Skull Session: Ohio State's Revenge Factor, Scouting Saquon Barkley, and Penn State's Program-Changing Win

By D.J. Byrnes on October 24, 2017 at 4:59 am
Joey Bosa sacks the October 24th 2017 Skull Session.

Best of luck to the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight in the World Series of Baseball—the sport I have loved my entire life.


Word of the Day: Teetotalism.

 IT SWITCHED. Last year's trip to Happy Valley was, uh, not great. Everything about that trip sucks, right down to the team having walk-throughs in a Ramada parking lot because nobody ever wants to actually visit State College.

But entering this year, that loss switched to "good" as it fuels the fire raging in the WHAC ahead of the year's biggest game.

It was a dark, treacherous path back from that game for Ohio State.

From Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch:

The Buckeyes could have survived had it not been for a blocked punt the Nittany Lions turned into a field goal and the blocked Ohio State field-goal attempt Penn State returned for the winning touchdown. The former, with 9:33 left, cut the Ohio State lead to 21-17. The latter gave the home team a 24-21 lead with 4:27 left that held up.

In the aftermath, the focus was more on the ineptitude of the Buckeyes’ passing game when it was needed most: OSU’s final desperate possession ended with two straight incompletions by J.T. Barrett followed by two straight sacks. It’s a scenario that became a theme for the 2016 Buckeyes, whose season ended with an offensively ineffectual 31-0 loss to Clemson in a CFP semifinal.

It carried over into this season with questions — indeed, doubts — about the passing game that, despite OSU sitting No. 1 in the Big Ten in that category, won’t be fully answered for most critics until Saturday afternoon. Suffice to say that Penn State, which just flipped Michigan 42-13, will offer the staunchest defensive test since the Buckeyes lost to Oklahoma in the second game.

It's not like Penn State will lackadaisically prepare this week because they won a three-point game a year ago.

But anybody who has played any level of athletics can attest, losses like that are a better breeding ground for success. (Please note, I'm talking about close-losses in big games. If all losses bred success, the Browns would be three-time defending Super Bowl champs right now).

It brings a different edge to training. Add in the extra week to prepare, and I couldn't be happier with how things stand entering the game.

 SCOUTING SAQUON BARKLEY, THE RECEIVER. Everybody knows Saquon Barkley can tote the rock. But he also has 32 receptions for 448 yards and three touchdowns (long of 85). 

Those stats have already eclipsed his 2016 totals. He also has more receptions and yards than any Ohio State receiver. (Zone 6's longest reception: Parris Campbell's 74-yard catch and run vs. Indiana.)

From this summer:

Penn State head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead have found creative ways to get the ball in the hands of Saquon Barkley in space. In fact, all but one of Barkley’s 20 receptions occurred over the final five games in 2015, while increasing that total to 28 receptions in the 2016 season.

Primarily, Barkley is utilized on screens and flat routes where he can quickly get the ball outside the hashes, but has also proved to be dangerous on angle routes where he can work the middle of the field versus more favorable matchups against opposing linebackers.

Barkley, the 2016 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, displays good hands and provides a large catch radius for his quarterback, often utilizing his hands instead of his body to pull in a reception. With last years leading wide receiver Chris Godwin now in the NFL, the Nittany Lions may look to utilize Barkley even more prominently in the passing game during the 2017 season.

Penn State went into this season knowing defenses would key on Barkley, and they'd have to create new ways to get him the ball, which led to the emphasis in receiving.

Ohio State linebackers are going to have their hands full with him on the ground, and it's a safe bet Joe Moorhead will try to get Barkley into space through the air. Let's hope Jerome Baker and Dante Booker are up to task.

Linebacker play has solidified in recent weeks, thanks to the breakout year of Tuf Borland in the middle. But like the secondary, only their best performance of the season will be good enough against Penn State.

If Moorhead abuses their aggression like Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma did, it could be a long night for the good guys.

 PENN STATE SHOULD SAY THANKS? Last year, I didn't think much of James Franklin. I said if Penn State beat Ohio State, I wouldn't say a negative thing about him until the Buckeyes righted the wrong.

Well, he proved me (and a lot of other people) wrong in what some have called a program-changing win for the Lions.


Beating Ohio State changed everything about Penn State football. Maybe it would have happened anyway, with a talent base that was building at a traditional college football powerhouse. But ask Nebraska about assuming a one-time giant is going to get it back.

Penn State got it back. Ohio State helped the Nittany Lions get there.

"After a win like that, I think you saw the confidence level of this team kind of sky rocket," Penn State senior linebacker Jason Cabinda said at Big Ten media days this summer. "We took the mentality that we can play with anybody. I think that also helped to be able to look at at every game, no matter the circumstances, that we could win, because we felt like we've been here before."

I see what they mean, but Penn State still got snubbed from the playoffs and lost to USC in the Rose Bowl.

If Penn State comes into Columbus and dumps Ohio State for the second year in a row, then that can be considered a program-changer if Penn State makes the playoffs, which it has never done.

But if the Nittany Lions get scrubbed? Well, at least Penn State fans will always have that magical memory from an okay season.

 DON'T BE LIKE KIRK COUSINS. We joke a lot about "football guys" and "grit," but please do not be like Kirk Cousins:

What I love about this is Cousins isn't even an elite NFL QB. This wasn't even a Super Bowl. It was a team meeting! HOW MUCH CAN POSSIBLY BE GAINED FROM THAT?

I can't believe anybody would admit this publicly. His wife should have FaceTimed a divorce lawyer.

 MEANWHILE, IN GAINESVILLE... Speaking of things to do, don't end up in prison because your team's loss triggered you into sending a death threat to a coach:

The truly surprising thing here is Urban not having received any death threats amid the Gators struggles.

 THOSE WMDs. The family that built an empire of pain... Freeways falling out of favor...Dum-dum pops were invented in Akron... A mosaic from Caligula’s pleasure barge being used as a coffee table.... One drug dealer, two corrupt cops, and a risky FBI sting.

View 115 Comments