Growth, Maturity and Confidence the Difference Between Ohio State's Last Two Games Against Penn State

By James Grega on October 30, 2017 at 3:48 pm
Growing up
(Left) Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports (Right) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Let's set the scene, shall we?

Ohio State is trailing underdog Penn State with a veteran quarterback at the helm, less than five minutes to go, with a chance to win the game. Fans storm the field as the home team celebrates a long-awaited victory in a premier game. 

The date? Oct. 22, 2016. 

Trailing 24-21 with just more than four minutes to play, Barrett was able to pick up a pair of first downs, but eventually a fierce Penn State pass-rush was too much for the Buckeyes, as the Nittany Lions sacked the veteran signal-caller on back-to-back plays to send the No. 2 team home with its first loss of the season. 

One year and six days after blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes flipped the script on the Nittany Lions. 

Trailing by 15 in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes were able to make the big play on special teams that gave the home crowd hope that a comeback, while still unlikely, was possible. 

After outscoring Penn State 13-3 on their next two possessions, the Buckeyes kicked the ball back to the Nittany Lions with 4:14 remaining in the game, trailing 38-33. The veteran quarterback – junior Trace McSorley – failed to pick up a first down on the drive, giving the ball back to the Buckeyes with 3:07 remaining, in a familiar situation. 

Ohio State fans everywhere know what happened next. 

Barrett, given time to throw, completed his final four passes of the game to give Ohio State the improbable 39-38 win. The final pass, a 16-yard score to Marcus Baugh, came on a play the Buckeyes installed that week. The play call, 817 Y-Seam, is a play that will  be remembered for a long time by OSU fans everywhere. 

Other than playing on their home turf, why were the Buckeyes able to pull off the win in 2017 that they couldn't in 2016?

"Maturity," Urban Meyer said Monday. "You don't win that game, when you spot a team – a team like that, spot them 14 points. And the team last year would not have won that game. They would have dropped their head. Offensive line would have dropped their head."

One particular offensive lineman came up in Meyer's comments. 

Right tackle Isaiah Prince was scrutinized for much of the 2016 seasons for his struggles in pass protection. Prince and the Ohio State offensive line allowed Barrett to be sacked six times a year ago against the Nittany Lions. One year later? Just twice. 

"The team last year would not have won that game. They would have dropped their head."– Urban Meyer on win over Penn State.

Prince was visibly emotional after the win against Penn State on Saturday, and Meyer said that emotion spilled into the postgame locker room. 

"I couldn't be more proud. You should have seen him in the locker room and on the sidelines of the game, it was a grown man. It's the maturation process," Meyer said. "He's unbelievable now. Isaiah, not worried about him at all. He's a grown man that's handling his stuff the way a right offensive tackle at Ohio State should."

Even with the improved protection, Barrett still had to make throws downfield and Ohio State's receivers had to make plays, something that didn't happen in 2016 against Penn State. 

In the 2016 loss in Beaver Stadium, Barrett attempted a career-high 43 passes, and completed 28 of them, but for just 5.7 yards per completion. A late throw downfield on Ohio State's final possession of the game clanged off of James Clark's face mask. If completed, the Buckeyes would have been in field goal range. 

In the same situation a year later, Barrett was perfect on the game-winning touchdown drive, leading the Buckeyes 58 yards down the field for the win. 

Ohio State's left tackle said one of the reasons he felt the Buckeyes were able to finish the job this time around was due to the improvement of the receivers. 

"I think a big part of that was our playmakers making plays," Jones said following the game Saturday night. "We have the utmost confidence in J.T. We know he is going to distribute the ball and get it where it needs to be."

Center Billy Price echoed Jones' comments about Ohio State's receivers, also giving credit to the Buckeyes' newest offensive coaches, Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day.

"The route concepts we have going on right now, it is nice to see on the offensive line side of things. You are starting to see wide receivers running wide open," Price said. "You have to be thankful for the work and the preparation that the receivers put in, the offensive line put in to prepare for the different looks."

The older, more mature Buckeyes now control their own destiny in terms of the Big Ten title and a return trip to the College Football Playoff. Meyer, who said he allowed his players to enjoy the comeback win for 24 hours, added the victory will be for nothing if Ohio State doesn't take care of business down the stretch. 

"We're in the hunt for a lot of big things right now. But the target is Iowa on the road at 3:30," he said. 

View 51 Comments