For the Buckeyes, the Penn State game was the ultimate measuring stick following the first measuring stick of the TCU game.
We knew we’d know more after the trip to Jerry World, but we also knew we’d know even more after the trip to Happy Valley.
Ohio State went to Penn State and overcome a 26-14 deficit in the fourth quarter, squeezing out a 27-26 win thanks to a great screening process by Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson, as well as key defensive stops from Chase Young and the rest of the Buckeyes.
So what did we learn from the Big Ten East Championship Game? Plenty, and not all of it was good.
Let’s talk it out.
1. This passing game is not flawless.
This was the first time all season that Dwayne Haskins wasn’t pinpoint on his throws. In fact, he was downright inaccurate at times. Throws were at receivers’ feet, or well out of their reach, or not even in the vicinity. But at the end of the day, Haskins was still 22-of-39 for 270 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. This wasn’t a wakeup call to anybody inside the program, but maybe it was for the rest of us. Dwayne Haskins is not perfect, and neither is the pass protection. But it’s still pretty damn good.
2. There is hope for the linebackers.
One week after failing to record a single tackle, the Buckeye starting linebackers had a total of 12 tackles in the first half alone against Penn State. Tuf Borland (8), Malik Harrison (8), and Pete Werner (5) combined for 21 total tackles in the game. Harrison was effective as a spy, and each of the starters had a tackle in the backfield. Werner and Harrison flipped back and forth between Sam and Will, and Borland and Baron Browning traded the Mike spot throughout the game. After some rough patches this season, this was their most complete game as a unit.
3. But it will need to micromanaged.
Everyone saw Tuf Borland struggle to chase the football in the open field, but don’t forget what you also saw when he forced a fumble that led to OSU’s first touchdown, or his sack of Trace McSorley. Of course, on the same drive as that sack, Borland gave up a touchdown pass while also committing pass interference. Baron Browning has replaced Borland on many passing downs and that probably needs to continue moving forward. I know there is clamoring for more of Browning or Justin Hilliard, but Greg Schiano clearly prefers Borland as the run stopper.
4. This team is still learning how to run the ball.
Ohio State rushed for 119 yards on 37 carries (3.2 ypc), which is less than half what both Pitt and Illinois rushed for against Penn State when they played the Nittany Lions earlier in the season. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for 108 yards rushing on 26 carries, which isn’t very good, but both players get better with opportunities. The Buckeyes are still working out the kinks on how to best run the ball when the quarterback isn’t a running threat. Ohio State’s rushing totals have gone from 375 to 225 to 182 to 151 and then to 119 in their five games this season. The 1,052 yards rushing over the first five games this season is the worst total for the Buckeyes since 2011. And while many have concerns with the short-yardage game, Ohio State never (ultimately) failed on short-yardage with the running backs. OSU had six short-yardage situations against Penn State. Dobbins picked up eight yards on third-and-two, Haskins threw an incompletion on third-and-three, Dobbins picked up one yard on third-and-two, then followed that up picking up a yard on fourth-and-one. Haskins was stopped on fourth-and-one, and then Weber picked up 11 yards on third-and-three. So while none of the running game is pretty, there are things that can catch your eye.
5. Chase Young has taken the next step.
After failing to record a tackle against TCU — and seeing Nick Bosa succumb to an injury in the same game — Chase Young has stepped up his play, as has the entire defensive line. Against Penn State, however, Young went full Bosa. He became a household name with two sacks and three tackles for loss. As the story goes, he was everything the Buckeyes needed and more. This is just the start for Young. He dominated a great opponent and was key in Ohio State’s win. But now he needs to follow it up and keep the momentum headed in the proper direction.
6. The defense is more than capable.
The Ohio State defensive line won this game, but they got help from every level. There was plenty of bending, yet very little breaking. The big plays still need to be worked out — and I’m not exactly sure they will be, but the way the Buckeyes stalled Penn State’s drives was very impressive. They were outstanding on third-down defense, be it long yards to go or short yards. Everyone on this Ohio State defense knows they have yet to play their best game as a unit, but so far they have done enough good things to be effective. Eventually, however, this effective Buckeye defense needs to grow into a defense that dominates opponents.
7. The penalties are spreading.
Now the offensive and defensive penalties have spread to the special teams. I guess at this point the only positive is that Urban Meyer hasn’t been flagged for being on the field yet.
8. Drue Chrisman is the truth.
Drue Chrisman has been outstanding since he took over for Cameron Johnston last year, and Saturday night may have been his best game as a Buckeye. He punted a career-high nine times and his 47.9-yard average is a career best in games where he punted more than twice. He had three punts over 50 yards and put three inside the 20-yard line. He flipped the field as well as he flips bottles and was one of Ohio State’s best players. Chrisman answered every tough situation with a clutch kick.
9. Zone 6? More like Block O.
The receiver blocking in this game was outstanding, which is why it was suggested to me by a very intelligent person that the receivers should change their name from Zone 6 to Block O. Ryan Day told the receivers at the half that the offense was going to go to more screen passes and the receivers would need to be ready to block. They clearly were ready and they executed. Day and Kevin Wilson and Urban Meyer would have never gone this route if they weren’t completely confident in both the playmaking abilities of their receivers and their blocking. And the coaches were proven 100% correct.
10. Dwayne Haskins is better today than he was on Friday.
Expecting Dwayne Haskins to go 21-of-24 against Penn State was unrealistic, but having experienced what he experienced Saturday night in State College has made him a better quarterback than he was before the game started. No, he wasn’t perfect, but he’s closer to it than he was before. Games like this make him better equipped to handle tough situations the next time they arise. Haskins was under fire the entire game and never folded. In fact, he only got stronger.
Dwayne Haskins was 7-10 for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.https://t.co/fbKBsiyla2
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) September 30, 2018