It was a game that was much closer than it should have been, so it was the perfect postgame for me to walk out on my lawn in my bathrobe and slippers and start shaking my fist at passersby. Ohio State controlled the game against Penn State except when the Buckeyes decided to roll the ball on the ground for fun or call plays everyone knew was coming but they tried them anyway. It was a head-scratching game with uncharacteristic turnovers and play calling but in the end, Ohio State won by two scores in a series that’s been razor thin in terms of victory margin in recent years.
Let’s see what really got my blood boiling in a 28-17 win over Penn State.
Haubeil’s Opening Kickoff
It didn’t take long to get my dander up. Blake Haubeil has — either by design or failure to execute — left a lot of kickoffs short this year. His opening kickoff was particularly short, which set up Penn State in excellent field position to start the game. The Nittany Lions started at their 40. The Buckeyes eventually stopped the drive but then had to go more than 90 yards as a result. It’s nice that they could do it, but a better kickoff would have reduced the level of difficulty.
The Fields Fumble
Ohio State was about to take a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter when Justin Fields lost the football going into the end zone. It wasn’t the first time this season Fields has lost the ball while going in, but this time he lost it before the goal line and it was a turnover instead of a score. It also wrecked a great defensive stand that got the offense the ball in Penn State territory. The stop gave life to Penn State, which then moved the ball down the field on the OSU defense before stalling and punting in plus territory to flip the field.
Munford’s Very Bad Drive
Tackle Thayer Munford cost his team dearly early in the second quarter and stopped a promising drive. A big run by J.K. Dobbins earned a first down but Munford was whistled for what looked to be a pretty weak holding call. Honestly I’m more angry with the call considering what Chase Young had to put up with all day. But Munford then got beat to allow a sack on the next play. When you stack those two errors (OK, an error and a borderline malpractice suit against the officials) with him being blown up twice on run plays for negative yardage earlier in the half, it was not the best we’ve seen from Munford in 2019.
Drue Chrisman: Still Broken?
Wisconsin obviously needs to start paying rent to live in Drue Chrisman’s head. The previously brilliant punter has been average to poor ever since seeing his boot blocked in the third quarter of that game. His first opportunity to pin Penn State deep in its own territory sailed into the end zone. Downing the ball inside the 20, previously a specialty of Chrisman, has been almost non-existent since the Wisconsin block. However, maybe there were signs of him coming out of that, as he downed his next two punts inside the 20 and finished with a 43-yard average. Let the turnaround begin.
Teague’s Trials and Tribulations
Master Teague got a series in the second quarter and it went poorly. On first down, he carried wide and appeared to stumble on the turf and lost yardage. Before the next snap, Teague committed a false start while lined up wide and that was it for his first half. Teague has been a great player for the Buckeyes this season and maybe he was a bit too amped up in such a big game. He did later have a nice run for a first down when Ohio State was trying to run out the clock.
Final Drive of the First Half
Ohio State botched a chance for points late in the first half with numerous mistakes in plus territory on the final drive of the second quarter. Fields did well to avoid the pass rush but then floated his pass for Chris Olave, who failed to make a catch he normally makes — despite the defender hitting him just before the ball arrived on an uncalled pass interference that was caused by the floating pass. Branden Bowen then got flagged for an illegal formation. Fields then tried an interior scramble to avoid the pass rush rather than getting outside where acres of open space awaited. To make matters worse, he had a wide open receiver on a crossing route that he didn’t see just before he tried scrambling. With the Buckeyes getting the first possession of the second half, Ryan Day opted not to try a Hail Mary play on third and extremely long. I mean…you’ve got Olave, Ben Victor, and Garrett Wilson.
Terrible Tackling Returns
Ohio State’s defense tackled poorly on the first Penn State drive of the third quarter. Malik Harrison could have stopped Journey Brown for a loss but instead gave up a chunk run. Then Brown shrugged off multiple Buckeyes to score a touchdown to cap the drive. It’s not the kind of tackling we’re accustomed to from Ohio State’s defenders, especially fresh out of the locker room. And then things got worse.
On the first play after the Nittany Lions’ touchdown, the Buckeyes called the same exact running play to the left they had called all day and it finally cost them. Dobbins allowed a weak strip while trying to hunt for a hole to run into and cutting back to his right. His fumble allowed the Nitts to score just a couple of plays later and got Penn State back into the game, turning a game that was about to get out of hand into something that was very much still in hand.
The Fields Fumble II
Fields lost his second fumble of the day with the score tightening, only this time his knee certainly appeared to be down before the ball came out. The officiating crew didn’t see it that way even when the video showed his knee on the ground with the ball still in his hand. This was the second review that seemed clear and obvious but didn’t get overturned, with the first being the initial Penn State touchdown. Just throw replay out if you’re not going to use it to overturn obvious calls. Penn State cashed in with a field goal to make it 17 unanswered points, of which 10 were handed over free of charge.
Law of Averages is a Jerk
Penn State had its second muffed snap deep in its own territory and once again the Nitts got the favorable bounce of the oblong ball. Penn State was five-for-five at that point in fortunate bounces, getting on three Ohio State fumbles and two of its own muffed snaps. This one would have almost certainly given Ohio State seven points as Chase Young may have gotten that in the end zone or at worst on the 1-yard line. The Nitts then got on a Will Levis fumble that Young forced later to go six-for-six on balls on the ground. Law of Averages, you are a jerk, but feel free to make it up to us next Saturday or in Indianapolis in two weeks.
Ohio State’s play calling was perplexing almost all day. Granted, the OSU pass protection could have been better, but after two straight weeks of watching the Nittany Lions get carved up through the air, it was weird not to see more from the passing game. The rain didn’t really set in until the third quarter. When Ohio State decided to pass, it was usually in a more obvious down and distance than you’d like. The Buckeyes tried a lot more straight quarterback runs than we’ve seen previously and there was really nothing unexpected. If I can predict the next play, I would expect a college defensive coordinator to be able to do it. I’d rather think Ryan Day and company were refusing to show stuff to Michigan than playing afraid. Personally I think that cautious coaching rubs off on the players. They’re wild stallions who are used to running free. Let them run.
That’s what got my blood pressure up on Saturday. In the end, it probably didn’t go up as high as the last few years’ worth of Penn State games. It was good to see Ohio State get a four-quarter test and face more athletic competition. Hopefully it will be a springboard to bigger things.
It’s hard to believe but there is only one more of these for me to write in the 2019 regular season as Ohio State and That Team Up North renew the greatest rivalry in sports next Saturday.