November 17, 2010

Review: Ohio State 38, Penn State 14

The very highest of highlights, and very lowest of lowlights, from Penn State's dramatic meltdown in Columbus.

It's tough to really get past the terrible second half performance by the Nittany Lions. But for about 30 minutes Saturday afternoon, Penn State was dominating Ohio State like it was 1994. Okay, maybe not that dominant. But it sure felt like Penn State was facing just some Ohio State university, not The Ohio State University.

What to like. What to hate. What to not freak out about. Right now...

Tip of the Hat

Disclaimer: Most of the items listed in this section took place in the first half. There were very few, if any, aspects of Penn State's performance in the second half that were successful or commendable.

Matt McGloin - The redshirt sophomore carved into Ohio State's secondary like he was hosting Thanksgiving dinner. McGloin went 13-of-16 for 141 and 2 beautiful touchdown passes. Maybe it was just his ginger neck-beard, but I swear McGloin was breathing fire during that first half.

Offensive Line - You know one stat that won't get much attention? Zero. As in, zero sacks given up by Penn State to Ohio State. Considering there was Cameron Heyward and the nation's No. 3 defense on the other side of the line, the Nittany Lions' offensive line did a fine job keeping McGloin upright long enough to do some serious damage before the intermission. And while the 3.5 yards per carry isn't impressive, Penn State still doubled its rushing production from the Iowa and Illinois games, when the Nits only averaged about 58 yards on the ground.

Justin Brown - Derek Moye was close to getting an official TOTH this week, especially for his great touchdown grab. But Brown takes the honor. On the first touchdown drive, Brown caught the final three passes, for 46 total yards and the score. Brown has been close all season to breaking out as a top-notch receiver. It could be strongly argued that he has now arrived.

Pass Defense - Take away one fantastic grab 49-yarder by Devier Posey, and one of the most freakish touchdown receptions of the year in Dane Sanzenbacher's 58-yard score off a deflection, and Penn State held Terrelle Pryor to 6-of-11 passing for 32 yards and one touchdown. Even that touchdown was 17 yards. That adds up to three passes accounting for 89 percent of Pryor's passing yardage for the game. The coverage was good. The tackling was decent. This was by far the most consistent unit through the entire game against Ohio State.

Devon Still/Ollie Ogbu - This one gets blamed on the linebackers. Ogbu and Still were being double-teamed most of the game, but the rest of the front seven didn't help them out. Even without tackles for loss, sacks, or even plain old tackles (Ogbu and Still combined for just three tackles), these two guys did their jobs by eating blockers up the middle, and forcing runs to the outside where under normal circumstances, the linebackers and ends would gobble them up.

Wag of the Finger

Run Defense - This was Alabama all over again. The linebackers had opportunities on almost every Ohio State running play to at least hold Dan "Boom" Herron to a minimal gain, mostly due to Ogbu and Still taking up blockers. But the holes were never plugged. And when runs were flushed outside, the linebackers and ends were always a step or two too late in getting off their blocks, or just plain running towards the runner on the edge. I'm hoping this has everything to do with experience. Because if it's talent, Penn State is in trouble next year.

Bani Gbadyu - I've gotten away from calling out individual players in recent weeks. And I've always tried to give players the benefit of the doubt, especially a guy like Bani. But with the chance to stop Herron short of a first down deep in Ohio State territory, Bani froze, whiffed, and allowed a critical first down. The Buckeyes went on to finish the 96-yard drive with a touchdown. Ballgame.

Matt McGloin - Sorry to those McGloin apologists out there. I was all gung-ho on the McGloin bandwagon this week, after hesitating to jump on for a few weeks now. But now I remember why I wasn't so eager to climb on. McGloin did well in the first half, and on the first drive of the second half. Devon Smith (more on him next) dropped a perfectly-thrown pass that would have replenished Penn State's lost momentum from the first half. But it's up to McGloin to shake off those kinds of things. McGloin thew his first McSix (HT:BSD) on the very next drive, and it was all over from there. The Scranton Slinger attempted six* passes after the first interception. All six were either incomplete or a touchdown for the other team.

*For those of you screaming "Well, maybe if they passed on first down..." McGloin did attempt two passes on first down after the first interception. Both fell incomplete. That's 33 percent of first downs in the second half.

Drops Two drops, specifically. The first is the worst. Devon Smith dropped what was a perfect pass. The ball went right through his arms, as he had the corner beat by a good two steps. Even if he didn't make it to the end zone, Smith would have gained at least 20-30 yards. It would have helped quiet the crowd, which was gaining excitement as momentum was still only starting to swing towards the Buckeyes. It was one of the many big turning-point plays for Penn State. The next big drop was partly McGloin's fault, but mostly Derek Moye's fault. After Malcolm Willis picked off Terrelle Pryor at the Penn State two yard line, the offense faced 3rd and 6. McGloin threw the ball what looked to be a split second before the play called for, resulting in Moye caught off guard just enough to drop the pass. It was still catchable, though.

Kick/Punt Returns - Ohio State nearly lost one game (Miami) and did lose another (Wisconsin) directly due to breakdowns in kick and punt coverage. Penn State made this Ohio State team look like it was the "Tressel-ball" teams of eight years ago. Chaz Powell did nothing on kickoffs, while the punt returners didn't exactly make a splash. The best return was late by Shawney Kersey, who was in for Stephfon Green.

Misc. Observations

-Let's just cut this short right here. Before Ohio State stopped him on fourth and 1, Redd carried the ball three times for 27 yards. That's nine yards per carry, with the shortest gain going for four yards. It was not incorrect to go for it on fourth down. And while I'll accept arguments that other plays (pass/play-action/etc.) could have worked, the call for Redd to carry the ball was not dumb.

-Michael Mauti went down with a shoulder injury. He's listed this week as "probable" against Indiana. The defense went south once Mauti left the game.

-Stephfon Green also went down. He's not listed on the Indiana injury report, so it's safe to assume he's good to go.

-Rob Bolden made an appearance, though you probably turned the game off, or turned away from the plasma over the bar. Bolden went 0-for-3.

-The Ohio State band played a song--I can't for the life of me figure out the name--that is primarily used in SEC country. It's a "chaser" type of tune, relatively short. I only mention this because of said use among SEC schools. You'll hear it a few times per game from teams (if I remember correctly) like LSU and Alabama. Please email me if you know what song I'm talking about. It's driving me crazy.

-Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments.


Ohio State is an excellent football team. In case you've forgotten, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 for a week this year, and remain probably one of the best one-loss teams in the nation, if not the best. And what did Penn State do to them? The Nittany Lions came into Ohio Stadium, a 18- to 20-point underdog (the spread widened just prior to kickoff), and kicked Ohio State right in the buckeyes. It took the home team more than 30 minutes of football before recovering to realize, "Hey! Wait a minute. We're better than those guys!"

Ignoring context, I'm not sure this loss wasn't more painful than pretty much any loss the last five years. As I said, context (like PSU's No. 3 rank at Iowa in '08) taken out. The Nittany Lions proved they could hang with a team that was supposed to beat the living hell out of them. Granted, it turned out to be just as ugly in the end as it was expected to be from the start. But any Ohio State fan, player, or coach who tells you they weren't scared out of their minds, they're lying to your face.

Penn State has two more shots to guarantee a winning season. Indiana next week doesn't have even a sliver of the kind of defense Ohio State is fielding this year. After that, the Spartans come calling one last time in a Beaver Stadium season finale. If these Nittany Lions can play with the kind of emotion we all saw on display through just over two quarters Saturday in the Horseshoe, Penn State could very well finish the regular season 8-4.

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