It is Michigan Week, so we don’t want to spend too much time talking about less important things like the Penn State game, but if we put what we learned this week into context regarding the Wolverines, maybe we can justify the expense.
The Buckeyes went to work on another easy win, but a funny thing happened on the way to a blowout.
After a 21-0 start, the Nittany Lions started fighting back. They fought all the way back to 21-17 and probably learned something about themselves along the way.
Ryan Day also learned some things about his team as well — and after the game he was very happy that his team faced some doubts and overcame them.
But more importantly — what did we learn?
1. Anything easy ain’t worth a damn.
Imagine in 2002 being so fraught about an 11-point win? Heck, back then, that was a blowout. But I guess as far as difficulties go, this was the grandest so far for the Buckeyes. Granted, I think the Ohio State offense was more responsible for the difficulties than Penn State was, but credit the Nittany Lions for forcing the three turnovers that ground this game to a halt. They weren’t all going to be blowouts, but then what would been the fun of that? What? That still would have been fun to you? Regardless, just about every championship team has a game in the regular season that nearly ruins things for them. I don’t know if an 11-point win classifies as one of those games, but it was still the furthest the Buckeyes have been pushed, and now they’ll be able to use the experience to remain calm in future difficult situations. Any anyway, Ohio State has still led by at least 21 points in every game this season. That’s pretty impressive.
2. Few linebackers in America can do what Pete Werner does.
Just think, about 11 months ago, Jeff Hafley, Greg Mattison, and Larry Johnson sat down to come up with this year’s defense. In order to deal with the variety of offenses on the Ohio State schedule — as well as the varieties of offenses they see from snap to snap, they brought with them the hybrid linebacker/safety position now known as the Bullet. The Bullet was going to be able to handle the spread offenses or the talented pass-catching tight end or the speedier, smaller offenses. Turns out, they didn’t need to create a new position for this, they simply needed to put Pete Werner in the game and leave him alone. As famed inventor Ron Popeil used to say, “Just set it and forget it.” Werner was fantastic on Saturday shadowing tight end Pat Freiermuth and shared the Buckeyes’ Defensive Player of the Game award this week with some guy named Chase Young. He’ll need to be fantastic again against a Michigan team that has a pair of tight ends who can get open down the field.
3. Maybe nobody else in America can do what Shaun Wade does.
Shaun Wade is like an El Camino. Part car, part truck, and all style. Wade would seamlessly go from defending the ultra-quick, ultra-fast 5-foot-9 KJ Hamler in the slot, to matching up with 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end Pat Freiermuth, who is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the nation. Wade didn’t give up much, and also happened to close out Penn State’s hopes with a PBU on fourth-and-12 on a pass intended for Hamler. Michigan’s most-productive receiver is slot Ronnie Bell. They also happen to throw to the tight ends. Expect Wade to be just as busy next Saturday as he was this past Saturday.
4. Jashon Cornell is underrated.
Jim Tressel would talk often about Buckeyes having their very best seasons in their very last year. Jashon Cornell has certainly done that. He unselfishly moved to defensive end last year for depth purposes, but has been very, very good this year back home at defensive tackle. He showcased his quickness on more than one occasion against Penn State, and should Michigan worry too much about Chase Young on the outside, they will find themselves asking, “Who was that No. 9 that just ran into the backfield?”
5. So is Chase Young.
It is impossible to overrate Chase Young, just so you know. Even calling him human is kind of an insult. Chase Young is what would happen if Clark Kent’s parents had let their son play football.
6. Can’t lose three fumbles and beat Michigan.
Especially when one of those fumbles happens at the goal line. That’s essentially a double turnover because it costs you possession and it removes seven points from the scoreboard. Still, things were going okay for the Buckeyes because there was only so much the Nittany Lions could do on offense. Ryan Day loves his defense and didn’t think Penn State’s offense would be able to do too much. He was right. Penn State didn’t score until starting quarterback Sean Clifford was injured and PSU had to change their offensive approach. It took the Buckeyes a bit to get a fix on Penn State’s offense, but they still only allowed one drive of more than 50 yards in the game and only three that went more than 18 yards. Day is right to trust his defense, and he will likely do it again on Saturday, but the turnovers will hamper every conservative approach.
7. Feeding JK Dobbins just makes him hungrier.
JK Dobbins had a big smile after the game, and this was following 36 carries for 157 hard-fought yards. There were no home runs, just a bunch of singles and doubles, and most of them featured a face wash from a glove applying a tag. But that is what makes Dobbins happy, and that is what he missed last year. It was a surprise that he didn’t end up busting a big one, but give credit to Penn State’s defense, which came into the game allowing a nation’s-best 2.2 yards per carry. Dobbins got them for double that per carry, by the way. The great thing about Dobbins is he’d love nothing more than another 36 carries next week. And the week after.
8. The pass protection is a concern.
Penn State had been somewhat underperforming as a pass rushing team this season, but they got after Justin Fields on Saturday. He was sacked three times, which is about normal for him, but it seemed pretty clear that Ryan Day was a bit concerned about the pressure Fields was under. Michigan gets after the quarterback about as much as Penn State, but they’ll throw some linebacker blitzes in as well, which gave OSU trouble against Wisconsin. Fields could also help this a bit by getting rid of the ball sooner, but having thrown just one interception this season, his decision making has been very solid.
9. Garrett Wilson has as much guts as talent.
Running full speed to catch a punt in order to keep it from bouncing and losing you 30 yards is a pretty difficult task to master. Doing it while there are 10 other guys running at you full speed and aiming to hit you shortly after you catch the ball is a seemingly impossible task. But Garrett Wilson appears to have no fear, which is exactly what you want from your punt returner, provided they don’t ever drop the ball. Wilson has tons of talent and we’ll see it more and more throughout his career, but watching the way he attacks the ball on punt returns, you can tell he’s a natural at the game.
10. Don’t none of it matter now.
It’s Michigan Week. Whatever happened before now was fun, but it’s time to get serious. Put the toys away. Get the bats and the nails and the bats with the nails in them. Get your best barbed wire and wrap it around your fists. Tell your kids you love them and that the insurance is paid up, but you’ll be gone the rest of the week because you’ve got something to take care of.