That may have been the most satisfying win of the season.
The Buckeyes went into insanely hostile Beaver Stadium and shook off a tough first half to knock off the Penn State Nittany Lions 35-23 to take sole possession of first place in the Leaders Division. The 9-0 Buckeyes were led by Braxton Miller’s legs as he went 124 yards for 2 touchdowns on 24 carries. He also threw the ball 19 times for 7 receptions netting 143 yards and a touchdown. Carlos Hyde was relatively bottled up for the game, and only picked up 54 yards on his 20 carries, but he did pick up an important touchdown at the end of the first half. For his part, Matt McGloin had a good game throwing the football, picking up 327 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27/45 throwing.
It seems like this team is making baby steps in the right direction. They still struggle at times early in ballgames, but they did an excellent job continuing to chip away at the Nittany Lions defense. While things weren’t easy in the first half, they managed to go into the locker rooms tied at 7. Braxton and company then ran away with the game and did enough to hold off the inevitable Penn State 4th quarter comeback attempt. A great throw to Jake Stoneburner over the middle in single coverage with only 6 minutes left in the game basically sealed the deal as Stoneburner went 72 yards for the longest touchdown of his career.
I can’t say enough about how good the defense looked in this game. While they still gave up a few big plays, and they still struggle in coverage, they made good plays all over the field. Penn State had a very hard time running the football, collecting only 32 yards on 28 attempts for the game. It makes you wonder if the defense doesn’t sometimes “play down” to their opponents, and blow off games they expect will be easy at times. It could also simply be that Penn State’s offense plays better to our defensive strengths, but it’s hard to ignore that the two best defensive efforts this year have come against Michigan State and Penn State.
1. The defense in general was much improved today. A couple questionable decisions, but they held PSU scoreless in the first quarter with some good play. PSU’s adjustments began to get them moving, but the defense continued to do a solid job in making life difficult for McGloin and the Penn State offense.
2. Defensive QB pressure. We haven’t seen a lot of it this year, but we got a lot on Matt McGloin during this game. A number of players picked up sacks, 4 to be exact for 37 yards in losses, and more than a few hurries. All in all, the blitz calls were much improved over previous games.
3. Extra effort from Buckeye players. Jake Stoneburner especially gets props for this with his great catch, but better fight to earn the first down early in the game. Bradley Roby put in the extra effort to deflect a pass in the endzone after being faked out of position. Braxton Miller gave a fantastic fake hand-off on a read play and put in the extra effort to evade the blitzers for the touchdown. All over the field, the Buckeyes looked like they were actually buying in to the 4-6 seconds of constant effort message.
4. When the offense really focuses on what needs to be done, they’re nearly impossible to stop. That drive before the end of the first half was a thing of beauty against a reasonably competent defense. They also put together some great long drives with the running game during the second half, when things really started to get rolling. It’s almost like this offense works better when the defense is gassed.
5. Shazier. What a great way to honor a friend. Shazier wears the #48 for his friend Gary Curtis who passed away recently, and picks up a sack and a pick-6 to open the second half. What a huge game changing drive made possible by Shazier’s great play.
6. Adam Griffin. Great to see Adam make a play on special teams, especially one as critical as stopping the fake punt. Well deserved celebration for him.
1. Early playcalling. There were a couple questionable calls, including running the wildcat with Carlos Hyde on 3rd and 1. Yes, it could have been an effective play, but run it when we aren’t desperate for the down.
2. The long plays for the other team. Stop me if I sound like a broken record, but the defense is still struggling to stop the big plays. Worse yet, they compound the problem with poor tackling and terrible angles that turn it into an even bigger play. This needs to stop, but I don’t know if they can fix it this year.
3. Missed Interceptions. I shouldn’t complain too much about them, especially since Penn State missed more than a few, but it’s still frustrating to see the defense drop a couple easy ones. This is especially true for Christian Bryant’s. It was a pick 6 from the OSU 10 that hit him in the hands and he simply dropped it. Gotta catch those opportunities.
4. Our special teams are exactly that sometimes – special. The Blocked punt was a serious game changer at a tight moment of the game. It’s yet another case where our special teams “got cute”. We need to just run the basic stuff and worry about getting cute when we’re more consistent with the fundamentals.
Next up are the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday, November 3rd at a 3:30 PM. You’ll be able to see that game on the Big Ten Network.