Penn State’s rush defense looked like the unit you would have expected if you watched the first six PSU games but not the debacle against Illinois. We can probably chalk that up to a fluke and give UI credit for going all-in with the run game since it had no other real option.
Ohio State, of course, wants to be balanced, and the Buckeyes were. Both C.J. Stroud and the Ohio State play-callers showed growth since the Oregon game as the Buckeyes stayed with the run even when it wasn’t working, and Stroud played with patience and took what the defense was giving him.
The commitment to the run game likely paid off in the end when Penn State was still trying to outnumber Ohio State at the point of attack, but the Buckeyes started to get more movement. That was even with a worn down TreVeyon Henderson, who had a couple of chances to make a little more out of some runs but chugged ahead to protect the ball and got what he could get.
Henderson was fresh on his 63-yard run, and that one showed all he can do. He made a quick decision to cutback slightly and found a crease in the middle, got a block from Paris Johnson Jr. (who blocked two guys on that play) and then left the free safety in the dust before getting free down the sideline. He only got caught because Jaquan Brisker took a good angle — and the PSU strong safety still barely got there in time.
The touchdown pass to Chris Olave was a good example of how establishing the run can be done before the game. Penn State respected Ohio State having two tight ends on the field and shifted Brisker to the middle of the field, creating a window for that throw that wasn’t there earlier in the drive with different personnel on the field. Otherwise that personnel grouping didn’t provide much on the night, but it has been good on the season, and Penn State had to be aware of that.
The Olave touchdown was also one of many plays on which Stroud did a good job of moving in the pocket and creating space to throw. He missed a couple of throws but played under control all night and seemed much more comfortable than he was against Oregon even though he threw for more yards against the Ducks.
There was a play in the third quarter when it looked like he could have kept it on a zone read, but based on Stroud’s postgame comments I don’t think he was reading it so that would be a coaching decision. He said he was not going to freelance, which was ironic coming from a freshman Ohio State quarterback against Penn State. That’s what got Terrelle Pryor in trouble back in 2008 in another tight game at Ohio Stadium against the Nittany Lions.
In another nod to the past, Ohio State tried to run it in from the I formation a couple of times. They called Power (“Dave” in the Jim Tressel days) and got down inside the five then called it again but the backside offensive linebacker got to Henderson before he could score. Then they tried a lead zone play and the fullback actually got a good block, but Henderson might have cut it back when he didn’t have to and ended up running into the backside linebacker again (this still would have been a touchdown if the backside end held his block longer). Backside blocking was also an issue on short yardage in the fourth quarter.
I still don’t know why Joey Porter Jr. wasn’t ejected for targeting in the first quarter. He clearly made direct contact to the head/neck of a receiver in the process of catching the ball, but for some reason they only called it a personal foul. The crew also missed a late hit on Brisker in the first half that typically gets called even if the runner is only near the sideline let alone actually out of bounds.
On the other side of the ball, things essentially went the way both coaching staffs drew it up. Ohio State gave up some plays but forced Penn State to earn it. That forced Sean Clifford to play really well, and he did, repeatedly finding guys open. The Nittany Lions had a good plan for spreading the ball around and finding holes in the OSU zones. It’s no secret all defensive structures have weaknesses. Is this a good trade off for the problems with what they were doing before? Yes.
Most importantly, the Buckeyes got the type of play from their defensive line (lots of different guys) they were expecting from the start, and that was a huge difference from earlier in the season. They created the scoop and score (for themselves) and the interception while also short-circuiting the Penn State run.
Ohio State was able to create some pressure out of its nickel package, which is a plus.
I would like to know if the Steele Chambers targeting ejection was for a defenseless player or crown of helmet. He did come in with eyes down, which is a problem that needs to be coached up, so I can see why the flag was thrown in the first place. See what you hit. But even if that’s what they called, I still don’t believe it was “forcible” contact. It looked more like a glancing blow, but that’s another problem with the subjectivity of the rule. It was not a late hit because he was already in his crouch preparing to hit him when Clifford went into his slide.
If you just look at the final stats, this looks like a typical game between two ranked Big Ten teams. Both quarterbacks put up big numbers, but one made more mistakes. Ohio State didn’t pile up the rushing yards it usually does, but the Buckeyes averaged a respectable 4.7 yards per carry against a team that was allowing 3.6 entering the game. The Ohio State defense gave up 394 total yards — not a terrible number in today’s college football but more than the 372.4 the Nittany Lions were giving up per game. The Buckeyes forced two turnovers, turned one into a touchdown and were in the backfield a lot. They had eight tackles for loss and Penn State had no running game to speak of.
Penn State’s senior quarterback nearly willed them to victory, but he couldn’t quite get them over the hump despite a strong game plan that utilized Penn State’s weapons on the perimeter well.
Ultimately, Ohio State’s defensive structure held up, giving up a lot of medium gains but no really big ones.
Penn State’s defense wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough. The Nittany Lions DID give up some massive hits. The Nittany Lions had 10 explosive plays compared to Ohio State’s nine, but four of Ohio State’s went for 30 yards or more and only one of Penn State’s did.
At the end of the day, Ohio State had a 38-yard touchdown pass, a 68-yard run that led to a touchdown and a 58-yard pass that led to a field goal.
The Buckeyes also scored a touchdown defensively and got a field goal off an interception that gave them the ball in Penn State territory. That was essentially the difference in the game.