Thoughts on the OSU game

I’m back from the weekend camping excursion, upon which Hurricane Sandy did not impinge. Not only did I have a great time camping, but also I did not miss a single blown call in the Penn State vs. Ohio State game. Artificially Sweetened and your Nittany Turkey felt that it was worthwhile to interrupt the campout to drive a couple hundred miles and see the game with our gang at the house of Jackstand, who had prepared a feast composed of a marvelous standing rib roast, cooked to perfection. What a way to supplement camp food!

Sweaty Brutus like
The sweaty Brutus the Undefeated Buckeye likes being able to say “what if” his team could have played in the post-season.

Getting right on down to the business at hand, this game was supposed to be Penn State’s apotheosis — the game of the century, so to speak, which if won, would elevate the Nittany Lions to the vaunted position of rubbing elbows with the football gods themselves, so hep me Jay-sus. However, as it turned out, those football gods were inhospitable toward the assembled multitude of 107,818 white-clad worshippers in the Great Temple at Beavopolis, as beleaguered and bowl incapable Penn State (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten) dropped the Big One (and bit the big one) to similarly post-season ineligible Ohio State (9-0, 5-0), 35-23.

For the first half, the teams played a conservative, almost Paternoball game, a battle of field position. The sphincters were screwed tightly shut on both sidelines. It was clear that both coaching staffs respected the capabilities of their rivals’ respective teams. Penn State is the only remaining BCS team not to have been scored upon in the first quarter this year, and that remained the case after the first, scoreless stanza of this game. It was a punters’ duel.

It was the Ohio State punter, Ben Buchanan, who gave up the first points when Mike Hull blocked one of his mediocre efforts to get the ball away. Buchanan had been taking three or four steps on each punt attempt. Penn State saw that and capitalized. Michael Yancich recovered the blocked punt for an easy touchdown.

Ohio State answered on the next drive, moving the ball from its own 25 yard-line, eating up about 5½ minutes in the process.

At halftime, we at Mike’s Garage discussed the possibilities for the second half. I said I thought the sphincterball would end and both sides would decide that they would have to take some chances to win the game. Both sides did. Unfortunately, the chances Penn State took did not work out as planned. A 21-point OSU third quarter left the Nittany Lions in the dust. The Lions were able to muster only three points from the questionable foot of Sam Ficken, who kicked a 27-yarder early in the third quarter, after which Penn State was unheard from until the fourth quarter.

To open the third quarter, Penn State’s kickoff return unit gave the Lions shitty field position, with Bill Belton returning the ball to the PSU 11. After a six-yard run by Zach Zwinak followed by a sack of McGloin, the Lions had third-and-long at the 8. That’s when McGloin chose to screw up, throwing an errant pass over the middle, which was intercepted by Ryan Shazier and returned 17 yards to complete the pick six.

A dubious failed Penn State fourth down attempt near midfield gave the Buckeyes an opportunity at 6:41, which they were able to convert to seven points, taking the lead at 14-10, from whence they would not look back. After a Penn State three-and-out, Ohio State marched from their own 15 to score again.

This appeared to be a Virginia-like game in the making, with Penn State’s defense breaking down in the third quarter and the offense making goofy mistakes. At the end of three, it was Ohio State 28, Penn State 10.

Ohio State added another touchdown in the fourth period, while the Nittany Lions’ comeback attempt fell short. Way the hell short. PSU was able to put only 13 points on the board, and the Buckeyes won going away.

What sticks out in the stats is that Penn State was unable to run on the Ohio State, but the Buckeyes could sure run on Penn State. That alone is a formula for losing. The Buckeyes outrushed the Lions 234-32.

First downs were even at 19. However, Penn State’s third down efficiency was absolutely crappy at 5-17.  Just two of four fabulous Ficken Factor fourth down attempts resulted in successful conversions.

Penalties plagued both sides, with Ohio State having been assessed 75 yards on seven penalties, while Penn State got nailed for nine penalties aggregating 85 yards.

Aside from the interception, and in spite of a very effective OSU pass rush, Matt McGloin had a decent 27-45 day for 327 yards, two TDs, and the aforementioned interception. However, he was sacked four times for -37 yards. Vaunted Ohio State Heisman candidate Braxton Miller was 7-19 for 143 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He added 134 yards rushing to that total, as he did his one-man wrecking crew act.

Miller is good—no one can question that. He won the game for the Buckeyes with his performance. You could see the difference between last week’s mediocre effort against Purdue in which Miller sat injured on the sideline and which the Buckeyes had to pull out in overtime, versus this week, when he ran roughshod over Penn State. The vaunted Penn State defense was tired, confused, and ineffectual at stopping Miller by the third quarter. That’s all it took, but some notable errors helped things go the way of the scarlet and gray (read: pick-six, McGloin).

Was it a mistake to change the game plan at halftime, moving away from sphincterball? You make that call. I think it might have been, even though I was hoping for a more wide-open second half. On the other hand, Penn State was getting manhandled at the LOS and was gradually losing the battle of field position as a result. Thus, the halftime adjustment might have been necessary to avoid being ground into the dust.

I had been lulled into believing that there wasn’t a talent gap and that Penn State could come back from being in the hole big time. But this wasn’t Northwestern. This was Ohio State.

To those of you who hate Ohio State, tough shit. To those of you who hate Urban Meyer, the same. I can’t help you with your psychoses. Ohio State was the better team by far out there on Saturday. They were the better coached team. Anyone who relies on convenient excuses for the loss is in denial yet again. Blown calls did not lose the game for Penn State. The Nittany Lions were beaten. Pure and simple. I’ve seen way too  fucking much denial from Penn State homeys through the years. Fact is, aside from linebackers and defensive linemen, Penn State has been losing the recruiting wars for years. Thus, there is a talent gap. It was evident in this game.  And Braxton Miller was the agent of destruction.

What about Ohio State’s rushing defense, you who think Penn State should have won? Urban Meyer knew that he could control the game by nullifying the PSU running attack, forcing McGloin into passing situations. It worked. McGloin’s sacks totaled -37 yards. Other rushers were held at bay: Zwinak 12-42 and Belton 10-26. Remember what Darrell Royal once said: When you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad. Penn State was forced to throw, and some bad things happened.

Look, those of you whose faith remained strong through the first seven games, this is the first real football team Penn State played this year. A couple more loom on the horizon. Anyone who thought that wins over Iowa and Northwestern portended well for a romp through the Big Ten was completely full of shit. Those are high school teams. While the Big Ten has been getting a bad rap of late, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan can still play football, and are all capable of beating Penn State.

The fact is that, as Paterno often said, you’re never as good as you think you are when you win, and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose. Penn State has a good, but not great, defense. Penn State has a serviceable offensive line — unless they have a top-tier Big Ten defensive front seven to kick their asses all day. Nope, this unit is not yet ready for prime time. Sorry if the sports books made it look like it was an even game. That, along with the easy wins over Big Ten patsies, might have given you some false hopes. Me, too. I thought they were better than they were. Paterno’s sage words echo through my bird brain.

A couple of mistakes sealed the deal. SOA could have run in a pick-six, if only he could catch. It was there, man! Derek Day could have caught the ball on a potentially momentum shifting fake punt in the third quarter, but he didn’t quite have the skill to make a tough grab against dual-Heisman legacy baby Adam Griffin, son of the legendary Archie.

Mind you, there were indeed some bad calls by the officials. I don’t know what the conference does about reviewing officials, but someone needs to be given a Come to Jesus meeting about the stupid defensive holding call during an Ohio State punt in the third quarter that gave them a first down. WTF was that all about? Witvoet wasn’t even calling this game. Do they still teach the “Fuck Penn State” seminar at the annual Big Ten officials’ conference in Zagreb?

(This year, for budgetary reasons, they might be combining the Big Ten officials’ conference with the Lighthouse for the Blind. The Big Ten thinks some cross-pollination is good, or something.)

I think my assessment of the loss comes down to three things:

  1. Miller and a collection of opposing players with superior skills,
  2. Halftime adjustments pulled out of someone’s ass, and
  3. Intangibles: feeling the glory of “successes” against NWU and Iowa, a bit prematurely.

Miller is a star. If he doesn’t hurt himself and he doesn’t get into legal trouble, he’s destined for the NFL Hall of Fame. Stop your whining long enough to admit that. Respect a real player. How long has it been since Penn State had a player of that caliber? I can’t remember. Larry Johnson was about halfway there a decade ago.  Yeah, “they ain’t no ‘I’ in ‘team’,” as they say, but having an “I” like Braxton Miller obviates a lot of mistakes by the rest of the team.

There’s a lot of you out there who will put down Miller just because it feels good to say he’s not so great. I have no respect for those of you who do that, for all you’re doing is making this loss look all the worse for Penn State.

This was the largest crowd of the year at Beaver Stadium. A sellout, it is destined to be the last one of the year. It will not come close to being eclipsed. Indiana and Wisconsin would not have outdrawn this game even if PSU had won, and now, there’ll be the “why bother” factor.

Now that this team and its coaches know where they stand — and who they are — and absent great expectations of Leaders Division dominance, they can reel themselves in, recover from this loss, and play some decent games against Purdue, Nebraska, Indiana, and Wisconsin, none of which will be easy wins. Perhaps the fans, too, can shitcan the denial, reducing their expectations to reasonable limits.

Heart and hustle are great, but they don’t always help when the opponent is better. Ohio State was better. Get over it.

Comments

  1. says

    the “holding the longsnapper” call is still annoying me for some reason.

    i am still proud of everything this team has accomplished so far.

    • says

      Me too, although it is sometimes hard to see through my cynicism to get there. They have far exceeded my expectations this year.

      When the mainstream guys started trying to find a diamond in the rough, I worried that the “Could Penn State be the best team in the Big Ten” crap might go to our collective heads (the fans, the coaching staff, and the players — particularly the players who are kids, after all). It is up to the coaching staff to reel that sort of thing in and maintain a fair perspective. I think that above all else, the OSU loss represented a failure in that area — knowing one’s opponent, understanding the talent deficit, and planning accordingly. Bill O’Brien might be too used to the “Any Given Sunday” dictum; in spite of the differing relative success rates of NFL teams out there, the level of talent is uniformly high.

      Of course, there are some of us who still think that there is no talent deficit, but they’ll always be in denial. PSU did not have an answer for Braxton Miller, which was particularly evident on that touchdown play that started by faking Sean Stanley out of his jock and then eluding both Hodges and Mauti, who apparently had him sandwiched. Even Urban Meyer was amazed, and he gets to work with the kid five days a week.

      —TNT