#2 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-1)
Before we get to the Buckeyes, let me gloat about my first half season prediction being right on the mark. In my August musing, I wrote that Kitties would be 4-2 going into the Ohio State game, with losses to Pitt and Michigan. That’s where we are, although it was pretty much a no-brainer to predict. I and just about everyone else can say “I told you so,” although if we all forecast the same thing, there’s no one to brag to.
However, my prediction for the initial game of the second half of the season, namely the Buckeyes, was a flight of fancy. I predicted an upset victory for Penn State at home in whited out St. Joe Memorial Stadium at Beaver, based on the Nittany Lions coming together by the mid-point in the season after a bye week and the Buckeyes coming off a hard-fought game at Camp Randall.
There’s a little truth in both of those prognostic justifications, and you cant’t deny that the atmosphere in St. Joe will be charged with the kind of high voltage energy a big game always generates. The noise level will be deafening, say 140 dBA or so, and the sea of white will be intimidating. Even the mighty Buckeyes are certain to be discombobulated at times by the hostile environment.
Can they do it?
But can the Nittany Lions do it? As of this midway point of the 2016 season, I’ve seen improvement, but frankly, not enough to make my pre-season pie-in-the-sky prediction come true. Even playing mostly mediocre teams, Penn State’s third down conversion rate and time of possession, which go hand-in-hand, are the worst in the Big Ten, while the Buckeyes are tops in both categories. On defense, only Rutgers and Purdue have allowed more rushing yards than the Lions. Meanwhile, Ohio State is best in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging just over 300 yards per game.
Accordingly, I’ll be recanting. The Buckeyes will win this thing going away. Read on anyway — or skip the boring stuff and go directly to the last paragraph for my Official Turkey Poop Prediction.
As you know, Penn State is riding high after its 38-14 demolition of the Maryland Terps. Ahhh, afterglow. To coin half of a Paternoism, “you’re never quite as good as you think you are when you win.” Maryland has shown that they were pretenders all along, which allowed Messrs. McSorley and Barkley to showcase their talents enough to make the Nittany Lions look like a contender for the title of “Best Team in the Big Ten Not Named Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, or Nebraska.” Now, they’re rested, with a bye week having intervened between the Maryland ass-kicking and the forthcoming clash with the Buckeyes.
Penn State’s claim to fame this year is knocking off two previously undefeated teams in two consecutive weeks, but both of those teams, Minnesota and Maryland, have shown that they suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
Rough Time at Camp Randall
Meanwhile, Ohio State had a rough game with #8 Wisconsin last week. The Badgers jumped out to an early lead and held onto it until the fourth quarter when the Buckeyes tied it up, winning with a touchdown in overtime. tOSU allowed 214 yards passing and 236 yards rushing, with senior Badger running back Corey Clement galloping for a season-high 164 yards. Stats were mostly pretty even, but Urban Meyer and the boys got tough when they needed to, pulling off a win with a great defensive play in OT.
Offensively, junior dual-threat quarterback J. T. Barrett went 17-29 for 226 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the overtime win for the Buckeyes. He was Ohio State’s leading rusher, running for 92 yards on 21 carries, with two touchdowns. On defense, sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker had 13 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss.
The Buckeyes shine in several areas, but one you might not be thinking about is punting, in which they lead the conference with an average of over 50 yards per punt. Senior punter Cameron Johnston is the man responsible, having improved his average from 43.9 yards last year to 50.8 in 2016. He’s one of the best in the land.
Senior kicker Tyler Durbin is perfect so far this year, with 8 field goals.
It is hard to find a weak area on this squad, so I stopped looking.
How to do it?
So, how can Penn State win this game? Well, if Koa Farmer can put a hit on J.T. Barrett that knocks him out of the game as he did with Perry Hills of Maryland, they’ll be eliminating a lot of offense. Alas, that worked with the Terps, but the Buckeyes are a different story. First off, Farmer will have to catch Barrett, which is quite a task in itself. Or how about turning Joey “Big Toe” Julius loose on defense. Go to a 3-4 and give him the nose tackle job. (Or does he need a 40-yard runway to build enough velocity to make those big hits?) I’m being facetious here, but it will be fun to watch the JJ Sideshow nonetheless. One crushing hit will take the edge off this loss.
Buckeyes are an offensive machine…
But seriously, though, folks, the Buckeyes’ offense is solid. Two rushers, freshman sensation Mike Weber and junior Curtis Samuel, appear on the Big Ten leaderboard, averaging 102 and 76 yards, respectively. J.T. Barrett leads the conference in pass efficiency, with short throws to Samuel out of the backfield being a particular preference. With 403 yards as a receiver along with 456 yards rushing thus far, Samuel is best in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards, averaging 143.2 yards per game. Weber is no slouch, either, having racked up 631 yards this season, all but 19 on the ground. And, finally, J.T. Barrett is third in the conference in total offense, with 434 rushing yards and 1207 passing, for an average of 273.5 per game.
…and their defense does not suck…
Even though the Buckeyes lack several starters from last year’s defense, the remaining defenders along with the up-and-comers are top-notch performers. They are young, but talented — and besides, they’re coached by former Penn State assistant Larry Johnson along with another former Penn State assistant, Greg Schiano. Some say that freshman defensive tackle Nick Bosa is even better than his vaunted NFL brother Joey. Penn State’s less than serviceable offensive line will have its hands full trying to protect Trace McSorley and provide running room for former freshman speedster Saquon Barkley.
…but Penn State’s defense ain’t quite there yet!
Counting on the Penn State defense of 2016 to keep it close would be a serious mistake, no matter who might be returning from injury. Marcus Allen, a safety, is second in the Big Ten in tackles. Malik Golden, another safety, is averaging seven. When the secondary is making a disproportionate share of the tackles, you know that the front seven are deficient. Safeties are continually cleaning up their garbage. Whether you want to admit it or not, they can’t tackle up front, and that’s a great big part of the failure of this defense. It’s a sad situation for the Sanguinarians to be in perpetual denial of all that. The fact is, though, that the Nittany Lions are 12th in the Big Ten in rushing defense, with only Rutgers and Purdue behind them. They’ve been allowing over 200 yards per game, while the Buckeyes have been rolling up 300+ on the ground.
Unless Ohio State comes out with “that dullard look”, I foresee scarlet billows spreading in whited-out Beaver Stadium (formerly and henceforth known as St. Joe Memorial Stadium).
In short, our Nittany Lions can’t do it. All I want to see is a complete effort from them.
Alumnus of the Week — “The Toe”
Before there was ever a Joey “Big Toe” Julius, there was a Lou “The Toe” Groza, our alumnus of the week. Not quite as rotund as JJ, Groza was a big guy at 6-3, 250, who in addition to being an All-Pro kicker, also played offensive tackle. When I was growing up as a Steelers fan in Pittsburgh, I looked up to #76 of the Cleveland Browns, even in his later years when his belly overhung his belt. He was the Mr. Automatic of his day.
Born in 1924 in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio to immigrant parents from Transylvania (Romania) who ran Groza’s Tavern on Main Street, Lou was a multi-sport star at Martin’s Ferry High School, where he lettered in football, basketball, and baseball. He was captain of the basketball team that won the state championship in 1941.
Groza enrolled at Ohio State and played on the freshman football team in 1942 before enlisting in the U.S. Army to serve in World War II, reaching the rank of Master Sergeant in the 96th Infantry in the Pacific Theater. While he was in the army, he received a package from Paul Brown, his former coach at Ohio State. It included a contract for him to sign and play on a professional team Brown was coaching. That team turned out to be the Cleveland Browns, for whom Groza played his entire pro career.
Lou the Toe was a four-time NFL champ and appeared in nine Pro Bowls. He was selected to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team and the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. His jersey #76 was retired in Cleveland. While he was playing for the Browns, he continued to study at Ohio State during the off-season, and he graduated with a degree in business in 1949. Although he suffered a back injury in 1959 and took 1960 off, he wound up playing for the Browns until 1967, when he retired after 21 seasons at the age of 44.
Groza is one of only three place kickers admitted to the NFL Hall of Fame, having been accorded that honor in 1974. (The other two are George Blanda and Jan Stenerud — I knew you’d ask.)
Groza ran a successful insurance business until his death at the coincidental age of 76 in 2000. The Cleveland Browns wore the number 76 on their helmets in 2001 to memorialize the great kicker.
You never know from week to week — or even day-to-day — what kind of weather you’re going to get in Central Pennsylvania in mid-October. The current forecast is for a high of 49°F on Saturday with an overnight low of 38°F, and a morning shower or two. A bit of a chill is in the air for this nationally televised 8:00 PM kickoff affair.
The Bottom Line
Now, it’s finally time to take a hard look at who’s going to win this thing and by how much and who does what to whom and what-not and WTF. The current spread favors the Buckeyes by 20, with an over/under of 60. I tellya, we ain’t getting no respect! The gamblers, by no means believers in the greatness of Penn State upon which the Sanguinarians base their perpetual optimism (increasingly coupled with perpetual disappointment), are looking for an Ohio State victory by a score of approximately 40-20.
A lot depends on whether the PSU defense has used the bye week for healing many of its wounds, but I don’t believe we’ll be seeing as much offense from Penn State as we did against Maryland. The Nittany Lions improved their national ranking in third down conversions from 127th to 123rd in that category because the Terp defense was sievelike. The Pussycats now sport an amazing 27.4% average! Hell, Ohio State converts only 50.6%, so the Lions are slowly converging. Very slowly. Anyhow, I’m not seeing 20 points from the Kitties. I can get to 13. Yeah, lucky 13. A couple of Tyler Davis field goals and one lucky TD late in garbage time. Ohio State 48, Penn State 13. Take the over.
Around the Big Ten
I’m not going yet… I just wanted to mention a couple of things we gleaned from the games played during Penn State’s bye week.
Stocks going up: Indiana, Northwestern.
Stocks going down: Moo U. (big time), Maryland.
No Friggin’ Way: Rutgers.
Best Performance During a Bye Week: Michigan.
First Coaching Casualty: Purdue.
For the second week in a row, the Indiana Hoosiers proved to Top Ten teams that they are no pushovers. This week, they bowed to #10 Nebraska, 27-22.
The Big Ten’s awfullest team, Rutgers, once again lost, this time to the Fighting Illiniweks, 24-7. It is increasingly difficult to imagine Rutgers winning another game this season. (Their two victories were non-conference games against Howard and New Mexico.)
Minnesota confirmed the aforementioned pretenderhood of the Maryland Terps with a 31-10 victory in a clash we’ll call The Revenge of the Formerly Undefeated Who Lost to Penn State.
Iowa jumped out to an early lead over Purdue. With a 35-7 margin at the half, Kirk Ferentz put his scrubs in for the remainder of the game, eventually winning 49-35. On the other sideline, Purdue Head Coach Darrell Hazell lost more than the game. Halfway through yet another crappy season for the Boilermakers, Purdue fired Hazell.
What the hell is going on at Moo U.? Seems like they have no defense since Pat Narduzzi went Pittward. At the beginning of this Big Ten season, could you imagine Northwestern scoring 54 points on anyone? Not even on Rutgers. Well, in the words of our latest winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, The Times, They Are A-Changin’. The Wildcats have reached new highs, while the once mighty defense of the Spartans has crumbled, giving up 490 yards to the ‘Cats. The Land Grant Trophy imperiled — it might come back to the All-Sports Museum if the Nittany Lions aren’t careful.
#4 Michigan, on a bye week, didn’t have to so much as lift a finger to move up to #3. Because Clemson almost lost to N.C. State, they wuz dissed down to #4, allowing the Wolverines to be sucked up into the vacuum thus created.
And that’s it for now. I’ll catch up with you again after the game.