Five Things: Penn State

By Chris Lauderback on October 26, 2008 at 4:00p
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Pryor's 4th quarter fumble doomed the Buckeyes - and my liver. (Photo: Jay LaPrete)

Turnover Margin Once Again Dooms Buckeyes While it's not groundbreaking to say teams that lose the turnover battle normally lose the game, it is amazing just how bad Ohio State has been with regard to turnover margin in big games. Pryor's game changing fourth quarter fumble is just the latest example when you look at the numbers.

Even more painful is the grossly inaccurate perception that Tressel orchestrates an ultra conservative game plan to cut down on such occurrences because the numbers tell a different tale. Not only does the OSU offense turn it over at an alarming rate but the defense, while typically playing solid, struggles to generate turnovers when the lights shine brightest.

In the seven Buckeye losses since 2005, Ohio State has lost the turnover battle by a combined 16-5:

TO Margin in 7 Losses Since 2005
Game OSU TO Opp TO Margin
'08 Penn State 2 0 -2
'08 USC 3 1 -2
'07 LSU 3 1 -2
'07 Illinois 3 0 -3
'06 Florida 2 0 -2
'05 Penn State 2 0 -2
'05 Texas 1 3 +2
TOTAL 16 5 -11

Taking it a step further, I looked at Ohio State's performance in what I consider big games over this same stretch (since '05) and the results only get worse. Besides the 7 big game losses outlined above, I looked at wins in 2005 against Michigan and Notre Dame, the 2006 win over Texas and both the '06 ad '07 wins over Michigan:

TO Margin in 5 "Big Game" Wins Since 2005
Game OSU TO Opp TO Margin
'05 Michigan 2 0 -2
'05 Notre Dame 2 0 -2
'06 Texas 0 2 +2
'06 Michigan 3 0 -3
'07 Michigan 1 0 -1
TOTAL 8 2 -6

Factor the TO margin from those five wins in with the seven losses and the results are even more lopsided. Disgusting, really:

TOTAL TO Margin in 12 "Big Games" Since 2005
12 Big Games OSU TO Opp TO Margin
7 Losses 16 5 -11
5 Wins 8 2 -6
TOTAL 24 7 -17

Basically, OSU has won the turnover battle in exactly two of the last twelve big games, both against Texas, producing a cumulative -17 turnover margin in the process. No wonder the program is viewed so poorly from a national standpoint. You can't be a legit contender with a 24-7 turnover ratio, yielding a 5-7 record, in the last four years of big games. I mean, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Offensive Line Woes Back in Full Force So much for hoping the offensive line was back on track. Sure, Penn State has a hell of a D-Line and frequently stacked the box but to average just 1.97 yards per rush (31 for 61) on a night when OSU actually had some balance (25 pass, 31 rush) is disgraceful.

Early on, the play calling was largely to blame as the Buckeyes focused on trying to get outside the tackles before finally realizing PSU's incredible speed off the edge combined with the anvils tucked in Browning's socks rendered that plan of attack hopeless. In fact, the lanes were so sparse Ohio State managed just 16 first half rushing yards with PSU holding Beanie to an astonishing 10 carries for 11 yards.

The second half saw Tressel adjust by looking to rush up the middle and Beanie was slightly more successful (12 for 44) but the big fella never really had a chance to get rolling downhill and finished with 22 carries for 55 yards with a long of 8 yards. That total represents his worst game (throw out 4/17 Kent State game) since a 16 carry, 46 yard stinker against Youngstown State to start the 2007 campaign. During that same span, his longest carry was at least 13 yards (again, save KSU). Cue Martha and the Vandellas..."Nowhere to run to, baby..nowhere to hide."

You all saw Browning's masterpiece so I'm not even gonna get started except to say I read one commenter say Browning wasn't helped by the backs missing chip blocks off the edge but after re-watching the game, I'm not sure that's a totally fair statement. Browning got his ass beat all night long. Period.

One last thing, it was odd Ben Person didn't dress even though we hadn't heard anything about an injury. Just as odd was Shugarts dressed and warming up even though he was reportedly out for the year. Did I miss something?

Defensive Line Did What They Needed to Do At least I think they did. They definitely aren't the finest defensive line Tressel's ever had but they've definitely improved since Thaddeus Maximus was inserted into the starting lineup. Gibson absolutely dominated in the first half forcing PSU to basically avoid his side the rest of the game. He finished with 5 tackles, 1 sack and a pass breakup showcasing speed and a motor that'll allow him to play on Sundays.

Also up front, Cam Heyward (6), Doug Worthington (6) and Nader Abdallah (5) combined or 17 stops giving the defensive line 22 tackles on the night helping hold PSU to 200 yards below their per game average.

They did wear down a little toward the end but I'm encouraged by their production. It was a physical game against a prolific offense and they kept coming. I also don't think they missed many tackles which I can't say about their teammates at linebacker and in the secondary.

Obviously, it wasn't enough, but if those guys play like that the rest of the way, I'll take it.

Don't Be Too Hard on Pryor The freshman mistake of fumbling the game away while trying to do too much is something that will haunt both Pryor and the fans for a few weeks but don't forget this is what we willingly signed up for after the USC debacle.

I think both Tressel and the fan base decided if it meant losing a game at the hands of Pryor's inexperience with eyes on the long term direction of the program, then so be it. Well, last night was that reality.

Coupled with the fumble was more growth in the form of career highs in completions, attempts and yards against a top notch defense in the most pressure packed start of his young career. Hell, I'm incredibly excited about what I think was the first ever time he dropped back, saw nothing, scrambled for just a few seconds then smartly tossed the ball out of bounds on 1st down to open OSU's second possession of the game. A few games ago, he would've zig-zagged until the only option was a sack or worse.

He's still got an issue with knowing when to zip the ball or loft it to a receiver but my observation is he continues to at least make the decision to throw quicker and with more confidence in most cases. The low completion to Robo that was overturned was one example of his being tentative before launching a turd and he under threw a few deeper balls but the promise is there. How 'bout that 3rd and 7 throw to Sanzenbacher that went for 53 yards when OSU was backed up at their 6? Even better was the 10 yard bullet to Robo on 3rd and 9 that helped OSU to a field goal and a 3-3 tie at the break. It's coming. Know that because if it wasn't, Tressel wouldn't let him throw 25 times against such an impressive defense.

A Bunch of Miscellaneous Stuff I know...catchy title, right? There's just so many little things that I wanted to bring up since I'm curious as to your thoughts:

  • What about the performance by the refs last night? Disclaimer: I don't think the zebras had anything to do with the outcome - I just think they sucked. Browning got away with at least three holds, the pass to Robo looked like a completion to my truly unbiased eye (yours?) and there were some highly questionable spots. If anything, the spots seemed to favor PSU the most but admittedly that could be my Buckeye glasses getting the best of me which is why I'm curious as to your thoughts. I'm less critical of the PI calls on Washington. He needs to turn and look for the ball to help the ref from throwing a flag when there's contact, even if it is back and forth contact because the receiver seemingly always gets the benefit of the doubt in those situations.
  • I liked the insertion of Pettrey, who went 2/2 hitting from 36 and 41 yards. I said after the Purdue game it was time for a change. Thanks for reading, Tress. Kidding. I know he thinks blogs are the anti-Christ.
  • What's your take on what happened when Clark hit Zug for that 49 yard completion setting Penn State's first field goal? In zone, it looked like Checkwa handed Zug off to Coleman but he got sucked up watching Williams come across the field.
  • Similar to my thoughts on Thaddeus, can someone tell me why it took so long to insert Flash Thomas on kickoff returns? He returned two kicks for 71 yards (34, 37) before PSU got wise and kicked the last one to Mo Wells who promptly chest bumped it for 3 yards before it rolled out of bounds at the 7 yard line on what was really Ohio State's last true chance to tie the game. Nice work, Mo.
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