Overcoming two separate 18-point deficits created via hilariously bad special teams and undisciplined football, Urban Meyer's squad rode J.T. Barrett's spectacular performance and a stout effort from its defensive line in a frantic 39-38 victory over previously-unbeaten Penn State in front of the second-largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history.
Boasting the biggest comeback win of the Meyer era, the Buckeyes chewed up over 500 yards of offense for a school-record sixth-consecutive game and improved to 20-1 in October with Meyer roaming the sidelines.
The win should vault Ohio State into a top-four spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings set to be released Tuesday night with a trip to Iowa City on deck for next Saturday.
Before we turn the page to the Hawkeyes, here are Five Things from Ohio State's lionhearted effort against Penn State.
A WOLF IN NIKE'S CLOTHING
This year's alternate uniforms were fire but the "wolves" theme tie-in was lame. That said, J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned leader of the pack and for a guy that fuels more (unnecessary) debate than maybe any Buckeye ever, even his harshest critics had to marvel at his heroic afternoon.
Barrett set a career-high with 33 completions on 39 attempts (three drops) for 328 yards and four touchdowns through the air and added another 95 on the ground.
His 423 yards of total offense set an OSU single-game record, as did his 16 straight completions, and he also tied Joe Germaine atop the school record book with his eighth career 300+ yard passing game.
Barrett was solid all day but he was perfect in the fourth quarter and Ohio State needed exactly that trailing 35-20 with 15 minutes to play.
As a confessed Barrett apologist, I was more than thrilled to watch him complete 13 of 13 throws for 170 yards and three touchdowns as Ohio State outscored Penn State 19-3 over those final, beautiful, 15 minutes.
The dude was so poised and so calm and so accurate with the season – and his legacy – on the line. He went through progressions and launched some absolute seeds into a couple tight windows setting up easier touchdown throws to Johnnie Dixon (x2) and Marcus Baugh to win it.
He now sits at 25 touchdown passes against one interception through eight games and is completing 69.5% of his tosses for 270 yards a game.
If Barrett can keep it up, not only should he lead Ohio State back to the College Football Playoff but he might reserve himself a seat at the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
ZONE SIX DONE DID IT AGAIN
As much as I've backed Barrett, I've crushed "Zone Sicks" numerous times in this column. While I'll likely never be a fan of how Zach Smith conducts his business, I'm happy to eat crow over the success of his receiving corps.
K.J. Hill didn't find the end zone but as I noted post game, he registered the fourth-most catches in a game in school history with 12 grabs for 102 yards on 14 targets with eight of those catches coming during scoring drives.
Hill now leads the Buckeyes with 40 catches on the season – 11 clear of Parris Campbell – who tallied just one grab and fumbled it before leaving the game injured.
Complementing Hill's big night, Austin Mack set his own career-high with six grabs for 90 yards including a clutch 36-yarder on a drive cutting Penn State's lead to 21-10 early in the second quarter, and later, two catches for 29 yards setting up Johnnie Dixon's 10-yard touchdown grab trimming the Nittany Lion lead to 38-33 with 4:20 left in regulation.
Speaking of Dixon, in addition to his 10-yard touchdown he added a 38-yard scoring strike on a nice throw from Barrett down the seam cutting Penn State's lead to 35-27 earlier in the fourth quarter. Man is it fun watching the oft-injured Dixon contribute to this team's success.
Finally, Terry McLaurin stepped up with two huge catches for 34 yards. The first came on a 14-yard toss over the middle with Ohio State desperate for points after falling into a 21-3 hole early in the second quarter. Then, with the game on the line, McLaurin hauled in a 20-yarder from Barrett on 2nd-and-8 during the game-winning drive.
In total, Zone Six tallied 25 receptions for 301 yards and three touchdowns on 28 targets against what was the nation's seventh-best pass defense (167 ypg).
Mmmm, mmmm. That is some damn good crow.
KICKOFF COVERAGE CLOWN SHOW CONTINUES
What in the name of Jim Tressel is wrong with Ohio State's kickoff coverage unit?
Maryland ran one back for six on a group that also registered a delay of game as part of a total collapse for all the special units, and the kickoff team, though improved (how could it not be), wasn't excellent versus Nebraska either.
After having an extra week to prepare and boasting the unit was ready to go, Urban's guys promptly gave up a 97-yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown despite the ball being placed technically where he wants it.
It looked like reserve linebacker Keandre Jones was at least one man who lost contain by drifting too far out of his lane leaving kicker Sean Nuernberger on an island.
From there, Meyer largely opted for pooch or squib kicks but Penn State still got a 59-yard return from some dude that I think was a linebacker and started all but two kickoff-triggered possessions from at least the 30 yard line.
Meyer was beside himself post game, trying not to even talk about special teams but did suggest more upcoming personnel changes. That might be a good idea as the Buckeyes are lucky the kickoff team didn't eliminate them from playoff contention.
The punt team had a few issues too as Hill muffed but recovered a punt and punter Drue Chrisman dropped a snap leading to a shank which received a fortunate bounce and roll, avoiding disaster.
On the bright side, Denzel Ward blocked a punt – Ohio State's first since 2014 – setting up a touchdown two plays later cutting Penn State's lead to 35-27.
Penn State brought to Columbus an offense averaging 463 total yards on the strength of Saquon Barkley's 108 rushing yards and 64 receiving yards per game but couldn't match those outputs against a stout Buckeye defense.
With the defensive line setting the tone, Ohio State held Barkley to just 44 yards rushing on 2.1 per carry – and extracting his nifty 36-yard touchdown run early the second quarter, he managed just eight rushing yards on his other 20 carries, or 0.4 per carry. Through the air, Barkley had 23 yards on four receptions, or 41 yards below his average.
In total, Barkley banked 67 total rushing/receiving yards, or 105 yards below his per game average.
As for McSorley, a relentless pass rush and improved play from the back seven held him to 192 yards through the air, or 76 below his average, while holding him to a 58% completion rate against a season-to-date mark of 67%.
Dealt some shady field position in the opening half, Ohio State's defense only yielded 130 total yards on 4.3 yards per play.
Penn State marched 70 yards on 10 plays, taking a 35-20 lead on its first possession of the second half but the Buckeye defense stiffened from there posting the following drive stats:
- 5 plays, 19 yards - Punt
- 3 plays, -1 yard - Punt
- 10 plays, 64 yards - Field Goal
- 3 plays, -4 yards - Punt
- 4 plays, -5 yards - Storm The Dang Field
Living up to its billing, Ohio State's defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage when it mattered most posting 7.5 TFL and two sacks as part of a 13 TFL, two sack effort from the defense.
Sam Hubbard did work with 1.5 TFL, my man Bobby Landers went for 2.0 TFL in spot duty and Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Tracy Sprinkle and Dre'Mont Jones also posted a TFL.
Not overly impressive this year while again battling some injuries, Dante Booker had a hell of day with five stops and a TFL and safety Jordan Fuller continued to impress leading the Buckeyes with nine stops plus a TFL.
It's sometimes hard to remember J.K. Dobbins is a true freshman because he's been stellar right from the rip, dazzling the staff with his football acumen in spring drills and wowing fans with 181 yards rushing in his first collegiate game not even 60 days ago.
Averaging nearly eight yards per carry coming into yesterday's action, Dobbins started fast against what was expected to be a stingy Penn State front posting 50 yards on his first four carries as the Buckeyes racked up 73 yards rushing on 10 carries in the opening quarter. Dobbins hit for runs of 14, 4, 11 and 21 with the latter coming on a 3rd-and-4 snap.
In the second quarter however, Dobbins didn't register a single carry and the dropoff in tailback rushing effectiveness was obvious as Mike Weber carried seven times for just 21 yards.
Obviously both backs are going to play but it looked like maybe Dobbins got a rest because of a couple struggles in pass protection which would make sense considering the rate Penn State blitzes and how sometimes that skill can be the final piece of a complete running back's repertoire.
Either way, having Dobbins log the bulk of the tailback carries is paramount to Ohio State beating elite teams because he simply brings an extra gear and therefore home run threat Weber can't match. That's no knock on Weber – just real talk – when you consider Dobbins averages a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry compared to 4.5 for Weber.
Dobbins' 7.6 per carry slots seventh in the country for guys with at least 65 carries. Weber's 4.5 would be good for roughly 114th place (he has 55 carries).
Weber presents clear value to the team – every elite team needs a solid backup tailback – but Dobbins is next level as a rusher and continuing his already incredible development in facets like pass pro, blitz pick ups etc. is essential to Ohio State's title hopes because of the different type of respect opposing defenses must give when scheming to stop the Buckeye attack.