On spooky Saturday evening, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Ohio State Buckeyes engaged in a contest of American football at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania – the first such contest in that stadium this season. White Out conditions were initially expected, but ultimately the forecast was significantly altered due to a once in a hundred years global pandemic. The Buckeyes emerged victorious, 38-25. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:
1. We’re honoring Election Day/Week in this week’s Random Thoughts.
2. As is usually the case, the more distance we all got from last week’s officiating debacle, the better we felt. By Saturday morning, I’m quite sure we all felt fairly confident.
3. We probably should have known better. This game, like the week before and the last several games against the Buckeyes, wasn’t exactly what Penn Staters were looking for.
4. White Out week is special. You hear Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler talk about it glowingly for a reason. Even the most objective observers can see what we biased fans have grown accustomed to – Penn State in October under the lights against the best opponent on the home schedule is a sight to behold.
5. The atmosphere – the uncommon roar of 110,000 strong clad in all white – does provide some tangible advantage to the Nittany Lions. It doesn’t make up for every talent deficit, but it certainly changes the dynamic and gives the home team a little something extra.
6. This year, though, there was no White Out. Cardboard cutouts can be fun and funny, and they certainly help support a worthy cause (https://thon.org/athletics). They do not, however, give anything extra to the home team. So instead of coming out like this:
7. It looked a lot more like this:
8. I mean, seriously, 62 yards on the first play?
9. I appreciate that James Franklin and Kirk Ciarrocca felt the need to adjust after seeing that out of the gate. With that kind of start and Ohio State’s potential to score at will, keeping up was a logical choice. I have no qualms about going for it on 4th down during the opening drive whatsoever.
10. I am, however, not thrilled with the fact that we threw a low percentage pass on 4th and 2 that ended in a turnover on downs.
11. Ohio State with the ball at the Penn State 45? How’s that going to go?
12. And just like that, it was 14-0.
13. Credit the team for not fully collapsing right there. After last week against Indiana and the first 3 drives combined here, that wasn’t out of the question. The fact that they fought the game to a virtual draw the rest of the way is something.
14. The problem with fighting to a virtual draw after you’ve given up two quick touchdowns, though, it that you end up still down by two touchdowns when the whistle blows.
15. It’s become readily apparent that this team is missing its playmakers and that’s an enormous difference between these two teams. It’s not that the defense is poor, but Micah Parsons mere presence just changes the entire structure. He was, perhaps, the best defensive player in America, and now he’s not there. The linebacker corps is excellent and filled with highly recruited, young talent, but none of them, at the moment, is Micah Parsons.
16. …Although Brandon Smith does give me similar vibes.
17. It’s also not as if the offense itself is poor. They have talent in spots, and that became readily apparent as the evening went on and became Jahan Dotson’s coming out party. But Journey Brown is a gamebreaker. Noah Cain churns yards. Without them, Kirk Ciarrocca can’t rely on the weapons he would normally wish to rely on.
18. After Ohio State’s missed field goal, Penn State finished the half by running 9 plays for 4 yards. That’s dreadful. Ohio State is excellent, but those are 2004-esque offensive numbers and there is exactly zero reason for something like that to be the case.
19. So we go into the locker room at 21-3…
20. …wait a minute…
21. He kneeled down with 1 second on the clock? How did they even see that?
22. Honestly, I thought Ryan Day was going to tackle the officials.
23. No offense to Jordan Stout, but I just assumed we would miss that field goal. It’s Halloween, the world is strange, and this game hadn’t exactly been going well. So when he made it?
24. Ok, so 21-6 and Penn State has the ball. Maybe we’ll score at the beginning of the second half and make this a game?
25. That was the offense I was looking for the entire game (and really, through the first 6 quarters of the season). Quick passes, good decisions, getting the ball into the hands of Penn State’s playmakers and letting them take the pressure off of Sean Clifford. And would you look at that?
26. An eight play, 75-yard drive in under four minutes is exactly what you’d draw up coming out of the locker room. Penn State has 10 unanswered points and looks like it got the break it needed to get.
27. 21-13, and a stop from a defense that has, generally speaking, played well since the middle of the first quarter has everyone thinking this could be a ball game if the planets align just right.
28. You make plans and God laughs.
29. Justin Fields is outstanding. The world in which he ends up as Penn State’s quarterback is one that I’d rather not even think about. More than anything else, he’s the difference between these two teams. So, of course he throws a 49-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave to take the wind out of Penn State’s sails.
30. Lost in the final score is the fact that Penn State had a nice four drive run – touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown. They got the ball in the hands of the right people, Clifford made good decisions, and, oh, Jahan Dotson made two impossible catches for 58 yards on consecutive plays.
31. A one-handed touchdown grab?
32. At this point, it’s 31-19 and the game is still somewhere within reach if the Lions play with pace and make a few key stops. It can happen, right?
33. Justin Fields again. Two fourth down conversions to put the game completely out of reach. Sure.
34. Brutal pick by Clifford to close this one out. Ultimately, it didn’t particularly matter and it was obviously he felt like he needed to go out and make something happen. That’s who he is. It’s an interesting stylistic contrast with Fields, who is appears completely composed at all times.
35. When Clifford is able to make quick decisions and the offense runs with pace, he plays quite well. But this particular offense has, at times, looked like it’s stuck in slow motion.
36. It clearly takes time for new coordinators to install an offense. Joe Moorhead didn’t look like a superstar until several weeks in. But I have some concerns that there is little sense of urgency. I’ll be curious to see how that plays out in the coming weeks.
37. I’ve always been more patient than most, and I suspect that I’m riding solo on that train these days. 0-2 is hardly the start you’d have been looking for, and of course Penn State tumbled out of the top 25. It’s disappointing. That doesn’t mean, to me, that they are measurably worse than we expected before the year started. They looked disjointed and lost to a decent Indiana team on a bad call at the goal line in week 1. This week, they got flat out beat by a better team with a better quarterback.
38. Lots of “Fire Franklin” talk going on, which brings me right back to last week.
39. I’m still not sure why every loss in the James Franklin era creates an existential crisis that requires us to deliver our analysis of the “state of the program.” I’m just not interested in doing that every week.
40. You can’t say enough about Dotson’s performance. Reminiscent of Barkley’s 2015 game against the Buckeyes. That 2015 was outclassed by an excellent OSU team that featured a pro quarterback and an All-Pro running back, and was coached by one of the best of all time. This Ohio State team is exceptionally talented, and Dotson put up nearly 150 yards receiving against a secondary that has multiple All-America types.
41. It is what it is. Maryland looks to be a good rebound game. Get the win and let’s get ourselves collected.
42. In the meantime, this week…
43. What’s next?
44. We are…