Penn State Ohio State

Fourth quarter

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

0:00. Two Barrett rushes move the chains and clinch the game. What a performance.

Barrett finishes the game 33-for-39 for 328 yards, with over 90 rushing yards, and a virtually perfect final 10 minutes. After the crap he’s taken through the years, that’s an incredible statement.

1:22. The Ohio State defensive front took this game over in the fourth quarter. McSorley is immediately chased out of the pocket for a rushed incompletion on first down and is sacked on second. He’s hurried on both third and fourth downs, too. He never had a clean chance at an open receiver in four downs, and Ohio State takes over.

For the second straight year, this rivalry has featured a blocked kick and a double-digit comeback in the fourth quarter.

1:45. Ohio State 39, Penn State 38. What a damn drive by Barrett. He takes a huge shot but gets the ball away to Terry McLaurin for an 18-yard gain, then rolls left for a short pass to Hill. With 2:25 left, Ohio State is already to the PSU 30. Another pass to Hill gains 14, then he finds tight end Marcus Baugh wide open in the end zone. Barrett’s keeper is snuffed out on the two-point conversion, but Ohio State leads for the first time all night.

McSorley, Barkley, and company will have 108 seconds left to remain undefeated. McSorley engineered a perfect drive to win the game at Iowa, and thanks to Juwan Johnson fielding a squib kick at the PSU 41, he’ll have decent field position.

3:07. For the first time all game, Ohio State will get the ball with the chance to take the lead. The Buckeyes’ defensive front annihilates PSU’s line and forces a three-and-out.

On first down, Sam Hubbard completely blows up a zone read — he gets to Barkley and McSorley at the mesh point, and McSorley has to fall on top of Barkley to avoid a fumble. Two more Barkley carries gain just a yard. After an incredible first half, Barkley has been a non-factor in the second. Ohio State calls its second timeout before Gillikin knocks a 56-yarder. Ohio State will start at its 42.

4:20. Penn State 38, Ohio State 33. Ohio State is still alive thanks to its receivers. A tremendous over-the-middle catch by Hill gets the Buckeyes into PSU territory, then Austin Mack catches a well-defended 18-yarder along the left sideline. A pass interference penalty on Christian Campbell moves the ball to the PSU 10, then Dixon catches a perfect pass over Amani Oruwariye for a touchdown.

PSU eats up the two-point conversion, though. An end around attempt to Dixon comes up short. Ohio State has 4:20 left to get the ball back and score a touchdown.

5:42. Penn State 38, Ohio State 27. It’s nice to have one of the best tight ends in college football in your back pocket. With everything going Ohio State’s way — PSU facing a third-and-13 after a holding penalty — Mike Gesicki makes a huge catch along the left sideline to get into Ohio State territory.

McSorley then finds Saaed Blacknall for 21 more yards inside the 10. Two McSorley keepers get the ball down to the 3, but a defensive line surge results in another stuff of Barkley. Penn State’s place-kicking situation has been pretty shaky, but Tyler Davis makes what is basically an extended extra point, a 24-yarder, to get PSU’s lead back to two possessions. What could have been a very quick punt turns into a nearly six-minute scoring drive thanks to Gesicki.

11:05. Penn State 35, Ohio State 27. Things change quickly! Barrett finds Johnnie Dixon wide open over the middle of the field. Thirty-eight yards later, we’ve got a one-possession game. The PSU secondary had been so good at containment through about 49 minutes, but Dixon couldn’t have been more open.

11:39. Or a third option: go three-and-out and get your punt blocked. Special teams ruling this game even more. Ward comes off of the edge untouched and gets a hand on Gillikin’s kick. It pops into the air, and OSU takes over at the PSU 41, thus almost perfectly negating the lost fumble.

13:13. On third-and-inches from the OSU 42, Barrett holds onto the ball too long, and it results in a muffed exchange. Shareef Miller is on the spot for the recovery, and now PSU can either put the game away with another score or at least eat up a minute or two of clock and flip the field.

Third quarter

0:00. PSU gets one first down, at least. A 20-yard pass to Juwan Johnson gets the Nittany Lions out from the shadow of their end zone, but Jordan Fuller makes a huge stop on Barkley on third-and-2, and Gillikin punts. Hill proceeds to muff said punt, but he collects it and manages to lose only three yards. Ohio State will begin the fourth quarter facing a second-and-10 from its 24, down 15.

3:10. Penn State gets one of those stops I doubted. After a defensive holding penalty negates what would have been a Binjimen Victor fumble, two penalties (holding and delay of game) force third-and-long, and a Barrett-to-Hill pass only makes up half of the necessary 14 yards.

A nice Chrisman punt pins PSU at the 6, but if the Nittany Lions can at least generate a couple of first downs and flip the field, time could begin to become a factor. It’s not yet.

7:25. Penn State 35, Ohio State 20. WOOOOOO, buddy. Give the refs credit for some balls, at least. At the end of a plodding PSU drive, McSorley goes deep for DeAndre Thompkins in the end zone. On first view, it looks like he and Denzel Ward briefly tussle over the ball, and then Ward gets the INT in the end zone.

On second viewing, however, it begins to look like Thompkins had possession of the ball for a TD before Ward took it away. Will the replay official (and the ref, looking through a teeny tiny viewfinder on the sideline just to feel included) see enough to overturn the call?

Yes. Touchdown, Thompkins, 37 yards. Ballsy but probably correct.

Another injury to watch, by the way: PSU left tackle Ryan Bates got rolled up at the end of a third-down Barkley run. The injury bug has bitten the Nittany Lions today, but they continue to lead.

11:37. Penn State 28, Ohio State 20. I’m not sure how many stops Penn State is going to make in the second half. Ohio State is in full grind mode. The saving grace: the Buckeyes again stalled out before they could score a touchdown.

From second-and-6 at the PSU 17, a false start and a failed swing pass (PSU has covered those very well) created a third-and-long, and a pass from Barrett to Hill just barely failed to connect. Sean Nuernberger’s 36-yard field goal eats into the lead, but PSU’s defense doesn’t have just a ton to offer before the red zone.

  • Total plays: OSU 48, PSU 30
  • Total yards: OSU 306, PSU 127
  • Total scoring opportunities: OSU 5, PSU 3
  • Points per scoring opportunity: PSU 7.0, OSU 4.0
  • Huge kick returns: PSU 2, OSU 0
  • Turnovers: OSU 1, PSU 0

Second quarter

0:00. Man oh man, Apke has had a half. He eats up a screen pass to Weber for a seven-yard loss, and that basically ends Ohio State’s attempt to score. PSU head coach James Franklin calls timeout before third-and-long. A Barrett keeper nearly moves the chains but doesn’t, and PSU calls its last timeout with 39 seconds left. Any more special teams magic for the Nittany Lions?

Sort of! Punter Drue Chrisman drops the snap and half-shanks the kick but gets a miraculous roll. Not only does the punt end up going 40 yards, but it also eats up a few extra seconds. That’s enough to dodge a bullet. Penn State kneels out the clock.

1:31. A stop for Ohio State. PSU grinds grinds the ball into Buckeye territory but stalls out at the 36, and Gillikan’s punt is only okay. Ohio State has 91 seconds and will start at its 14.

4:56. Penn State 28, Ohio State 17. We’ve got ourselves a little bit of a track meet. The Buckeyes march 75 yards in 10 plays and get a second chance at finishing a drive after another third-down pass interference call, this one on PSU’s Marcus Allen. Mike Weber scores from the two.

Through 25 minutes, OSU has actually created more scoring opportunities than Penn State (four to three). But the two big kick returns were huge for the Nittany Lions, and the Buckeyes getting three points from their first two opps has made an almost equal difference.

8:06. Penn State 28, Ohio State 10. The Saquon Effect: In an effort to avoid kicking to Barkley, OSU first jumps offside and has to re-kick, then gives up a long return to up man Koa Farmer, a linebacker. He takes it 60 yards to the Buckeye 23.

Then PSU gets a break, too. McSorley throws a lob to Irvin Charles in the front corner of the end zone by Damon Webb. It’s nullified by a controversial (to the home crowd) pass interference penalty. Corner Damon Arnette was clutching at Charles through the entire route, which opened the door for it, but you certainly see that go uncalled sometimes.

The next play: a McSorley rushing touchdown from the 6.

9:32. Penn State 21, Ohio State 10. Perfect response from the Buckeyes. Hill rips off another nice return, Barrett finds Austin Mack for a 36-yard gain, and on second-and-8 from the 14, he threads a nice pass over the middle for a touchdown to Terry McLaurin. We’ve got a long way yet to go in this one.

11:40. Penn State 21, Ohio State 3. Bryce Love is incredible, but go ahead and give Saquon the October Heisman to go with his September Heisman.

After PSU is able to generate a few first downs (a little bit of first-down yardage goes a long way), Barkley swerves left and breaks into the open field. He gets a downfield block (more or less) from McSorley, tiptoes the sideline, and scores from 36 yards out. Ohio State’s defense hasn’t done just a ton wrong today, and the Buckeyes are down 18 anyway.

First quarter

0:00. After PSU’s Troy Apke breaks up a long-ball attempt, Dobbins converts a third-and-4 with a 21-yard run. But Barrett takes a first-down sack just as a receiver is breaking wide open into the end zone, and the drive stalls out for another field goal at the PSU 15…

…or not. On fourth-and-8, OSU goes for it? Interesting call. And if Apke doesn’t make an insanely good open-field tackle on Hill, it works. But Apke makes an insanely good open-field tackle. Hill comes up two yards short as the quarter expires.

2:41. Penn State on first down so far: five plays, minus-one yards. Ohio State has the best first-down defense in the country, and PSU has quickly gone three-and-out again. K.J. Hill returns the Gillikin punt 16 yards near midfield, and the Urban Meyer efficiency-and-field-position machine is starting to hum. Still down two scores, though.

4:38. Penn State 14, Ohio State 3. A little bit more life. The Buckeyes take advantage of good field position, plus an 18-yard run by Barrett and an 11-yarder by J.K. Dobbins, to work the ball into field goal range. The drive falls apart thanks to a third-down sack by Curtis Cothran, but the Buckeyes are on the board.

Something to keep an eye on: PSU corner Christian Campbell left the field with an injury on that drive; that’s the second Nittany Lion starter to go out already, joining end Ryan Buchholz. PSU doesn’t have the greatest defensive depth in the world.

7:36. A little bit of life from the Buckeyes! Barkley does convert a third-and-long on a screen pass, but it’s the only positive play of the drive, and PSU punts. Then Irvin Charles commits a personal foul after the punt. OSU will start its third drive at its 42.

10:11. Part of the rap on Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett at this point is his record in big games. Well so far his supporting cast has given up a return score, fumbled a reception, given up a touchdown in coverage, committed a first-down false start, and dropped a wide-open potential reception on second-and-long.

Ohio State quickly goes three-and-out, and Penn State, having run all of five plays from scrimmage, looks to add to its two-touchdown lead.

11:36. Penn State 14, Ohio State 0. The Nittany Lions have now outscored opponents, 104-0, in the first quarter this year, and it’s taken them not even four minutes to go up two touchdowns in the Horseshoe. After Manny Bowen forced this Parris Campbell fumble …

… DaeSean Hamilton made a fantastic, twisting catch in the end zone while well-covered on third-and-goal.

14:45. Penn State 7, Ohio State 0. Saquon Barkley. Opening kickoff. Again. Goodness.

He does this sort of thing.


The Buckeyes have finished sixth or better in the AP poll for 11 of the last 15 seasons. They are 67-7 since Urban Meyer took over in 2012. They are one of the most proven commodities in sports.

Now they welcome Penn State to town. The Nittany Lions are in the middle of re-establishing themselves. They have finished ranked just once in the last seven seasons and were, at this point last year, just 19-14 in the James Franklin era.

Typically, a game like this is defined by the road underdog. What can that team do to puncture the home team’s shield? How can it steal some easy points and put pressure on the favorite?

Really, though, this game is more about the home favorites.

The last time the Buckeyes had the spotlight, they were getting run off of their home field by Oklahoma.

It’s been pretty easy to make comparisons to 2014 since then. That year, the Buckeyes played poorly in an early home loss to Virginia Tech, then, with the nation’s attention elsewhere, wrecked shop.

By the time most of the nation realized, “Holy cow, this team’s really elite,” the Buckeyes had already humiliated Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and vanquished title favorite Alabama in the CFP semifinals.

But if you were paying attention to the numbers, you could see the rise starting well before the conference championship. Ohio State was an S&P+ favorite in October that year.

They’re an early favorite this year, too.

Since the OU loss, the Buckeyes have won five games by a combined 266-56. They’ve averaged 7.9 yards per play and allowed 3.9. The competition has been questionable — Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska — but the “Ain’t played nobody!” chorus was dismissing the Buckeyes three years ago, too.

The only ranked team 2014 Ohio State played between Virginia Tech and Wisconsin was a strong Michigan State that hosted the Buckeyes in early November. OSU ran away with a 49-37 victory.

This year’s midseason test is a bit stiffer.

Penn State enters at third in S&P+. The Nittany Lions are 7-0 and have won six games by at least 19 points. That one top-10 finish referenced above? It came last year, and they have won 16 of 17 since a shellacking at Michigan last season.

PSU is 10th in Off. S&P+ and ninth in Def. S&P+, and from a Five Factors standpoint, this is one of the most balanced teams in the country.

Penn State Five Factors stats

Football Study Hall stat profile

Of course, Ohio State isn’t exactly unbalanced.

Ohio State Five Factors stats

Football Study Hall stat profile

When you look further into the stats, three questions bubble to the surface. The answers will likely decide the game.

1. Is Ohio State’s pass defense ready?

Ohio State’s defense has played two teams ranked in the Passing S&P+ top 60.

  • Oklahoma currently ranks second. Baker Mayfield completed 27 of 35 passes for 386 yards, three touchdowns, and a brisk 198.1 passer rating.
  • Nebraska currently ranks 41st. Tanner Lee completed 23 of 38 passes for 303 yards, two touchdowns, and a 144.9 rating.

Granted, the Huskers couldn’t even pretend to run, both of those touchdowns were in garbage time, and because of the Ohio State offense, the game was over quickly. But it still bears mentioning that the only two passing games with pulses had no trouble throwing. Plus, in the opener against Indiana (61st in Passing S&P+), the Hoosiers found pockets of success with favorable matchups between OSU defensive backs and Simmie Cobbs Jr.

Penn State ranks fifth in Passing S&P+, by the way. Against a Michigan defense that ranks second in the same category, Trace McSorley completed 17 of 26 passes for 282 yards, one touchdown, and one pick in the Nittany Lions’ romp over the Wolverines.

Oklahoma v Ohio State
OU’s Jeff Badet caught five balls for 82 yards against Ohio State.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

With sophomores playing a significant role (safety Jordan Fuller, corners Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield) the Ohio State secondary was easily the defense’s biggest question heading into the year. And considering Nebraska did some damage in OSU’s most recent game, we can’t simply write this off as an early-season thing.

Against everybody else, Ohio State’s secondary has been dominant, but it failed its biggest test of the season. And now it has to face the team that got its deep-ball groove back against Michigan.

Against Michigan, PSU found some of its best matchups were downfield. Quarterback Trace McSorley completed passes of 17, 23, 26, 27, 35, 36, and 42 yards; toss in a 69-yard Barkley run and a 23-yarder by McSorley, and it’s fair to conclude the Nittany Lions’ 42-13 win was powered by 2016-era big-play ability.

Denzel Ward, as good as he is, can only cover one guy. Can the Buckeyes prevent deep-ball success?

2. Is Penn State’s offensive line ready?

A first step toward defending the pass — force the opponent into passing situations. It’s a lot easier to defend second-and-9 than second-and-4, and if Ohio State is holding PSU star runner Saquon Barkley in check, Buckeyes linemen can do their secondary quite the service.

Nobody completely holds Barkley, your probable Heisman frontrunner, completely in check. Indiana held him to 56 yards on 20 carries but allowed 51 receiving yards and a kick return touchdown. Northwestern only allowed five of his 16 carries to gain five or more yards, but one was a 53-yard explosion that put the game away.

Still, you can render him inefficient.

In last year’s odd, special teams-dominated PSU win over OSU, the Buckeyes kept the ball out of Barkley’s hands by dominating on first downs. Barkley had three big runs — a 19-yarder and a 27-yarder in the first quarter, and a 37-yarder early in the fourth — but otherwise carried nine times for 16 yards.

PSU had 25 first-down snaps, but only seven gained more than five yards, and 14 gained zero or fewer. That also put McSorley (8-for-23 for 154 yards) in unfavorable downs and distances.

Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has been tremendous at unveiling wrinkle after wrinkle to keep opponents off guard, but Ohio State still has the No. 1 defense in First Downs S&P+ and is No. 3 in Standard Downs S&P+. And though PSU’s line is better than it was last year, the Lions are still just 50th in Adj. Line Yards (OSU: second) and 117th in stuff rate (OSU: seventh). You can knock them off schedule.

3. Go long, J.T.

It was the malady that eventually ended Ohio State’s season: If you could slow down the Buckeyes’ run efficiency, you could render them helpless. They couldn’t throw downfield when they needed to.

In the final three games of the 2016 regular season, Barrett completed just 51 percent of his passes. That’s fine if you’re averaging about 20 yards per completion; Barrett averaged 7.7. His passer rating was well below 100.

Coordinator Kevin Wilson was brought in to fix this, and the raw results have been outstanding. For the season, Barrett is not only completing 67 percent of his passes, but he’s averaging 13.3 yards per completion. He has 21 TDs to one interception. Among power conference QBs, his 173.8 passer rating ranks behind only Mayfield and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.

Ohio State’s running game is efficient as ever — the Buckeyes are second in Rushing S&P+ — and freshman J.K. Dobbins has emerged as a complement to Barrett in the backfield. Not including sacks (of which there have not been many), Barrett and Dobbins are averaging 23 carries per game and 7.4 yards per carry. That’s dominant.

Barrett is truly one of the most under-appreciated players in college football. Fans complain about his big-game performances but miss the fact that he helps assure OSU of minimal upset scares and the maximum number of big-game opportunities.

Adjusting for opponent, however, the Wilson-plus-Barrett results have been merely good. The passing game only ranks 33rd in Passing S&P+. And in his lone showcase game thus far, Barrett was a little too much like late-2016 J.T. for OSU fans’ comfort — against Oklahoma, he had a 54 percent completion rate, 9.6 yards per completion, and a 92.5 passer rating.

Like the Buckeyes’ pass defense, the pass offense still has to prove itself. And in pass defense, PSU has been elite: fifth in Passing S&P+, 10th in Passing Downs S&P+, 11th in passing success rate. Either Barrett shakes off the demons on Saturday afternoon or solidifies the “shaky in big games” rep. No pressure.

My S&P+ ratings are all-in on Ohio State.

Even adjusting for opponent, the Buckeyes have been so good since losing to Oklahoma that they are ranked first overall. PSU may be a healthy third, but OSU is still projected to win, 33-24.

The pressure is all on the Buckeyes, though. They spent their get-out-of-jail-free card in the second week of the season, and Penn State won its biggest game so far by 29 points. Ohio State lost its by 15.

If the numbers are right, this is the week the Buckeyes prove their title bona fides and secure control of the Big Ten East race. But if they play like anything less than the No. 1 team in the country, they might be virtually eliminated from the national and conference races before November.

Pregame reading

Yep, not too many surprises in this data; this is two of the best teams in the nation going up against each other. The majority of the head-to-head stats are pushes, and Penn State can’t convert on third and longs — and gives up a ton of negative yardage plays.

“You’ve got to figure you’re dealing with youngsters,” Meyer said via ESPN. “Is revenge a motivator? Hell yeah, it is.

“I’m not saying this will be it,” he continued. “There have been times we used it and we looked silly using it, and there are times it worked. I don’t know yet. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday isn’t about that; it’s about execution of a game plan and focus.”

What’s more, they escaped without any major injuries heading into a crucial road trip to Columbus to take on Ohio State. The combined quality performance from almost every position, and lack of injuries makes this a boring week on the depth chart watch — which is a good thing.

As one can see, McSorley’s confidence is at an all-time high. He’s making defenses pay through the air and on the ground, with improved accuracy and the utmost confidence in both his arm and his pass catchers. The Ohio State secondary is going to be tested downfield, and they’ll have to play disciplined and smart to limit these receivers.

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