Recanting the recantation
As I originally predicted before my lunatic fringe recantations, in the words of the late, lamented, inimitable Bob Prince, “We had ’em all the way!” On a mighty crappy night weatherwise, the spirit of St. Joe prevailed at whited out St. Joe Memorial Stadium at Beaver, as the much maligned (by me) Penn State Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) whipped the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-1, 3-1) 24-21. This surprised the hell out of me and just about every other predictor. Quite a few bookies are crying in their beer this morning.
Dull first half…
The first half started looking like it was going to be a dull game, but it was apparent that the Nittany Lions defense came to play. Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell returned from injury and suddenly, Penn State had functional linebackers who didn’t leave the tackling to the secondary. Bell wound up with 18 tackles, including eight solos, one sack, and one TFL, while Cabinda had 12 tackles including two solos, a sack, and two TFLS. Manny Bowen added 11. And Joey Julius had one tackle. By Urban Meyers’ own admission, the Penn State defensive line controlled the LOS. After sitting out the first half for undisclosed reasons, sackmeister Garrett Sickels had 2.5 sacks on hapless J. T. Barrett.
The Penn State offense was contained pretty well by the Buckeyes until the end of the second quarter when, trailing 12-0, the Lions scored in a well executed two minute drill. Two big plays made the touchdown happen, first a 34 yard Trace McSorley pass to DaeSean Hamilton that took the Nits down to the OSU 20, and then after an incompletion to Barkley, a 20 yard pass to Chris Godwin in the end zone. At the end of what was up to then a dull half, the score was 12-7, scarlet and gray.
Second half excitement!
The second half continued the snoozefest, as could be attested by the notably low noise level of whited out St. Joe, where no doubt many fans were still under the stands escaping the cold rain. After trading punts, the Buckeyes scored a touchdown to make it 19-7. In the following series, punter Blake Gillikin watched the snap sail over his head into the end zone, which he alertly covered for a safety. Mid third-quarter, it appeared that Ohio State was on the road to victory with a 21-7 lead.
NOT SO FAST! At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Trace McSorley executed another fine touchdown drive, including (as usual) a couple of big plays. After a 16-yard completion to newly patched-up Mike Gesicki, McSorley handed the ball to Saquon Barkley, who favored him with a 37-yard scamper, followed by a McSorley 35-yard pass to Saeed Blacknall to the OSU 2. McSorley ran it in from there. Suddenly, the re-energized Nittany Lions were back in the game, with thirteen and a half minutes to go. Penn State would add a field goal resulting from a blocked Cameron Brown punt.
That blocked punt was the start of something big for Penn State special teams. After the Tyler Davis field goal, Joey Julius kicked off and the Buckeyes drove down to the Penn State 28 where they stalled. Tyler Durbin, who had been perfect thus far this season, lined up to kick a field goal. He kicked it low enough for Marcus Allen to get a hand on it. Grant Haley picked up the loose ball and ran his ass off, sixty yards to paydirt, giving the Nittany Lions their first lead of the contest with 4:27 to go.
Ohio State was not done yet and the ending would not be without controversy. J.T. Barrett threw an incompletion to James Clark that would have set up a score. The replays showed that Clark was clearly interfered with, but the officials did not make the call. The game essentially ended two plays later after the Penn State defense sacked Barrett twice.
Putting it in perspective.
This was the first win over the Buckeyes since 2011, and the first win against a top-five team since 1999, when the Nits beat Arizona. It was the first win over a top-two team since the 1990 Notre Dame game. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes became the highest ranked team to lose to an unranked team this season.
In the end, it would be the incompetence of the Ohio State passing game, coupled with their offensive line’s inability to protect Barrett that would keep the game close. The revitalized Penn State defense showed us that they can ball. A couple of big epic failures in what had been a top-shelf kicking game, coupled with an excellent defensive effort by Penn State, would tip the scales in favor of the Nittany Lions, resulting in an exciting and energizing win.
Breaks and big plays. Yep. The stats were dominated by the Buckeyes, who had 19 first downs to the Lions’ 13, and 413 total yards to PSU’s 276. Time of possession was decidedly in Ohio State’s favor, 37:19 to 22:41 and third-down conversions — well, same old story. Penn State was 2-13 while tOSU was 9-22. However, those of my readers who pay attention are aware of the following wisdom attributable to the late Frank Gifford, as mocked by the late Howard Cosell:
- Turnovers’ll kill ya
- Penalties’ll kill ya
- Blocked kicks’ll kill ya
The Buckeyes played well enough to win, albeit just well enough, but they screwed up. And as Frank tells us, screwups’ll killya.
Looking down the road…
Now we look at the schedule with a newly sanguine eye, but that does not make this Turkey a Sanguinarian by any means. There are no more white outs. Three of the remaining five games are on the road. It is quite unlikely that the much improved defense will be as energized as they were in this yuuuuuuuuuge game. The offensive line elevated itself for this game, too, but the short game still blows, a tale best told by the third-down conversion rate. The newly 24th-ranked Nittany Lions best be on their toes, lest they go to West Lafayette next week and lose another nooner on the road. Can James Franklin keep them playing at this level, do you think?
I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at Purdue.