Some coaches play to win the game.
Some coaches play to not-lose the game.
Saturday in Ohio Stadium, 104,355 people got a great look at the difference between the two.
On the first drive of the day, Penn State took advantage of a big kick return by K.J. Hamler to move into Ohio State territory. Facing a 4th-and-4 at the OSU 42, Penn State coach James Franklin decided to punt.
He then watched his defense give up a 13-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to the Buckeyes. Two drives later, another OSU possession ended with a Justin Fields fumble inside the PSU 1.
At this point, with his defense getting gashed, Franklin had another choice to make. The Nittany Lions had the ball 4th-and-7 at the OSU 36.
Again, he sent out the punt team.
“I think it was 4th-and-7 and we hadn’t really moved the ball a whole lot,” said Franklin.
“The game at that point was still a close game. So if you can punt them deep and pin them inside the 10 yard line, we felt like that was the best opportunity at that point.
“Fourth-and-7, you look at these guys, you don’t want to be in 3rd-and-long against them, you don’t want to be in 4th-and-long against them. The game was still tight, punt them deep, play really good defense and hopefully swing field position.”
The problem, of course was that at that point, Penn State’s defense had shown little ability to get off the field against the Buckeyes.
Remember, OSU went 91 yards the first time PSU ‘punted them deep’. Then they came within a half-yard of punching in another touchdown before that Fields fumble. With that as a baseline, playing the field position game and leaning on the defense seems like nothing more than blind faith.
Game management issues have been a recurring theme with Franklin over the years. Penn State fans still bemoan the decision to hand the ball to a running back on a do-or-die 4th-and-5 against the Buckeyes in 2018.
Multiple times this season, he has kicked field goals in seemingly obvious “go” situations this year. One came back to bite him in the Lions’ loss to Minnesota.
Contrast that with Ohio State’s Ryan Day.
Facing 4th-and- 5 at the Penn State 26 late in the second quarter, Day passed up what would have been a 43-yard field goal try. Instead, they spread the field five-wide and then had Fields run a quarterback draw for an easy first down.
Four plays later, it was 4th-and-goal from the 1. The conventional wisdom would have been to kick the field goal and give the Buckeyes a two-score lead.
Again, Day showed that while kicking may be conventional, it definitely isn’t the wise choice there.
Dobbins pushed his way into the end zone from a yard out to make it 14-0 Buckeyes.
“I just felt like we were rolling pretty good at that point. I felt we were moving the ball well. And I just felt there’s times to be aggressive in the game and those are four-down territories and with our offense we should convert in those moments,” Day said.
As the great philosopher Herm Edwards once said, “You play to win the game.”
Saturday at Ohio Stadium, the coach who played to win the game, won the game.