Ohio State passes another early-season test, eyes Big Ten, playoffs

Ohio State football proved an old adage about September.

You can’t win a national championship in the first month of the season, but you sure can lose it.

At times Buckeyes looked every bit one of the four best teams in the country, but they also flirted with disaster twice along the way to a 5-0 record.

READ MORE: Buckeyes rally to stun Nittany Lions | 5 things to know about the game

Ohio State trailed both ranked teams they played — TCU and Penn State — at halftime before rallying in the final 30 minutes.

While Ohio State ended up beating the Horned Frogs going away two weeks ago, they had to erase a double-digit fourth quarter deficit to the Nittany Lions on Saturday night in front of a raucous and record-breaking crowd of 110,889.

The 27-26 triumph left Penn State devastated and Ohio State undefeated.

The Buckeyes still have potential potholes left on their schedule — particularly Michigan State and Michigan in November plus a potential Big Ten championship game rematch with Wisconsin in December — but the Nittany Lions will need them to lose twice to have any hope of making playing for a conference title this year.

»PHOTOS: Ohio State rallies past Penn State

“You’ve got to put a big circle around the first half — everything,” coach Urban Meyer said when asked what about the Penn State game bothered him despite the win. “We gave up a big hit, 95-yard touchdown pass (actually 93) against man coverage, but the biggest thing was offensive ineptitude. Not blocking guys and not executing. And then to come back in the second half it was phenomenal.”

Meyer also saw 105 yards in penalties marked off against his team.

“That’s awful,” he said.

Penn State attacked Ohio State at the the line of scrimmage, effectively using blitzes to disrupt the running game and bother quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

In his first true road start, Haskins completed 22 of 39 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. He threw an interception, but it came on a pass that went off his intended target’s hands and fell to a Penn State player.

“I think he showed some poise,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day said. “You wish he had a couple plays back, but there were times where he had to throw the ball away and it wasn’t fun. We didn’t have momentum going. I think it showed some maturity.”

Haskins completed 7 of 10 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

“They sent a lot of pressures. I missed a couple throws,” Haskins said. “We had some weird protection on some plays, but Coach Day said a play had to be made in the fourth quarter.”

Ohio State also figured out some things schematically.

With Penn State selling out to stop the inside running game, the Buckeyes shifted their focus to the edges. They ran more off tackle and to the outside. They also utilized a variety of screen passes to punish the Nittany Lions’ aggressiveness.

The game-winning 96-yard drive began with a screen pass to running back J.K. Dobbins that went for 35 yards. It ended with a wide receiver screen to K.J. Hill that covered 24 yards and put the Buckeyes back on top.

“When they are blitzing and rushing really hard like that it helps our offensive linemen and schematically it gives us a chance,” Day said.

“We’ve got a lot of skill guys and any time you can get the ball to them in space, good things are happening, so we’ve just got to keep finding ways to do that week in and week out.”

Beyond Xs and Os, September also gave Ohio State opportunities to learn what it’s made of. The Buckeyes saw their own blood a couple of times but reacted like the champions they hope to be.

“Every opportunity we get on the field is an opportunity to win a game,” Haskins said. “It was a tough one, but we wanted it tough. It was good.

“It’s kind of hard to prepare for moments like that. We try to simulate those in conditioning (drills during the summer), but all we just said was we love each other and whatever happens happens and we’d put it all on the line for each other. And we did that.”

Ohio State will have to take its September lessons and build on them to be a true contender in November and beyond. The Buckeyes will have three chances to do that in October, all against teams they outmatch on paper.

Indiana comes to Columbus next Saturday for a 4 p.m. kickoff. The Hoosiers are 4-1 in their second season under coach Tom Allen.

Minnesota pays an Oct. 13 visit. The 3-1 Golden Gophers will be looking to give second-year coach P.J. Fleck a signature win.

Ohio State will finish the month at Purdue against an 2-3 Boilermakers squad that has been up and down so far in 2018.


Indiana at Ohio State, 4 p.m., Fox, 1410

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