Saturday was another enjoyable night to be a Buckeye fan. Being at the game, Penn State had an atmosphere where you honestly couldn’t hear the guy next to you. In the first half the offense was not there, which was partially due to them not getting in a rhythm due to the crowd noise. The other factor was that Braxton was missing passes and not running like himself, which was not surprising at all considering it was his first time in a game situation after being hospitalized. The defense, on the other hand, did not give up a single point the whole half. Penn State’s only points came from a blocked punt.
Momentum finally changed in the second half on Penn State’s first drive when Ryan Shazier stepped in front of a Matt McGloin pass and took it to the house. After that Ohio State looked like a different team. Many unexpected players had solid contributions in the game like Evan Spencer, Rod Smith and Nick Vannett. All three underrated players shined on this night.
Everything seemed to click for the Buckeyes in the second half, and the game was iced when Braxton threw a beautiful 72 yard pass to Jake Stoneburner for a touchdown with just over 6 minutes remaining. Not surprisingly, after that Penn State fans started leaving.
Here are my thoughts of what stood out...
We all knew Braxton would be affected from the Purdue game, and in the first half Miller didn't look like himself. He was getting sacked, missing open passes and was failing to run much himself when it was there. But, Braxton, being Braxton, played a great game. He passed for 143 with a TD, while also rushing for 134 yards (averaging 5.4 yards per carry) with two huge touchdowns. His first touchdown was absolutely amazing. He had fooled the entire stadium, including myself. The crowd started to roar, then all of a sudden Miller appeared with the ball, put an amazing juke on a defender and leaped in for a touchdown. In my opinion, this was easily the play of the game. Braxton was very clutch on this drive, especially considering that the team was driving towards the student section.
Another big quality that came from Miller was leadership. With the roaring crowd he helped keep his cool and the offense in control. Before the snap he consistently would run up to the lineman and shout the count in their ears. Doing this shows that he did have composure throughout, even in a hostile environment. More impressive, he was able to recover from some early mistakes and not let them torture him throughout the game.
If you didn’t watch the Purdue game, you could not tell Braxton had gone to the hospital last weekend. He looked great. Also, we all saw a smarter Braxton Miller. For the first time, we witnessed him choosing to be a safe runner, which is a sign of good coaching. Miller was sliding and running out of bounds. I think last weekend has taught Miller to realize he is the Buckeyes' main offensive player and they need him out there every snap.
There is no doubt that the read options were fooling Penn State all night. Braxton made good decisions with his reads, and sold them incredibly well. I also liked that the staff were able to include Smith at halfback again and he impressed with his speed. That's a huge key with Hall being out, as he provides a change of pace back since Hyde is more of an in-between the tackles runner.
Overall, Braxton looked fine and healthy. The only weaknesses that were glaring in his game Saturday night were the poor throws and taking sacks thanks to indecision. In fact, it was indecision that caused his interception, a pass that there was no need for him to throw. Also worth mentioning, in the first quarter he had thrown two easy picks for the defense and both were dropped. The first dropped pick, he threw the ball late and had a receiver open in the flat ten yards away from him. He went for the big gain and almost cost Ohio State early on. Decision-making for Braxton in the passing game was not where it needed to be.
It was difficult to get a consistent running game going, and I think the Buckeyes were missing Jordan Hall a lot in this game. Carlos Hyde’s stats were not through the roof, but he was running the ball really hard with not a lot of holes inside. Also, as previously mentioned, sophomore Rod Smith had several solid runs, and provided a spark when he rotated in. This helped provide some fresh legs. Smith broke free on one play for a solid 28 yard game, which was a key in one of Ohio State's biggest touchdown drives. On this run I got a good view of how elusive Smith can be once he gets in the open field. Hyde had 55 yards on the ground and Smith ran for 48 yards. With Braxton taking most of the load it is important to get good work from the running backs.
In my opinion, I think Meyer can lean on the running backs a little more of the running game to help balance out the offense. Braxton has been contributing most of the running and passing, but hte running backs were running with a purpose against PSU, and a rotation of backs proved it can have success. That being said, we saw the wild-cat formation on a 3rd down, which didn't prove effective. Usually, Meyer does not make that type of call, especially on a third down. I loved the idea. Maybe we will see some wild-cat next weekend against Illinois.
An Improved Defense
No doubt, the defense was all over Penn State’s offense from the onset, holding them to zero points in the first half. This was the reason Ohio State stayed in the game in the first half. The game outcome could have been different if the defense didn’t handle the Nittany Lions and played like they did against Indiana. In my opinion, Bradley Roby gets the game ball. He was locking down Penn State’s receivers, and had 5 tackles and four huge pass deflections.
Those stats don't show all the huge plays Roby made for the defense though. He saved a touchdown pass by sticking with the play and not giving up, and knocked away several other key passes.. "It does feel great, but we know we can do better," Bradley Roby said after the game. The defense played well against the run too. Boren has been stepping up at the linebacker position, and Shazier was all over the field. Boren and Shazier tied each other for 7 tackles.
The defense was also solid at putting pressure on McGloin. The defensive line was looking good, and it was great seeing freshman Noah Spence was getting good time out there. Simon and Williams were also dominant. Without a doubt, the defense led Ohio State to victory.
Other Things That Stood Out
- With Braxton going over 1,000 yards on the ground and leading Ohio State to victory on the road, does his Heisman discussion rise? He is leading a 9-0 team after all.
- We were able to establish a good running game without Jordan Hall yet again, a positive side of the growth of guys like Carlos Hyde.
- Boren has continued to step up at linebacker with 7 tackles.
- Two underrated receivers had clutch performances for OSU, Evan Spencer and Nick Vannett. Spencer had 3 receptions with 33 yards. Vannett had 1 reception with 22 yards.
- Stoneburner has been relatively quiet this season, but he had 2 receptions for 86 yards. While the touchdown grab was impressive, I was more impressed with his first reception when he fought through several guys for the first down.
- The Offensive Line had arguably its best performance against Penn State’s defense. Warinner has proved to be a huge hire. With all the hype of Penn State’s defense, OSU took control when they had the ball.
- Another stat showing the offensive line's performance - OSU had the ball for 32:07.
- With Klein out, our linebackers still looked good, and I'm not sure he should see the field again.
- OSU had a 50 percent first down rate on third down going 8-16.
- It was nice to see Nathan Williams playing his game, especially because he has been dealing with injuries this season.
- Penalties really hurt Penn State. Then of course PSU fans blamed the refs for the loss.
- Our special teams gave up the only points for Penn State in the first half.
- Noah Spence is getting solid playing time now on defense as a freshman.