It’s time for your weekly dose of the Grumpy Old Buckeye, the column producing the voice of negativity, even when things are generally pretty great. In this space, I point out the things from each game that make me want to walk out onto my lawn in my bathrobe and yell at people about it. This week we’re talking Ohio State at Penn State in a top-10 matchup.
Linebacker Malik Harrison had a rough start to the game. He whiffed on Trace McSorley on a third-and-long situation which set up a makeable fourth-and-2, which Penn State converted. The defense eventually did force a punt on that opening drive, but, if not for a poor punt, it could have hemmed the offense in deep early when it wasn’t at its best. It looked like Harrison had him dead to rights on the play, but maybe he assumed McSorley was going to step out of bounds or something. He later missed another tackle on a third-and-long situation. Overall, he rebounded well, leading the team with eight tackles (six solos) and contributing half a sack, but early on he was raising my blood pressure.
Return of the Drops
We saw a return of the dropsies in Happy Valley, but this time it went beyond Austin Mack (who wasn’t even involved in the parade of miscues — in fact, he caught the first Dwayne Haskins pass of the night for a first down). Parris Campbell got the drop parade started on Ohio State’s second offensive snap, missing a gimme. The normally dependable K.J. Hill was hit in the hands on the second offensive series and uncharacteristically dropped it. The worst, however, was when Haskins found junior tight end Rashod Berry on a crossing route and hit him with a frozen rope of a pass. Berry not only missed the catch, but he also tipped it into the air for an easy interception for Garrett Taylor, who returned it 45 yards to the OSU 28. That eventually turned into Penn State’s second field goal of the game.
A Berry Bad Night
We already discussed the ball in Berry’s hands that ended up tipped and picked off, but that wasn’t the only bad moment for Berry. The tight end had a holding penalty on a punt return that cost the team 10 yards on the play in which Antonio Shelton got hit with a personal foul. Rather than starting with the ball on Penn State’s half of the field, the Buckeyes started at their own 44. Ultimately, Ohio State missed a long field goal on the drive.
Further, Berry got blown up as a blocker on a number of running plays, putting the offense behind the chains on a few drives. He wasn’t the only one getting beat, but it was something I noticed on some of those delayed handoffs to the outside. I will give Berry credit for making a good downfield block on Binjimen Victor’s long touchdown in the fourth quarter, but it was a tough night for him overall, I thought.
A team that spent half a decade watching J.T. Barrett in practice shouldn’t get surprised by a running quarterback, especially when the head coach has talked all week about the quarterback making plays with his feet. Yet McSorley ran freely through the Ohio State defense much of the night — sometimes on designed runs, sometimes on scrambles. He ran for 175 yards on 25 carries, which completely nullifies the great job the Buckeyes did on Miles Sanders, who was held to 43 yards on 16 carries. The low point was a 51-yard scamper in which all of Ohio State’s linebackers were left chasing him down the field before Kendall Sheffield made the stop. Luckily, the Nitts missed a field goal on the drive.
Ohio State routinely was caught blitzing, getting too far up the field on pass rushes, or simply not keeping a player back to spy on the quarterback. It was frustrating to shut down the receivers repeatedly only to see McSorley tuck it and pick up the first down, or to run a quarterback draw when it seemed obvious and have it work.
Ferraris Left in the Garage
Ohio State failed to do what Illinois did last week to Penn State — run the football effectively. Some of that was dictated by crowding the line of scrimmage, shooting gaps on called run blitzes, and generally pushing around the OSU offensive line. But the Buckeyes seemed determined not to try to get the run game going. They eventually found some success, especially with J.K. Dobbins, but there were far too many predictable, slow-developing wide runs that got blown up. Through the last two games, Dobbins has feasted on inside runs and we didn’t get a good dose of that until the third quarter. Have we learned nothing from losses in the last several years in which the stud running backs weren’t fed? Roll Hyde. Feed Zeke. Give the damn ball to Dobbins. OK, I need to work on something more snappy for J.K.
Wildcat Kills Momentum (Again)
Ohio State got back in the game early in the second half using a more determined effort to run the ball and quick plays designed to use the Penn State defense’s aggressiveness against it. But Ohio State got too cute. Just like in the TCU game, with things moving in a good direction, the coaching staff called a wildcat play that lost three yards. Before the next play, Ohio State was called for a false start. The drive stalled and resulted in a missed field goal after a penalty negated a made field goal (more on that in the next item). That gave the Nittany Lions good field position and started a series of punts for both teams. After the ball changed hands a few times, Penn State got back on the front foot and regained the lead. and then extended it to 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Flag Day (Again)
A week after getting a ton of penalties against Tulane, the flags kept coming and nearly cost the Buckeyes a crucial win. The 10 penalties for 105 yards came in all varieties. There were more idiotic dead ball unsportsmanlike conduct calls, a super questionable targeting call on Isaiah Pryor, a soft pass interference, and some that were just plain odd. One such strange penalty wiped out an Ohio State field goal on an accidental facemask by Luke Farrell, who was just trying to make himself as wide as possible and caught a defender’s headgear while blocking another player. Chase Young also got nailed for 15 yards on a facemask on one of the few times the defense bottled up Trace McSorley in the backfield. This is something the coaching staff has to clean up, but it’s also one of those things that the more you harp on it, the more it kind of feeds on itself sometimes.
Targeting: What Is It?
Speaking of targeting penalties, I’m really not sure why the NCAA doesn’t have different levels of fouls with regard to targeting. The two calls in this particular game couldn’t have been more different. Penn State’s came on a hit out of bounds in which the player launched himself, led with his helmet, and made forcible contact with Hill’s helmet. That’s open and shut. Pryor’s was anything but. He arrived after the receiver had made a catch and was behind Jordan Fuller. He came into the confrontation thinking he was the only player standing in the way of a Penn State touchdown. Even so, with the receiver stumbling, he pulled almost completely out of the contact, but the receiver stumbled and hit Pryor’s shoulder pad with his helmet. I’m not sure that there was anything else he could have done. The play didn’t just stand, but the referee announced that targeting was confirmed. I disagreed with some colorful language.
Those are the things that made me spittin’ mad on Saturday night. Honestly I thought the list was going to be much longer based on the first half performance. The positives were flowing much more freely after halftime, as the Buckeyes did what they had to do to get the job done on the road in the most hostile of environments. Those positives include Haskins’ 7/10 performance in the fourth quarter, Victor’s catch and run, Hill’s shoulder fake that sprung him into the end zone, wide receivers blocking downfield, and a great night from Chase Young.
Which items on the list bugged you the most? Were there other things that really fried your bacon? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see you next week after the Indiana game.