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42 Random Thoughts on Ohio State

Random musings and general discussion on the weekend that was against the Buckeyes in the Shoe.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Penn State Nittany Lions and the Ohio State Buckeyes squared off in Columbus on Saturday night on ABC. It was a fairly large game. I have a decent amount to say about it.

1. Since the dawn of time (or 1993, whichever you prefer), Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have had this "rivalry" conversation that often plays out like this -

Penn State - "Hey, look, it's Ohio State - our rivals."

Ohio State - "No, we're totally not rivals because Michigan is our rival."

Enough already. I don't particularly care whether Ohio State considers us rivals or not, but I think the telecast made the national opinion perfectly clear. Bordering states + recruiting battles + traditional power teams + large fan bases + same conference + same division + night games + alternate uniforms = rivals. Chris Fowler must have said the word at least 5 times prior to kickoff. We're not going to matter to Ohio State as much as Michigan, but this is a game that the Big Ten features even when one of the teams is having a down year because the teams care about beating each other.

2. The primary reason that Penn Staters get so geared up for a game against the Buckeyes is because they provide the measuring stick by which we judge our teams. Unfortunately for us, we have not passed that test as often as we would prefer over the last 15 years. There are a variety of reasons for that, but suffice to say that this game matters because the Buckeyes have turned themselves into the most dominant program in the Big Ten. No one is going to be satisfied until we make this series a bit more even.

3. Those black uniforms looked sharp under the lights. I like the idea of the Black Out, but it doesn't pop on the screen the same way that white or red does. We've tried these "Code Blue" days with similar (non) success. Maybe we should all just agree to go with bright colors for these sorts of moments.

4. You could feel the atmosphere in the Horseshoe coming through the screen on Saturday night. That feeling does not exist with even the best professional football teams. There's nothing better than prime time college football.

5. We should all know by now that Urban Meyer is the best coach in college football, and the team he has recruited at Ohio State is a juggernaut. It was not unreasonable to hope that Penn State would cover a 17-point spread, but it absolutely was unreasonable to expect that Penn State would win this game if it caught a few breaks. Meyer is a better coach that James Franklin and Ohio State, as a team, is a metric ton more talented than Penn State. Neither of these statements is a slight to James Franklin or Penn State in the least.

6. Also useful for Penn Staters to keep in mind as they review James Franklin's performance as head coach - Urban Meyer is the best coach in college football and even he makes completely head scratching, befuddling decisions, both micro and macro. Case in point - Cardale Jones starting over JT Barrett.

7. The difference between Akeel Lynch and the trio of freshman backs who have carried the load over the last several weeks could not be starker. Lynch taking his first handoff in weeks for a 10-yard gain was exactly the kind of start that Penn State needed, and showed his best attributes - downhill runner, quick to a hole, gets what is blocked.

8. Nice piece of work by the left side of the line on that as well.

9. The Hackenberg-Godwin pass is exactly what we've been expecting this offense to produce all season. Nice route, perfect pass, broken tackle, and room to run. This team lives and dies on explosive plays. We knew that they had to make them in order to upset the defending national champions, but none of us knew whether they would be able to do so in this environment. This was a nice confidence booster.

10. I would have liked to have seen a touchdown on that opening drive, but it's hard to argue with points on the first drive in a particularly hostile environment. I'll take it.

11. Bob Shoop's defense started out strong. Jones looked a bit rattled against the front seven and had a hard time controlling his passes. You literally could not have asked for a better start to this game that an early score and a three-and-out.

12. Saquon Barkley is the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.

13. Also, that nickname is catching on.

14. Seriously, the kid is outstanding. I wouldn't take any other running back in the country over him, including Fournette and Elliott, who I believe are the nation's best. Barkley's potential is over the moon.

15.  I watched most of the game with a non-Penn Stater who is a serious sports fan. His reaction to watching Barkley live for the first time is exactly the reason that I have faith in this coaching staff and the future of the program. His eyes were glued to the screen because Barkley is "fun to watch." We've had plenty of good running backs come through this program in the last 10 years, but Saquon Barkley brings something electric to the table. Among a group of competent players, he stands out. Once James Franklin's recruits are entrenched, the hope and expectation is that Barkley won't be the only one who brings this kind of reaction.

16. Mike Gesicki. I can't even. All-American level athlete. Needs to stand in front of a jugs machine for a month.

17. The holding call on Gaia was legitimate in slow motion. I watched the play live and didn't see it. I also watched the play on replay and didn't notice it. It had little to no impact on the play aside from it occurring on the play side. It was a silly hold by Gaia and a silly call by the officials.

18. Of course, this becomes inevitably more frustrating when it becomes known that Ohio State, who often visibly holds defenders, hasn't been called for holding in over a year. That's nearly unfathomable. I don't think that Ohio State is any worse of an offender than any other team (including us, frankly), but that's a legitimate gripe to raise to Big Ten officials.

19. Fundamentally, holding calls are almost too subjective for me to handle. My feeling is that unless it's a clear instance of an offensive player getting beat and holding despite getting turned around or it has a direct effect on the outcome of the play, it shouldn't be called. The enforcement always feels uneven.

20.  Penn State needed to play an A+ game in order to contend with Ohio State. It had a chance to be up three touchdowns early in the game. At a bare minimum, the score should have been 10-0. Double digit leads by underdogs change game plans and force favorites into playing outside of their comfort zone.

21. The difference between Penn State and Ohio State is that as long as Ohio State stays close, they are talented enough to stumble over themselves for extended periods of time. Penn State does not have that luxury. Penn State has exactly one player that can be counted on as a homerun threat on any single play, plus Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton, who are capable of making big plays if a confluence of factors (including actual pass protection) works in their favor. Ohio State has two quarterbacks, a running back, and a wide receiver/quarterback, all of whom are capable of taking it to the house at any given moment.

22. The Barrett/Jones situation is a perfect case study in the viability of a read option scheme. The offense attempts to be more "pro style" with Jones, and more often than not he ends up looking like Christian Hackenberg. When Barrett checks in, the offense is permitted to run as it is intended. That's the offense where Barrett set a conference record for total touchdowns last year. It's also the offense that gave Tim Tebow the platform to become one of the best college football players ever.

23. Penn Staters trip all over themselves to call for a "pro style" offense run by Christian Hackenberg. Hack is one of the most purely talented pocket passers ever, from a physical standpoint. In an O'Brien offense, I am certain he would play better than he is now, at least statistically. But for my money, having a quarterback who can make plays with legs on a regular basis is the best bet for success in college football. Penn Staters need to stop thinking of dual threat QBs as "gimmicks." The running QB wasn't a gimmick when Zack Mills, Michael Robinson, or Daryll Clark played, and it's not a gimmick now.

24. Hackenberg has illustrated an ability to make plays with his feet before. He's reticent to do so, but it works. I wish it worked a bit better on Saturday.

25. That was a nasty gash that Hack had on his leg. Glad they were able to patch him up.

26. I don't agree with play calling critics this week  I could've used a bit more play action, but come on. We had a running back who was getting 8 yards per carry.  The offense had opportunities to break this game open (see Random Thought Nos. 16, 17 and 20) and failed to do so because the players failed to execute. That's on them.

27.   The final score is not indicative of the way this game played out.  Penn State withstood a second quarter barrage and managed to stay within striking distance through most of the second half.

28. The first Penn State drive of the second half was perfect. Three big plays made by the team's best 4 players.

29. Chris Godwin looked like a beast on that 56-yard catch and drag. I say drag because he was literally dragging a defender down the field.  It's hard to believe he's only a sophomore. I'm truly excited to see what he looks like as a senior.

30. Saquon Barkley followed that pitch and catch with yet another 14-yard run. Nice work.

31. DaeSean Hamilton made a nice move on that touchdown grab. That might have been the best screen pass that Hack has thrown all year, and it gave Hamilton the opportunity to make defenders miss on the way to the end zone. Nice work by both parties.

32. If you want to point fingers, punting lost us this game. We were behind in field position all game. Twenty-five yard punts that end up on our own 40-yard line provide problems for the defense first, then the offense. We're either down another score or in terrible position to put together a competent drive. If we're going to play field position, we have to have special teams deliver. The punting severely hampers this team's ability to make something happen.

33. I can't believe I made it 33 thoughts without mentioning Joey Bosa. My apologies. Joey Bosa is a very impressive player. Watching him drive Andrew Nelson and Brian Gaia back in Hack in less than 3 seconds was enlightening on two levels - (a) Joey Bosa is really, really good; (b) our offensive line needs a lot of help.

34. What was supposed to happen on the snap that hit Brandon Polk in the chest? Was he supposed to receive a direct snap on the sweep? Was the snap mistimed?

35. We're very quick to blame the offense, which is understandable. It has underperformed. On Saturday, the defense underperformed and it cost Penn State dearly. The tackling was, on many plays, non-existent. We showed no understanding of how to defend the read option. At the end of the day, we gave Ohio State far too many second chances and their playmakers made us pay for them.

36. Still, Carl Nassib, though. Another outstanding performance in the pass rush. If we set the over a 20 sacks, is anyone taking the under at this point?

37. If Penn State scores from the Ohio State 13 early in the fourth quarter, it's a 7-point game with 10 minutes to play.  That changes the game significantly.

38. I'm sorry, but I can't criticize a 3rd-and-2 call where we hand the ball to Saquon Barkley. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry for the game.

39. I absolutely will criticize a 4th-and-2 call where Hack passed without any play action. Why, exactly, are we doing that?

40. I'm not going to criticize anyone for Hackenberg staying in the game. He was cleared to play and we weren't blowing anyone out. I'm not going to concede anything as long as Ohio State still has its own starters out there.

41. In the end, we were competitive against the No. 1 team in the country and the defending national champions. We withstood a surge of points and managed to keep within striking distance before the wheels fell off. We played a very average game, did not take advantage of the opportunities that were placed in front of us, and were beaten soundly by a better football team. These are things that happen.

42. This result is not a referendum on Christian Hackenberg, the Penn State coaching staff, the offensive line, or the Penn State defense. Watching the meltdown that occurred across the Nittany Lion Internet was somewhat stunning. We were heavy underdogs for a reason. But the future is bright, the young playmakers made big plays on the big stage in view of the entire nation. Let's see what they can do the rest of the way.