co at the helm of a non-sanctions depleted Penn State after watching last night's game quite simply wasn't paying attention.
Three Completely Unrelated, Probably Useless Thoughts
1. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. You want one? Well, we've potentially got two. LB Mike Hull had 15 tackles at the start of the fourth quarter--and that was before his pick that led to this beautiful TD catch by Saeed Blacknall. In front of him is DT Anthony Zettel, who had his second game in a row with a pick--but this one he ran back for a TD. It'll be tough for the conference to decide which one gets POW, but one of them should. And both should be picking up post-season all-conference accolades, and playing many years in the future in the league.
2. We used the wildcat exactly once last night, and as soon as Christian Hackenberg split out wide a collective, loud groan went up in my area of WCU. But--what's this--IT ACTUALLY WORKED?!? The call to Bill Belton in the first OT, a direct wildcat snap, run up the middle, actually went in for a TD--and was confirmed despite being reviewed by the abysmal video crew and their apparent crap equipment. Thank heaven for small miracles.
3. The one thing I wanted to see out of the Ohio State game was no catastrophic injuries...and the first play saw Zach Zwinak be carted off the field with what looks to be a lower-leg injury. No word on what that injury is, and whether we'll see him again his senior year; with Franklin's policy on non-disclosure, we may not hear more. The offense actually didn't seem to miss him too much, and even more surprising didn't seem to miss Donovan Smith--who went down with an undisclosed injury following Blacknall's TD catch. Smith didn't play again in the game, though he did leave the field under his own weight, with some help; immediately after Smith went down, the offense switched Angelo Mangiro out to tackle, and had Wendy Laurent in at center.
We wish both Zwinak and Smith speedy recoveries, whatever their injuries are.