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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ohio State - Penn St: The Aftermath

Ten Things We Learned from Ohio State's 24-21 Loss at Penn State
By Tony Gerdeman

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.


Leading 21-7 entering the 4th quarter despite looking out of sync, Ohio State collapsed the rest of the way allowing 17 straight Penn State points in a stunning 24-21 loss amid whiteout conditionsin Happy Valley. 
The final nail in the coffin came as Urban Meyer's field goal unit was forced to rush a 45-yard field goal try which was blocked and returned for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with 4:27 left in regulation. 
The loss dropped Ohio State to 6-1 on the season, snapped a 20-game win streak in true road games and cast its playoff hopes in doubt.
Give Penn State credit, beyond the 17 unanswered points to close the game the Nittany Lionsdominated the Buckeye offensive line, owned special teams and made big plays on offense when absolutely necessary.
For the Buckeyes, following back-to-back roadies, a welcome home game awaits although unfortunately against a Northwestern team riding a three-game win streak. 
But before we turn our focus to Pat Fitzgerald's outfit, here are Five Things from last night's painful defeat to Penn State. 


The weirdness surrounding the distribution of offensive touches in recent weeks between Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel – and to a lesser extent J.T. Barrett – continued Saturday night. 
At this point, it's almost as if Ohio State's offensive braintrust divvies up the touches based on the media narrative created following happenings in the previous game. 
For Barrett, it was three-game stretch against Oklahoma (17 carries), Rutgers (5 carries) and Indiana (26 carries) and now with Weber and Samuel, they've seen wild swings. 
With Samuel, after the Indiana postgame chatter centered on how he only had nine touches, Meyer and staff responded with 18 opportunities for him at Wisconsin – featuring him repeatedly in the 1st half – on the way to Samuel posting his most touches since recording 22 in the season opener.
In a domino effect, after the Wisconsin game saw Weber have a season-low 11 touches including just four in the 1st half prompting many to ask for clarity on the strategy as Samuel took a ton of handoffs as a running back, last night saw Weber log a season-high 29 touches. 
I have no idea what to make of this since I'm not an offensive coordinator but it seems curious, and somewhat familiar, that the staff seems unsure of how it wants to deploy its three best weapons. 
I understand that from game to game different guys could be featured based on matchups but a disparity of 29 touches for Weber and 10 for Samuel in a close game is mind-blowing. 


It's no secret the wide receivers are easily the weakest link and they took their ineffectiveness to a new low against Penn State. 
Despite Barrett recording a career-high 28 completions only five went to wide receivers, or 18%. That's even worse than versus Indiana when the wideouts logged two grabs out of nine total completions, or 22%. 
Noah Brown led the way last night with three catches for 45 yards but dropped another for what would've been about a 10-yard gain. 
Parris Campbell recorded one catch for six yards and cost Ohio State a big play when he failed to clear his zone quickly enough, clogging the path of a Samuel route that might have gone for a touchdown. Instead, Ohio State settled for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Believe it or not, Campbell is Ohio State's 2nd-most prolific true wide receiver with nine receptions in seven games. Four of those came against Rutgers. 
Parris Campbell is OSU's 2nd-leading true wide receiver with 9 catches in 7 games. Yikes.
Terry McLaurin had one reception for 19 yards but his youth, inexperience and a few drops of his own continue to limit his production. 
James Clark has been in the program for a good while now but has just four receptions this year. Last night he was targeted on one of the biggest plays of the year and Barrett's deep ball went off his facemask though that was pretty understandable after the Penn State defender grabbed Clark's right arm and should've been flagged for pass interference. 
In a nutshell however the group struggles mightily to gain separation against man coverage. 
Barrett will never say it but he clearly doesn't have confidence in this group beyond Brown and it only further exacerbates his own problems of throwing off his back foot on deep balls and waiting too long to get rid of the ball. It looks like he's afraid to throw a guy open; maybe that's a lack of trust in a lot of things? 
No matter what it is, it's hard to believe the issues can be remedied quickly and opponents will continue scheming to load the box and stop the run, daring Barrett and the receiving corps to win the game through the air. 


Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley completed a dismal eight of 23 passes last night, good for 35%. 
In a vacuum a stat line like that spells defeat but strange as it was, McSorley hit Ohio State's league-leading pass efficiency defense with two impressive drives keyed by big passing plays. 
McSorley ended the 1st half with a 7-play, 74-yard drive hitting on 3/4 passes for 73 yards, the last 20 coming via a perfect toss to Chris Godwin, on Gareon Conley no less, for a touchdown cutting Ohio State's lead to 12-7 at intermission. The clutch throw preceded a 34-yard strike in a recurring theme of opposing offenses isolating Damon Arnette in coverage and burning him for a huge gain. 
Early in the 4th quarter, McSorley engineered a 5-play, 90-yard drive hitting on 2/3 throws including a 35-yard hookup with Saeed Blacknall, on Marshon Lattimore no less, setting up McSorley's own 2-yard touchdown run pulling Penn State to within seven at 21-14. 
On the two key drives, McSorley completed 5/7 throws for 124 yards, or 81% of his total passing yards output for the game. 
No hate to Conley and Lattimore – they are both studs and easily Ohio State's two best coverage guys – but it was an ominous sign to see them both beat essentially for touchdowns on the same night. 


A metaphor for the entire evening was tight end Marcus Baugh's own Jekyll and Hyde performance. 
The fourth-year junior posted a career-high five receptions and 55 yards with a touchdown amid other less-than-stellar happenings. 
First, his 26-yard touchdown off a tremendous catch and run along the right sideline giving Ohio State a 9-0 lead showcased just how gifted a player we're talking about. 
On a 3rd and 11 in the 2nd half, Baugh again showed NFL-level strength and determination catching about an 8-yard ball then dragging a few defenders just past the line to gain giving the Buckeyes a crucial fresh set of downs. 
Along with those highlights however Baugh dropped a 3rd and 4 pass (though he was bailed out via an illegal substitution penalty) and posted another drop on a 1st down play during Ohio State's field goal drive extending the lead to 12-0. 
Marcus Baugh has mad talent but his inconsistency is equally maddening.
On the same possession Baugh had probably his biggest gaffe of the night. On 3rd and 11 from the PSU 13, it looked like Baugh failed to notice a Penn State blitz making him the hot receiver and therefore never adjusted his route. Expecting something different, Barrett targeted Baugh, who ran a different route and never looked back, triggering the field goal try. 
Finally, on Ohio State's final possession Baugh committed a false start turning a manageable 3rd and 4 into a problematic 3rd and 9 though a Barrett seed to Samuel extended the drive for a few more plays. 
Bottom line, Baugh has enough talent to be an NFL starter someday but the mental mistakes, drops and need to shore up his blocking make him as frustrating as he is talented. 


How else can you define Ohio State's effort on special teams last night other than to call it a shitshow? 
Obviously the crushing blow came on a blocked 45-yard field goal try scooped up by Tyler Davis and returned for the game-winning 60-yard touchdown return. 
Field goals get blocked – it happens – but where last night's kick felt like it was blocked by your groin instead of at the line of scrimmage was because Urban Meyer opted not to call timeout as his unit rushed to beat the play clock even though he was sitting on two timeouts. 
Yes, that's the ultimate in armchair quarterbacking but even though Tyler Durbin had been perfect (8/8 FG) to that point and Meyer suggested Durbin nails rushed field goals in practice all the time, he's still a first-year player who came out of nowhere being asked to drill a career-long in front of 107,000 people in less-than-ideal weather conditions. 
Ohio State also had a punt blocked as Cameron Johnston's 8th effort of the night was batted sideways to the OSU 28 yard line allowing Penn State to kick a field goal trimming the Buckeye lead to 21-17 with 9:33 left in regulation. 
Returning kicks in the dank conditions was also a chore as Parris Campbell struggled to cleanly field kickoffs and Dontre Wilson again walked the tightrope on punt returns. (At least on kickoffs, I feel like it's time to give Demario McCall a look.) 
For a team that has owned field position through special teams since Meyer's arrival, last night was a painful reminder of what can happen if the special units don't perform as expected. 

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