Ten Things We Learned from Ohio State's 24-21 Loss at Penn State
COLUMBUS — Saturday night the Buckeyes suffered a brutally honest loss. There was no hiding anything. Things were spelled out perfectly well. The truth was everywhere you looked.
And yes, Ohio State almost got away with it again.
Like a year ago, the Buckeyes were able to win because of talent, even though there were struggles throughout the season. It wasn't until they lost, however, that things were finally deemed to be bad enough to change.
Will Saturday night's 24-21 loss to Penn State bring about change? Is there enough productive talent on offense for it to even matter?
These are things to learn for another day. As for now, let's go over what we learned in Happy Valley this weekend.
1. Tresselball only works if special teams win their snaps.
Control the ball, play solid defense, and win the field position battle with fantastic special teams. That's how Tresselball works, and it would have worked again for Ohio State if the special teams had not lost this game in every way possible. A missed extra point, blocked field goal for a touchdown, blocked punt that led to a field goal, and even a botched punt by PSU that could have ended up in a touchdown but only ended up in a safety. Terry McLaurin not getting to that snap before punter Blake Gillikin cost Ohio State five points. They lost by three. You do the math. Every opportunity that the Buckeyes had to win the game with their special teams was spit back out as if it was too bitter to deal with. Because of that, they now have to swallow a loss.
2. Throwing on first down is not the devil.
Urban Meyer's transition to Tresselball is essentially complete, right down to running on first down the majority of the time. Ohio State ran the ball on five of their six first downs in the first quarter for 30 yards, mostly thanks to a 23-yard run by Weber. The Buckeyes scored zero points in that first quarter, though thanks to that 23-yard run OSU was able to kick a field goal to start the second quarter.
In the second quarter, six pass plays were called on 10 first downs. Not coincidentally, the Buckeyes scored nine points on those three second-quarter drives. But then thanks to that 12-7 halftime lead, full-blown Tresselball set in. On six first downs in the third quarter, the Buckeyes ran it six times for eight yards. They then ran it their first four first downs in the fourth quarter for a total of five yards. It was only once Penn State cut the score to 21-17 in the fourth quarter did the Buckeyes bother with a first down throw.
Soon after that point, however, there was no hiding what OSU was doing, which sort of describes the entire offensive attack in this game. When you look at how much difficulty these receivers have getting open, it almost gets difficult to blame Meyer and Ed Warinner for running the ball so often.
3. Isaiah Prince will need to be lifted up.
Isaiah Prince gave up some sacks, should have given up some more if not for J.T. Barrett's ability to escape, and could have been called for holding many more times than he actually was. This was as rough a performance for an Ohio State offensive lineman as I've ever seen, and nobody feels it more than Prince himself. Following the game, I asked Pat Elflein if he had talked to Prince about the game and he said that he had and that they'll take care of him and "keep grinding."
This offense needs Prince at his best, and he can't do that if he is doubting himself. He needs to get back on track and it will take both his coaches and his teammates to help him get it done. Keep in mind, most offensive linemen aren't expected to start until their third or fourth year. Prince is a true sophomore who played sparingly as a true freshman. He is still young and learning. His coaches won't forget that and neither should the fans. It does give you a sense of why OSU went out and signed Malcolm Pridgeon out of junior college, though.
4. Urban Meyer actually trusted his kicker.
Urban Meyer doesn't trust kickers, at least not usually. He did on Saturday night, however, and it ended up costing the Buckeyes the game. His decision to kick a 45-yard field goal with Tyler Durbin in the wind and rain in an attempt to give the Buckeyes a seven-point lead is all you need to know about how Meyer feels...or felt...about Durbin. He could have gone for it on fourth and seven, though after the game he said he was debating between kicking the field goal and punting from the 28-yard line. As a guy who begrudgingly acknowledges kickers, this one might be difficult to forget for Meyer.
5. Weather is super scary.
Driving to the game on Saturday and having Ozone One pushed all over the road by the wind, it became pretty apparent that the Ohio State offense was going to be hampered because that's what happens when conditions aren't ideal for this team. Then once the rain kicked in during the game, all bets on the Buckeyes were off.
Remember when the undefeated Buckeyes went to Madison in 2003 and there was rain and you knew instantly that this might not go as planned? This was like that. Again, Tresselball is alive and well at Ohio State and the call is coming from inside the house!
6. The Buckeyes missed Darron Lee.
Chris Worley has played very well this season, but remember that play where Trace McSorley beat him to the corner for a first down? McSorley has some decent wheels, but he's not beating Darron Lee to that spot.
7. If the receivers aren't going to make plays, they cannot drop passes.
Here's the thing, if you're not going to get open deep or catch the passes when you are open deep, then you can't drop the easy six-yard gains that help keep the offense on schedule. If there is no deep threat on this team, fine, but if all you are is a "short threat", then you better catch every dang thing that hits your hands.
8. The meerkat offense was playing right into Penn State's hands.
Ohio State is still a no-huddle offense, but they are far from the hurry-up offense that was promised since the end of last season.
Instead, much of what Ohio State would do on offense ended up playing right into Penn State's hands. When the Buckeye offense would line up for the snap, and then break and look toward the sideline and get the perfect play to combat the PSU defense that they were seeing, the Penn State defense would then either adjust to a pretty good defensive play, or stay put for even more effective defensive play.
It was almost like they had an extra week to prepare and plan for what Ohio State's offense does in certain situations and against certain defensive looks. And when they didn't adjust the defense at all, that should have been a sign that maybe this was not the right offensive play to attack the PSU defense.
It almost seemed like Penn State's defense was able to dictate what OSU did and get them into certain plays just by giving them a defensive look that wasn't even going to end up being the play that Penn State ran. It's like being repeatedly bested in poker via bluffs. Right now, this is not an Ohio State offense that dictates anything other than a desire to run the ball up the middle against a defense that is waiting for them to run the ball up the middle.
Earlier in the season when the Buckeye offense was good, J.T. Barrett said it was because they were hurrying up and not trying to get the offense into the perfect play every time, which he cited as the major problem with the offensive play calling last season. Pretty interesting. Right?
The way Ohio State approached this game on offense was like the card game War. Ohio State would call their play based on what they thought PSU was doing and "put their card down on the table." Then after seeing said card, Penn State would look in their hand and pull out a card that was larger than Ohio State's and put that down on the table.
You can't do that in Up Tempo War, by the way.
9. Marcus Baugh is too inconsistent to be reliable.
Marcus Baugh's touchdown catch was a great individual play, but his missed blocks, drop(s), and inability to realize that he was a hot read did this offense no favors on Saturday. He has tremendous potential, but the inconsistencies have hurt the Buckeyes this season.
10. Despite the loss, everything is still right in front of Ohio State, but the offense may not be good enough to matter.
If Ohio State wins out, they're still in a pretty good spot, provided that Michigan shows up in Columbus undefeated, which they will be overwhelmingly favored to do. If Michigan loses a game prior to The Game, then the Buckeyes will need a Penn State loss somewhere along the way in order to get into the Big Ten Championship Game. Penn State's schedule is exceedingly winnable, so you may as well just get used to the fact that you are now a Michigan fan.
However, what would this offense be able to do against Alabama, even in a dome? How would this offensive line hold up? Especially when Nick Saban is given about four bye weeks to study the OSU offense? That's obviously a risk everyone is willing to take, but is the offense even good enough to get there? Are the special teams? Is the defense?
What happens if it's breezy when Nebraska comes to town? What if it is drizzling for the Michigan game? What if it's chilly up in East Lansing? These are all legitimate concerns and Ohio State will have to overcome these obstacles. The future is still theirs, but the present might keep them from it.