Penn State Debriefing: Ohio State's Inability to Run the Ball Nearly Dooms the Buckeyes, but Four Field Goals and a Defensive Score Save the Day

By Andy Vance on October 31, 2021 at 9:35 am
Jerron Cage

As a wise fellow once put it, "A win's a win in the Ten."

Ohio State will hang their hat on that reality this week after playing "survive and advance" in a 33-24 win against a Penn State team that only allowed the Buckeyes to score a single touchdown in six red zone trips.

The home team was unable to run the ball for massive stretches of the evening, but ultimately the Buckeye offense did just enough – with a big assist from defensive tackle Jerron Cage via a scoop-and-score – to hand the Nittany Lions their third consecutive loss of the season.

C.J. Stroud threw for 305 yards and completed 65% of his passes, but had a couple of uncharacteristic misses along the way. The Buckeye defense had eight tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception, but still allowed Penn State to convert a maddening 11 of 18 third down plays, effectively keeping the visitors in the ballgame until late in the fourth quarter.

TL;DR: Just the Facts, Ma'am

Penn State bottled up the previously-prolific Buckeye offense, and then raced out to a 7-0 lead on their opening drive. A team that lost to Illinois at home in the longest game in college football history just a week ago came to Columbus looking like they had something to prove, and their highly-touted defense looked every bit worthy of their billing.

C.J. Stroud was far from perfect, but still completed 22 of 34, including a 38-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave. TreVeyon Henderson, meanwhile, was repeatedly stuffed at the line of scrimmage (especially in the red zone), but still managed to finish the day with 152 yards on 28 carries.

Cage's Big Man Touchdown (if you call a 305-pound man who can run the last 40 yards to the endzone in 5.1 seconds "fat," you deserve to be beaten repeatedly with a bar of soap wrapped in a sock) was the highlight of the game, as it brought the Ohio Stadium crowd back into the game and gave the Buckeyes some much-needed breathing room.

In not so great news, linebacker Steele Chambers was ejected from the game on a third-quarter targeting call as he attempted to tackle Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford. Chambers hit Clifford as the quarterback as began to slide on a quarterback run on the first series of the second half. The hit was initially called a personal foul, but was subsequently ruled a targeting penalty following a review; Chambers will now miss the first half of next week's game as well.

What Andy Got Wrong

I took my turn in the 11W Staff Roundtable this week, and boy oh boy did I end up with some freezing cold takes. Let's start with the most obvious:

  • "I'm calling it 49-21 and Ohio State improves to 6-2 against the spread this season."

Welp, hard to get it much more wrong than that. Not only did a miss the Buckeye point total by more than two touchdowns, but they were nowhere near close to covering the spread. A swing and a miss.

  • "Stroud will throw for 300+ and at least 3, probably 4 touchdowns."

Okay, I'll give myself partial credit for this one, as he did hit 300+. But that single touchdown is a big whiff.

  • "Henderson won’t get 20 touches (he’s averaging 11 carries per game) but he will continue to look like one of the best backs in the country, turning in 8 yards a carry and adding a pair of touchdowns to his tally."

Oh man, this is just getting ugly. Stroud did get at least 20 touches, but he averaged only 5.4 yards per carry... and if you take out his 68-yard long, the average falls to 3.1 per carry. Oh, and he only had the one touchdown, of course.

Is Penn State a Rival?

Ohio State had won 8 of the previous 10 matches against Penn State, and in fact have only lost to the Nittany Lions eight times since the formerly-independent team joined the Big Ten in 1993. While Ohio State has only one true rival, it must nevertheless be said that for some reason, games between the two teams manage to be nail-biters more often than they're blowouts.

With the visiting team fresh off a nine-overtime loss to three-win Illinois, it seemed possible that this year's edition could be one of those rare laughers given how unbelievably good the Buckeye defense has looked against conference opponents all season.

Instead, Penn State scored red-zone touchdowns while Ohio State settled for field goals; it became quickly apparent that Penn State was in it to win it (even if their head coach has one foot out the door to Los Angeles).

Perhaps because the home team seemed to struggle offensively, perhaps because there were some big crowd-hyping moments like Cage's 57-yard fumble-recovery touchdown, or perhaps because the home crowd was incensed that the Big Ten officiating crew was content to let Penn State offensive linemen tackle Ohio State defenders with impunity... but after Ohio State sealed the victory, the fans let loose all their emotions on the field.

To be fair, most if not all of the fans storming the field probably started drinking around 10 a.m., so it's probably just luck that someone doesn't have a new goalpost swing set like in that Fansville commercial.

 Play of the Game

Just bask in the glory of this beautiful moment one more time, will you please?

My goodness, get that man some oxygen, willya?

Good work, Mr. Cage. Everyone loves a Big Man Touchdown.

Jim Tressel's Least Favorite Moment of the Game

Once again, the distinguished gentleman from Youngstown knew he was in for a long day with his beloved Buckeyes playing another night game. And while night games really throw off the busy university president's weekend sleep schedule out of whack, he wasn't nearly so cranky about it this week given the opponent and the stakes ("This is the kind of game you want to play under the lights, really," he explained to the student worker in the dining hall as he fixed his morning coffee).

Still buzzing from taking in a practice of the Cuyahoga Falls High School Black Tiger Marching Band, now in their 100th year, President Tressel got in a full day of work, a 6-mile jog and completed the New York Times crossword puzzle ("Forty-four down almost got me this week, Honey," he admitted to Miss Ellen. "I generally do so well with the pop-culture clues, too"), before turning on the television to watch what promised to be a hard-hitting battle between two sound, line-driven football teams.

The Hall of Famer shook his head but didn't get too worked up when the teams traded fumbles in the first two minutes of the game. He scratched his head a moment when Ohio State opted to punt from Penn State's 38-yard line a few plays later; "I really thought he'd end up going for it there," he said to the universe at large.

But it wasn't until early in the fourth quarter that Ohio State really pushed its former coach to the brink. Leading 27-24, with just under 13 minutes to play, Ohio State faced 4th and 3 from the Penn State 13 yard line. This was a clear situation where you let your kicker put some points on the board and play the long game.

Instead, head coach Ryan Day kept his offense on the field, and C.J. Stroud short-armed a sure touchdown pass to Chris Olave, turning the ball over on downs in the process.

"Oh for pity sakes, Coach, you have to trust your defense there!" he said to the television. "You don't have to go for it with most of the quarter ahead of you!"

It Was Over When

Noah Ruggles pulled his fourth field goal of the day just enough to sneak it past the upright, giving the Buckeyes a 9-point lead and putting the game effectively out of reach for Penn State. With their timeouts spent and just 2:41 left to play in the game, the visitors didn't have enough time or mojo left to mount the comeback.

Ohio State improved to 7-1 on the season, and recorded their first victory over a ranked opponent.

Up Next: The Buckeyes travel to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln to face Scott Frost's Nebraska Cornhuskers. The contest will kickoff at noon and air on Fox. Nebraska fell to 3-6 Saturday after a 28-23 home loss to the Purdue Boilermakers.

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