by Tony Gerdeman
1. Ryan Day was a good hire.
Last week I wrote about one of the things that Ryan Day has brought to Ohio State, which he calls “one inching the defender.” Basically, what Day is asking his quarterbacks to do is skim the ball over the linebacker to the receiver behind that level of the defense. He doesn’t want a lot of loft on the ball, which is why he has his quarterbacks shoot for just an inch or so out of the defense’s reach. It has been an effective tool this season, and when the game was on the line Barrett one inched the linebacker, finding tight end Marcus Baugh in the end zone for the game winner.
2. Jordan Fuller is possibly an elite tackler.
There have been several tackles by Jordan Fuller this season that I didn’t expect him to make, and yet he has made almost all of them. I only say “almost” because I don’t remember them all, but I assume he’s missed some that he was supposed to. Against Penn State, Fuller was everywhere. He led the team with nine tackles, but his biggest tackle was also his most difficult. On third-and-2 late in the fourth quarter, Saquon Barkley took a hand-off and before he could head upfield, Fuller was already on him. Fuller came on a run blitz and he had Barkley dead ahead, but that’s not always good news for a defender. This is usually when Barkley becomes superhuman and makes the defender miss. Fuller wasn’t having it, however, and brought Barkley down all by himself for a 4-yard loss. Then again, who knows, maybe Barkley was superhuman on that play, and Fuller was just better.
3. The offensive line dominated.
The damnedest shame from this game is that if J.T. Barrett sells the quilt that he made while standing around in the pocket all Saturday night long, the NCAA will rule him ineligible. We often think of offensive lines dominating because of the rushing yards they create, and while the Buckeyes did rush for over 200 yards against a defense, the real domination here was in pass blocking. Barrett was able to go through his progressions throughout the game, but especially when the game was on the line. The offensive line was never better than when they absolutely had to be. They had an opportunity to make some kind of amends for what happened at Penn State last year, and they reached down for every last ounce of necessity and left the Nittany Lions waiting outside in the cold.
4. Zone 6 is legit.
Urban Meyer has said all season long that the culture of this group of receivers was as good or better than any he’s ever had. So many times his praise for the receivers has been met with eye rolls. After Saturday night, however, the only response should be nodding heads. Of J.T. Barrett’s 33 completions, 25 of them went to the receivers. Six different wide receivers caught passes, and Binjimen Victor wasn’t even one of them. He did draw a significant pass interference penalty, however. Austin Mack caught everything thrown his way — literally. Barrett threw six passes to him, and he caught all six of them. And they weren’t always easy catches. Parris Campbell left the game, but he says he’s okay. Terry McLaurin is producing down the field. K.J. Hill is the kind of security blanket that a quarterback needs when it’s cold and dark like it was Saturday night. And their blocking is even more impressive. Check out Austin Mack sometime.
5. The leaders responded.
Watching the game, the Buckeyes never really felt out of the game…until maybe J.T. Barrett’s fumble. At that point, doubt began to seep in for most, but not for Ohio State. Even after hanging his head following his fumble, Barrett gathered himself and rallied the troops. The troops, as it turned out, are always rallied and none of this was too much to bear. Middle linebacker Chris Worley was back flying around. Jerome Baker was looking like the Jerome Baker we expected from day one. J.T. Barrett did his thing. Sam Hubbard tackled an entire backfield. Jalyn Holmes took flight for a sack. The Ohio State coaches could not have asked anything more from their leaders and the culture that they have cultivated. The win was great for them, but the affirmation of the culture should never be overlooked.
6. J.T. Barrett is everything Urban Meyer has always said he was.
J.T. Barrett is the best quarterback in Ohio State school history. And that was before Saturday night’s performance against Penn State. Barrett completed 33-of-39 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 95 yards on 17 carries. The 423 yards of total offense was a school record, but it will be his fourth quarter of 13-of-13 passing for three touchdowns to bring the Buckeyes back that will live forever. Record books change with the seasons. History, however, remains. This was a historically great performance by a historically-criticized quarterback. Penn State does not have a great defense, but this was a very big game played with tons of pressure. Urban Meyer has tried to tell us all about J.T. Barrett. We didn’t always listen. We should now.
7. Kevin Wilson is an elite anticipator now.
Early in the season when the offense wasn’t what it is now, Kevin Wilson said he wasn’t doing a very good job of anticipating what a defense is going to do. Since then, however, he is doing so well anticipating a defense I almost think he’s calling plays for both the opposing defense and the Buckeye offense. Like playing himself in Euchre. And now that he’s living in Ohio again, it makes sense that he would be getting better at Euchre. Since the Oklahoma loss, Ohio State is averaging 604 yards of total offense per game.
8. The defensive line lived up to its billing.
I said it everywhere I’ve been over the last two weeks, the Ohio State defensive line was dying for this game. They couldn’t wait. Mostly, they couldn’t wait because it was a big game and they were going to get to play more snaps than they have in over a month. Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa kept Trace McSorley on edge, and Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes put him on his back. What they did to the Penn State offensive line and Saquon Barkley, however, was as impressive as anything we’ve seen from Ohio State this season. The Buckeyes had the advantage up front, but an advantage doesn’t always apply to Barkley. It did in this one, however. Penn State had a 5-point lead and the ball with 4:14 to play in the game. They didn’t have to give the ball back if they could get a first down or two. Two snaps later and the Nittany Lions were faced with a third-and-19 thanks to two tackles of Barkley in the backfield. The entire Ohio State team was feeding off of each other. The defensive line picked up where the offense left off in what was almost a perfect fourth quarter.
9. Special teams should be banned.
Obviously, special teams are too complicated to continue incorporating it into the game of football. Or maybe it’s just too complicated for Ohio State. Urban Meyer’s decision to kick to Saquon Barkley was a show of confidence in his kicker and coverage units, but it was also a display of arrogance that his players and plan were better than Barkley. Especially when you consider the struggles they have had in this very area this season. After the game, Meyer said he didn’t want to talk about the kickoff coverage, but acknowledged some personnel changes are going to be made. Allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown to Barkley isn’t unacceptable, but kicking to him might be. And if your kick coverage unit is capable of giving up a 59-yard return to a linebacker, kicking to Saquon Barkley should never be a consideration.
10. With this defensive line and this passing game, anything is possible.
We all wanted to wait and see regarding the passing game. “Wait until Penn State,” we all said. Well, Penn State has come and gone and all we have to show for it is J.T. Barrett’s best game ever — and the best quarterbacking game in Ohio State football history. That’s not a bad game to have when everyone is waiting to see what you do with it. This game was a Rubik’s Cube and J.T. Barrett was Aaron Craft. Each Buckeye receiver provides something different and unique, and Kevin Wilson and Zach Smith are using them very well right now. The tight ends haven’t been bad either. We have already talked about the defensive line, but let’s mention the defensive tackles for a moment. Tracy Sprinkle and Dre’Mont Jones are incredibly quick and they get upfield so well. Robert Landers had two tackles for loss in key situations, showing that a fresh defensive line is going to have its way with a tired offensive line. Which means a fresh Ohio State defensive line is only going to be that much more dominating. And when Olympic Gold Medalist Kyle Snyder wants to shake your hand, you know you’ve done something right.