Ohio State hasn’t been tested much this season, but the Buckeyes’ fortitude was certainly put to the test in Happy Valley on Saturday afternoon. Ultimately the defense came up with some timely plays and the offense came alive in the fourth quarter as the Buckeyes overcame some questionable decisions and sporadic play to escape with a huge road win and keep the playoffs and Big Ten championship hopes at the forefront.
My 10 Instant Observations from the thrilling come-from-behind win….
1. The J.T. Tuimoloau Game. The former five-star prospect has had a solid second year in Columbus but people have been wondering when he might have a big breakout performance. That day was today. Tuimoloau was incredible from start to finish in this one. The interception was a play only a few defensive linemen in the nation would be athletic enough to make as he looked like a safety breaking on the ball. He harassed Clifford all game long and then came up with the play of the game with the fumble recovery in the fourth quarter. And as a late add here, the cherry on top pick six! What an unbelievable game.
2. There is definitely going to be a blueprint to slow down the Ohio State running game, and effectively slow down the Ohio State offense. Iowa showed it last week, Penn State copied it this week with great success until Henderson’s 41-yard fourth quarter touchdown. Stack the box, slant the defensive line and just create as much chaos at the line of scrimmage as possible. In short, go for broke in trying to create negative plays. For all 60 against Iowa and the first 50 of today’s game, the Buckeyes were unable to use that aggression against their opponents and create seams. That is going to have to be a focal point moving forward for the offensive brain trust.
3. Some major fourth quarter redemption for Cade Stover. Stover had a couple of missed blocks in the screen game early on, but what a fourth quarter. Stover’s combination block sprung Henderson’s long touchdown run, then he added a late touchdown of his own. Gutsy performance from arguably the heart and soul of this roster.
4. It took an awful long time to figure out that as vaunted as this Penn State secondary is, it had very few answers for the Ohio State passing game. The Buckeyes needed to scrap the game plan much earlier as the middle of the field was wide open yielding huge chunk yardage in the passing game. It wasn’t just Harrison Jr. either. Stover, Fleming, and later on Egbuka were all finding plenty of open space between the hashes.
5. I was perplexed by some of the decisions made in the first half (and throughout the game for that matter). There was a total disconnect on the risk/reward scale. A 53-yard field goal attempt in that environment? What events in the past would have indicated that had a high success rate? That’s four down territory there and I don’t know even know if I would call that “conservative” it was just the wrong call.
6. Then the decision with six seconds left in the first half was probably even more perplexing. Should a veteran QB like Stroud have felt the blitz and gotten rid of the football? Yes. But he should have never been in that position. Even if you throw it quickly out to Harrison, there are still negative outcomes that are possible. The ball could be intercepted because you’re hurrying/forcing a throw to a certain spot. The ball could be batted in the air (as we saw a million times today), leading to time running out. Just too many variables there and not enough time left to kick a field goal if any of those variables went the wrong way. You take the points, the lead, and the momentum into halftime as the offense really clicked on that two-minute drive.
7. That decision at the end of the half had lasting consequences. The Buckeyes had a 4th and 2 at the end of the third quarter from the Penn State 20 after a really strong drive, but had to kick the field goal to take the lead. In a world where they are already up two because they didn’t mismanage the end of the 2nd quarter, going for it there would certainly have been on the table and you’d be looking at an opportunity to make it a two score game going into the fourth. But Day took the points there as he pretty much had to given the score and time.
8. Which begs the question…why did Day run it on 3rd and 6 only to kick on 4th and 2? I agree that the call there was to take the points and the lead, but that sequence of calls didn’t mesh well. If 4th and 2 wasn’t close enough in Day’s mind to go for it, I’m not sure why he didn’t put the ball in Stroud’s hands on 3rd and 6. Yes, they pulled through and got the win, but there were several questionable decisions made throughout this game.
9. We’ll see what is said in post game and in the coming days, but it looks like the Buckeyes might have dodged a bullet in terms of the injury to Miyan Williams. Initially it looked Williams may have suffered a severe injury, possibly a broken wrist, but watching him walk around the sideline with just a couple of fingers taped would seem to indicate that this won’t be an overly long term thing. The knee issue is obviously still a concern and I’m not so sure he didn’t also tweak that on the same play but disaster may have been averted here.
10. Ultimately, teams that win championships have to overcome adversity at some point. There are very few championship teams that don’t look back at either a loss or a game where they narrowly escaped with a win. Will this be that “survival game” for the Buckeyes or is this more of an issue of some flaws rearing their head? We’ll certainly find out by the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but these types of wins are a must on the road toward a championship.