At high (Big?) noon last Saturday, the Penn State Nittany Lions traveled to Columbus, Ohio to meet the Ohio State Buckeyes in a contest of American football at Ohio Stadium. After a hard fought battle, the Nittany Lions fell, 28-17. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:
- Pretty much how I felt entering Saturday against the Buckeyes.
2. You all can deride me as a pessimist (that’d be a first), but honestly, Ohio State walked in as 19 point favorites and Penn State has shown itself to be a top 10 team. That’s not normal.
3. At least we knew Ohio State was a historically dominant team before we walked into the Horseshoe and could plan accordingly. Still, Ohio State showing itself to be a historically dominant team is frustrating.
4. It’s not that I think Ryan Day isn’t a good coach. Coaching matters, no matter how much talent you have, and a bad coach can screw up a team with enormous talent. In that respect, you have to give Day credit for steering the ship right.
5. That said, life is a lot easier for a new coach when you have Chase Young on one side of the ball and Justin Fields on the other.
6. I think Ryan Day is solid, even pretty good. But if you were a lower tier Power 5 program that hired Ryan Day last season after firing your coach, would you have been ecstatic over the hire? Was he the hot choice for coaching vacancies?
7. I expect that we will know how good Ryan Day really is in about 4 years. It is nice, though, to be born on third base.
8. The Buckeyes’ impressive depth is a credit to Urban Meyer’s recruiting and the manner in which he managed OSU for 7 years. The existence of Chase Young and Justin Fields in this game is a credit to the NCAA.
9. Isn’t it convenient that Chase Young managed to be so well rested for this game?
10. Honestly, though, I still can’t figure out how Justin Fields managed to become instantly eligible for Ohio State. That decision may have changed the trajectory of college football.
11. To me, the difference in this game was Ohio State’s third down efficiency. And the reason for that efficiency was Justin Fields. Without him, this game is essentially a toss up. And without him, Ohio State’s season might be very, very different.
12. The first two drives tell the story well. Penn State played this game to win field position, and in that respect, the first offensive drive was a win. Hamler pops a solid return that gets things going at the 40 yard line. In a difficult road environment, Clifford escapes pressure and gets a few yards on first down, then directs a drive that moves the chain once and, frankly, should’ve moved it twice.
13. Still, not going 3-and-out against this top ranked defense is a good start, and means we’re kicking from their side of the 50. Blake Gillikin’s punt is downed inside the 10, and Penn State has put the Buckeyes against the wall out of the gate.
14. Giving up a 22 yard run from JK Dobbins out of the gate was ugly, but the defense then proceeded to force consecutive third downs. On the first, Fields scrambles for 14. On the next, a 3rd and 12 that should have gotten the ball back to the Nittany Lions, Fields picks up 17 on the ground.
15. Those conversions are backbreakers. You have the chance to get off the field against a talented team and keep the field position game at a stalemate, if not at your advantage. Instead, the opposing quarterback converts twice.
16. It’s only all the more frustrating when you realize that the opposing quarterback was supposed to be on your team. But that’s another story for another day.
17. Chase Young is a great player and had a very good game, but I felt like the announce team was trying to force the narrative. Every time Ohio State’s defense makes a great play, it’s not Chase Young. There are 10 other players on the field and they played very well. Maybe we should give them some credit too?
18. You all know my love for Gus Johnson. Except when my team is on the receiving end of it.
19. Someone needs to de-couple him from Joel Klatt, who is actively getting worse.
20. What exactly was Klatt seeing on the clear fumble that made him think it wouldn’t be overturned? The ball was obviously out before Fields crossed the goal line.
21. Going back and looking at the stats, you realize how well Penn State’s defense played from a macro level. Ohio State had four drives in the first half (not including the last possession before halftime), and Penn State forced a punt on one and a turnover on another. One drive presented multiple opportunities to get off the field, but the aforementioned third down conversion rate was rough. The last drive took 11 plays to go 48 yards and featured two Ohio State fourth down conversions en route to a touchdown.
22. Ugh, that first fourth down conversion was just painful. Who didn’t know Fields was running on 4th and 5?
23. I didn’t have any real opinion on JK Dobbins personally until he made that statement last week wondering why this would be a game in the fourth quarter. I was underwhelmed by him this week. I think he’s quite a good player and he compiled impressive yardage totals, but I didn’t find him to be the game changer that Fields was here, for instance.
24. I love what Journey Brown has turned into. That was an outstanding performance against a very good defense, which makes me think we should have focused on getting him the ball more in the first half.
25. That drop on the slant, though, is haunting.
26. You have to be impressed by Will Levis’ performance, but anyone who thinks this week was the beginning of a quarterback controversy is just looking for one.
27. Levis is a big dude and runs like one. He’s a fun freight train and he has a future here.
28. The passing and pocket presence still needs quite a bit of work, which was demonstrated by the ill-timed interception and the last two drives of the game.
29. Meanwhile, Clifford has converted first downs to tight ends on bouncing snaps in consecutive weeks. How often does that happen?
30. Evidently we can just expect that to be the case now.
31. That kind of improvisation is what made Trace McSorley special and what shows me that Clifford hasn’t reached his ceiling. Not that anyone should expect that to be the case.
32. If he’s hurt, he should sit this week. It’s Rutgers, it’s at home, and he’s a sophomore. Give Levis a chance to run the offense and take a few weeks to rest before our bowl game against an actual quality opponent.
33. Someone pointed out that the difference makers for Penn State this week were Lamont Wade and Micah Parsons, two superstar recruits among a team of quality players. Of course, the problem is that Ohio State has a veteran team full of superstar recruits.
34. Glad to see Wade have the game of his life after nearly transferring in the offseason. These moments are why you stay and develop.
35. We often are more critical of our own team than the others we see. We expect Alabama, but forget that virtually no one is what we picture Alabama to be...including Alabama.
36. Thankfully, we have the College Football Playoff poll to remind everyone that Penn State is a really good team - top 10, don’t you know?
37. Seeing the rankings and knowing how this game played out makes the Minnesota loss hurt more retroactively. A 10-1 Penn State team whose only loss is to #1 Ohio State on the road is probably 4th in the country.
38. So close, yet so far.
39. I’ve really appreciated this season and I’m sorry that it’s coming to a close so soon. Let’s all enjoy a holiday with family and friends, then let’s remind Rutgers why they’re in the Big Ten basement.
40. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
41. We are...