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68 Random Thoughts on Ohio State

Musings on Nittany Lion heartbreak and Buckeye triumph

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

My standard introduction doesn’t do this justice and needs to be reformulated.

In college football’s game of the year, the #2 Penn State Nittany Lions traveled west to Columbus to face off against the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes. After a game in which the two rivals left it all on the field, the Scarlet and Gray completed a furious fourth quarter comeback to shock the Blue and White. My thoughts, to the extent I can articulate them, are set forth randomly below.

  1. This sucks.
  2. What if I told you that Penn State would win time of possession, win the turnover battle, lead by 15 points heading into the 4th quarter, and score 38 points in the Horseshoe?
  3. Right, which is what makes this so unpleasant.
  4. Blackouts are cool and all, but they don’t measure up to a White Out. Although the fans sure looked amped for this game.
  5. We’re not rivals, though.
  6. If Penn State had won this game, Saquon Barkley taking the opening kick to the house would be the defining moment of the Heisman race. Big players make big plays in big games when it matters. Nothing could have mattered more than the Truth accelerating up the left side of the field and scoring to silence 104,000 people on the game’s opening play.
  7. Now, it’s just one of the big moments of his season. That moment, unfortunately, ended up being swallowed by much of the fourth quarter.
  8. For what it’s worth, Barkley is still the best player in the country, and, with all due respect to JT Barrett’s performance, it’s not that close.
  9. Barkley’s statistics were mediocre on Saturday - 21 carries for 44 yards. 4 catches for 23 yards. Nothing to write home about. Or write Random Thoughts about.
  10. But to say he had a mediocre game would be inaccurate. The aforementioned return touchdown kick started this game into high gear, and a 36 yard run on Penn State’s 4th offensive possession. He converted several short yardage situations, a primary complaint from some detractors. He struggled behind an overmatched line, but put together not only highlight reel performances, but scored points against Ohio State in Columbus. For much of Penn State’s tenure in the Big Ten, that’s been difficult.
  11. That description doesn’t even begin to mention the advantage he provides by merely existing. A part of me believes that all of Koa Farmer’s return yards should be credited to Saquon Barkley. He’s so good, so electric, so dangerous, that Urban Meyer elected to essentially intentionally walk him rather than pitch to him on kickoffs. Barkley was so deep in Ohio State’s head that Farmer, a linebacker, found room for a 59 yard return as the upback.
  12. Gerald Hodges only wishes he had a shot to return in this game.
  13. Seriously, though, Farmer’s return was great, but wouldn’t it have made sense to put someone like Miles Sanders, DeAndre Thompkins, or Mark Allen in that spot?
  14. JK Dobbins is legit. Last year in this space, I remarked that I didn’t think Mike Weber was the answer for the Buckeyes at tailback. Thanks for proving me right, Urban. Dobbins is a heck of a true freshman who is going to turn into a great back by the end of his career.
  15. Speaking of Weber, I jumped off my couch when I saw him try to hurdle a defender and land squarely on his head. Thank goodness he didn’t break his neck. That could have been total disaster, and I’m thankful he was able to walk off the field under his own power.
  16. I can’t fathom, though, how he ended up back in the huddle on the very next play. Come on, guys. In the age of concussions, with all of the research that’s been done, why wouldn’t you rest him for a play (or a series) to make sure that he’s actually seeing straight?
  17. You couldn’t ask for a better start than 14-0. That was true last week, too, but Michigan managed to storm its way back to nearly even short thereafter. That lingered with me. But up 21-3? That seemed like a much more comfortable scenario.
  18. I’m already tired of hearing from our own fans that Ohio State blew us away and we should hope not to make the playoffs because “Alabama would maul us.” I just don’t understand the need for Penn Staters to discount their own team’s competitiveness.
  19. Yes, Penn State scored on a kick return. Yes, Penn State was the beneficiary to two turnovers and some short fields. Yes, Trace McSorley threw a touchdown pass that was initially (and wrongly) ruled an interception. Yes, Saquon Barkley had an explosive play for a touchdown, but found little running room otherwise. There’s no reason to discount any of it.
  20. Penn State has scored on kick returns twice this year, and once on punt returns. They’ve done well in the return game and regularly put itself in good field position. It’s not a fluke.
  21. Penn State has often caused turnovers, also putting itself in good field position. It’s not a fluke.
  22. Yes, Penn State often scores on YOLO big plays. McSorley to Thompkins is one. Barkley’s 36 yard sprint is another. These are not surprising.
  23. All of these things have happened in nearly every game since the beginning of the year, and much of it dating back to last year.
  24. Yes, Ohio State out gained Penn State significantly. They were also beaten on special teams, time of possession, and in the turnover battle. It was a one point game for a reason, and Penn State up by 15 in the fourth quarter was not accidental. Good teams get lots of yards. Good teams also perform well on special teams, create turnovers, and break big plays for touchdowns.
  25. Losing Ryan Buchholz and Ryan Bates was a big problem for this team. That’s the biggest problem Penn State has - quality depth. Ohio State has that in spades. It’s not an excuse, it’s a compliment to Buckeye recruiting over the last 7 (and really, 17) years. Someday soon we’ll have that kind of reloading capacity, but it’s not there just yet.
  26. Loved the time management at the end of the first half by James Franklin. That was outstanding. I was very, very displeased with the delay of game penalty that wasted that decision.
  27. Thirty seconds is plenty of time for this team to get into position to kick a field goal. Losing five yards made that more difficult. It’s the little things, always.
  28. My biggest fear was seeing Ohio State take the ball at the start of the third quarter and march down the field for a touchdown to cut the lead to 28-24. Holding them to a field goal there was critical. The perfect bend-but-don’t-break defensive series, causing Ohio State to be perfect. A characteristic false start negated much of what they were doing and put them behind the sticks in the red zone. Nice work there.
  29. Coming back down the field with a touchdown on the next series was exactly when I first believed Penn State would win this game comfortable. A methodical 10 play, 70 yard drive that featured two big third down conversions (one by McSorley on a 3rd and 11, one in short yardage by Barkley) and the aforementioned Thompkins touchdown.
  30. Admittedly, I thought that score was a pick in real time. Replay exists for a reason, though. I don’t even think overturning it was controversial. Touchdown was the right call every single time.
  31. The officiating in this game....woof.
  32. Let’s talk about pass interference for a minute. First of all, the officiating was consistent, but too ticky-tack for my tastes. Let these guys jostle a little bit. That got better in the second half, mostly.
  33. But seriously, it’s like this crew was a caricature of a referee squad. In the first half, Jonathan Holland drew a flag on Buckeye linebacker Jerome Baker for pass interference. Referee John O’Neill stood in front of the camera and called pass interference on “number 18.”
  34. Number 18 is Jonathan Holland. Baker wears number 17.
  35. This happened again on what looked to be a phantom pass interference call in the end zone that gave Penn State new life on an early offensive series. first, the right call was probably defensive holding, but whatever. Second, O’Neill once again called the penalty on the wrong player, this time mistaking the second Buckeye in coverage for the one who actually interfered. That created something of an online uproar and made everyone look ridiculous.
  36. tl;dr - B1G officials are, as usual, mistake ridden. It’s amateur hour over here, and a sad state of affairs.
  37. Two possessions after the Thompkins touchdown grab, Penn State had the chance to ice this game. After stuffing Barrett and Dobbins on several plays, the Buckeyes fumble on 3rd and 1. Shareff Miller recovers at the Ohio State 42. At this point, with 13 minutes left on the clock, Penn State could put the game out of reach with a 42-20 lead.
  38. We waited and waited and waited for the dagger...
  39. And instead, Barkley loses 7 yards on first down.
  40. Then McSorley can’t hit DaeSean Hamilton.
  41. Then, on 3rd and 17, Barkley runs for...six yards.
  42. And that’s it. 3 plays, lose a yard, and punt.
  43. That’s when every Penn Stater started shifting in their seat. This game could have been out of reach and the Lions well on their way to the top spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings.
  44. Instead, fluke play.
  45. That’s what we call blocked kicks in Penn State/Ohio State games, right? Fluke plays?
  46. That blocked punt was inevitable. It also immediately electrified the crowd. And here is where Ohio State showed Penn State how to do it. 2 plays, 41 yards, including a 38 yard touchdown strike from JT Barrett to Johnnie Dixon.
  47. If you’re keeping count, that’s a 14 point swing. Rather than up 22, Penn State is up 8 with all momentum heading in the Buckeye’s direction.
  48. The following drive, though, actually gave us all hope that the punt was just an aberration. Early in the drive, Penn State gives us a big McSorley run on a broken play, then big passing plays to Mike Gesicki (2x) and Saeed Blacknall. 1st and Goal inside the 7, and once again, the Nittany Lions can end this game.
  49. We waited and waited and waited for the dagger...
  50. And instead, McSorley runs for 3.
  51. Then McSorley runs for 1.
  52. Then Barkley loses 3 on an RPO.
  53. Three points is good. But 7 and the game is over.
  54. You know how the rest of this goes and it’s too frustrating to recount in detail. But I’ll say this...
  55. I watched the Rose Bowl once in Pasadena last year. I didn’t need to see it again in October in Columbus.
  56. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this offense, which was scoring on big plays and converting in the passing game, decided to go into its shell on multiple possessions in the fourth quarter. It doesn’t make any sense.
  57. It also made everyone question the offense. The truth is that Ohio State was firing on all cylinders and the defense was unable to contain it. Sometimes it happens, although that’s really where the team needed to make a play. Unfortunately, they were able to do it on the two point conversions, but not the rest of the way.
  58. I’ll reiterate that the offense scored 31 points. That’s remarkable, considering Penn State’s record in Columbus since joining the Big Ten.
  59. Somehow, only Penn State fans can look at those 31 points and thing, “You know what’s wrong? Not enough fullbacks.”
  60. And be serious about it.
  61. I love this team and this staff. I think James Franklin has this program headed in the right direction.
  62. This one hurt, though.
  63. I know this - Franklin’s “1-0 every week” mantra doesn’t just keep these guys focused on winning. It lets them let go of the losses.
  64. Fans have heartbreak, but players do work.
  65. Penn State probably doesn’t control its own destiny anymore, but there’s plenty to play for and still a shot at getting back into the top 4. Plenty to be motivated about.
  66. Cheer for #chaos.
  67. On to Sparty.
  68. We are...