10 Things We Learned

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Last updated: 10/27/2013 10:37 PM
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Football
10 Things We Learned: Ohio State’s Deconstruction of Penn State
By Brandon Castel

It was a little bit of sweet irony for Ohio State fans Saturday, as the Buckeyes hung 63 points on Penn State – matching the exact reverse score of the team’s worst defeat at the hands of the Nittany Lions.

John Cooper and the Buckeyes lost 63-14 in Happy Valley against Joe Paterno and the Lions back in 1994, so Urban Meyer’s 63-14 dismantling of Penn State served as a little bit of sweet revenge – even if it was nearly two decades later.

Here’s a look at 10 Things We Learned during Ohio State’s deconstruction of Penn State on Saturday night under the lights.

1. Ohio State is on a mission. This isn’t exactly something we learned, per se, on Saturday but this was the first time, in my mind, the Buckeyes truly looked like a team on a mission for greatness. That’s not to take anything away from the first 19 wins of Urban Meyer’s career at OSU – there were some really big ones in there – but I saw a team that flexed its muscle on Saturday night. I saw a team that had a hunger about it; a team that wanted to go out and dominate a Penn State program that has played them pretty tough over the years. It doesn’t mean much unless they can carry that same fire over the next four games, but last night we saw the kind of team that would make for a pretty scary matchup against anyone else in college football – even the likes of Alabama and Oregon. I’m not sure I would have said that too often this season.

2. This isn’t your father’s Penn State program. All of that being said about Ohio State, this is really as much about the Nittany Lions as it is the Buckeyes. It’s been a while since Penn State didn’t at least put a competitive team on the field, but it’s obvious Bill O’Brien’s squad is really starting to feel the weight of the NCAA sanctions that were levied against the program. The Lions came into Saturday night’s game with only two losses on the season, but the fact they were run off the field by Indiana three weeks ago should have been an indication of where this team is really at. They rallied for a four-overtime win against Michigan – a game in which they blew a 21-10 halftime lead – but this PSU team was completely overmatched from the opening kick on Saturday night. Give Urban Meyer credit for dialing up the right game plan and having his team ready to play, but that Penn State defense is difficult to watch. The Lions are in the bottom half of the Big Ten in nearly every defensive category this season and they’ve now allowed 40+ points in three straight games. Reality is this Penn State team is probably not even one of the better teams in the conference. Then again, it’s still the Big Ten we’re talking about.

3. We finally saw Urban Meyer’s offense in action. Urban was quick to point out the defense after the game, but let’s be honest, this was a fireworks show for Meyer’s offense that fans had been waiting a long time to see. It was such an offensive explosion for the Buckeyes, one Pennsylvania newspaper was talking about a Mercy Rule this morning. Even Kenny Guiton ran for two touchdowns, that’s how dominant this performance was by Ohio State, and particularly an OSU offense that has had its share of ups and downs throughout the season. Braxton Miller looked about as good as he ever has, running the ball and throwing it, but it was Ohio State’s offensive line that dominated this game. Like they did at the end of last season, those guys are starting to find their rhythm up front at the right time of year, and it was a complete deconstruction in the trenches on Saturday night. The Buckeyes put up over 400 yards of offense in the first half, and they racked up over 400 on the ground against a Penn State defense that used to hold team under a 100 in the ground game. Ohio State averaged 8.0 yards per carry on Saturday and scored six touchdowns against Penn State’s rush defense in what was easily the best offensive performance of Meyer’s tenure in Columbus. Maybe it was Penn State’s lousy defense, or maybe this offense is starting to find that magic touch.

Braxton Miller
Photo by Jim Davidson
Braxton Miller

3. It all starts with Braxton Miller. When Braxton looks right, the offense looks right. It’s really that simple. Sure, the offensive line deserves a ton of credit and Carlos Hyde is probably the MVP of this football team right now, but this offense goes as the quarterback goes. That’s something Meyer and Tom Herman made clear when they first took over the program two years ago. Meyer’s offense asks a lot of the quarterback, and when he has a good one – Harris, Smith, Leak, Tebow, Miller – it usually looks unstoppable. When the quarterback is off, however, it throws everything in Meyer’s offense out of whack; and what we get is what we saw late last year – with Carlos Hyde getting 25-30 carries in the power run game.

When Miller plays like he did Saturday night, this team is almost unbeatable – certainly until they get to the BCS. He was 18 of 24 for 252 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. According to my colleague Tony Gerdeman, Miller has completed over 78% of his passes the last two weeks, and 70% of his throws overall in conference play, with nine touchdown passes and just one interception. He’s also rushing for 80 yards per contest, and he looked about as good on that 39-yard touchdown run Saturday as he ever has. If that’s the Braxton Miller we’re going to see the rest of the way, just get out of the way.

Carlos Hyde
Photo by Dan Harker
Carlos Hyde

4. Carlos Hyde was still the best player on the field. Maybe best is a strong word here. Braxton Miller has more natural talent than anyone else on Ohio State’s roster – remember when people wanted him on the bench? – but Hyde is the heart and soul of the offense. His toughness, passion, intensity and will to win are the backbone of this team right now, and he just continues to put up monster numbers against every defense he faces. In four full games since returning from suspension, Hyde has now run for 85, 168, 149 and 147. He has scored seven touchdowns in the last three games and he’s averaging over 137 yards per game on the ground against the Big Ten this season. He’s closing in on seven yards per carry this season and once he gets going, it just seems like there is no stopping him. Only Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (172 ypg) is averaging more yards in conference play, but he’s played one fewer game and scored less than half as many touchdowns.

Exekiel Elliot
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ezekiel Elliot

5. Ezekiel Elliott has a bright future. Maybe it’s just me, but every time we get to see Elliott carry the football it reminds me of just how good this kid could be. And I mean very soon. I don’t think Ohio State fans are going to have to wait three more years to see Elliott carry the football in some big situations. Despite the fact he’s behind guys like Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Elliott emerge as the team’s feature back next season. They’re still going to need one of those other guys to handle the power run inside the tackles – because that’s not going anywhere even when Hyde is gone – but Elliott just has some natural ability none of these other guys seem to have. Smith is still the one guy I can’t figure out. The kid has a world of talent, but Elliott just seems like a difference-maker when he gets to touch the football. He has great burst, but like I said Saturday night, the thing that stands out to me is his vision. He has a great ability to find the right hole and make the right cut, which is something we haven’t seen from those other guys, and it’s probably the most underrated aspect of playing the running back position. I could see a rotation with Elliott and either Smith or Dunn as the inside power back next season, but we still have a long way to go.

Jordan Hall
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jordan Hall

6. There has to be a role for Jordan Hall. Unless Hall has been in some sort of trouble these past few weeks, it’s still a bit hard to understand how he disappeared from the offense so suddenly. I’m not saying he should be out there instead of Hyde; I think we all know Meyer and Herman made the right decision turning things back over to the big guy – at least from a football standpoint – but I’m surprised we have seen so little of Hall since Hyde returned. Every time he gets in there we get a little glimpse of the guy who was making big plays for the Bucks early in the season. I loved the little inside handoff he took for 41 yards, and I know it’s tough to take Hyde or Dontre Wilson off the field, but Jordan Hall has to get more playing time. He should be a 10-12 touch a game guy until he proves otherwise. 

Dontre Wilson
Photo by Jim Davidson
Dontre Wilson

7. Speaking of Dontre Wilson… This kid is going to be something special. I know it, you know it, and Urban knows it. Now Penn State knows it, and soon the rest of the country will too. Not sure if that can materialize this season. There probably isn’t enough time – or enough carries – for Wilson to really become a game-breaker for the Buckeyes this year, but this kid has that something special gene you just can’t teach. He only touched the ball three times on offense Saturday, but he averaged over 15 yards every time he got the ball. His 26-yard touchdown catch is exactly the type of play I imagine him making time and again over the next three seasons. The same goes for his 49-yard kick return. It looked like he was going to dance his way all the way to the end zone. It’s only a matter of time until he breaks one of those.

Corey Brown intercepts Christian Hackenberg
Photo by Jim Davidson
Corey Brown

8. Ohio State’s defense is starting to make some plays. Whenever a team puts up 63 points, there is going to be a lot of talk surrounding the offense, but Urban Meyer said he was most impressed with the defense on Saturday night. Yes, Penn State’s star receiver Allen Robinson caught 12 passes for 173 yards, but 125 of those his touchdown came in the final 20 minutes of the game, after Ohio State had a 56-7 lead and Meyer had pulled many of his defensive starters. The Buckeyes did a great job of putting pressure on Christian Hackenberg and actually making the freshman quarterback look like, well, a freshman. Ohio Stats sacked him four times and forced him into a pair of interceptions. Senior Corey Brown had the big one in the end zone – easily the biggest play of his OSU career – and C.J. Barnett did a great job reading Hackenberg on the second one. He completed only 12 of his 23 passes and the Nittany Lions were completely locked down until late in the game after Meyer pulled his starters.

9. Noah Spence was a man out there. We probably should have seen this coming, but Spence looked like the guy Penn State wanted badly coming out of high school two years ago. Unfortunately for Bill O’Brien, Spence was playing on the other side Saturday night. The former 5-star prospect sacked Hackenberg twice in Ohio State’s lopsided victory and he was clearly motivated to make a big impact against his hometown school. If not for the sanctions, Spence probably would have been wearing white and blue this weekend, so it’s a big deal to remember how some of these guys ended up in Columbus making plays for Ohio State’s 20-0 football team. Spence has had a steady sophomore season, but it’s nights like this that remind us of how special he can be.

Noah Spence jars the ball loose from Christian Hackenberg
Photo by Jim Davidson

Noah Spence, Christian Hackenberg
Kenny Guiton
Photo by Dan Harker
Kenny Guiton

10. Can’t forget about Kenny. This column would be remiss without at least mentioning the job Kenny Guiton did late in that football game. Yes, the game was effectively over when Guiton took the reins of the offense, but it was good to see him get in there and make a few plays. I’m still not sure if he’ll get a look at the next level or not, but the thing that impresses me the most about Guiton is how he’s always ready to go. Some guys wouldn’t want to go out there under those circumstances after being sent back to the bench, but that’s not Guiton. He’s a leader, a gamer and an ultimate team guy.

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