COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For a second time this season, Ohio State came away with a top-10 win to stay undefeated by beating Penn State 20-12 inside the Horseshoe.
Ohio State’s defense proved its arguably the best in the country, Marvin Harrison Jr. shined once again on college football’s biggest stage and OSU’s offense is still trying to figure out its identity. Below is more on the three takeaways from Ohio State’s win over the Nittany Lions.
Defense wins championship
Coming into the game, Ohio State ranked No. 3 in scoring defense and Penn State ranked No. 2. But it was the Buckeyes who were the better unit holding the Nittany Lions to one touchdown that came with 29 seconds left in the game. The Buckeyes held Penn State to 1-of-16 on third down, and that one conversion came with 45 seconds left with the game all but over.
“There’s a lot of people who did a lot of great things on defense but I’ve got to give [defensive coordinator] Jim Knowles a lot of credit and his staff,” coach Ryan Day said. “That was two top-10 wins in the first seven games where our defense played really well . . . If we can keep playing like this it’s championship-level defense.”
Ohio State forced the Nittany Lions to punt eight times, including five drives that went three and out. The Buckeyes forced a turnover on downs twice and held Penn State to 49 yards rushing, forcing Penn State to throw the ball more often. Ohio State was able to get pressure on first-year starter Drew Allar because it knew when the Nittany Lions had to pass and they were held under 200 yards through the air.
“We talked to them before the game that hey you’re not just playing Penn State’s offense, you’re playing Penn State’s defense. You know if they make one play we gotta make two,” Knowles said. “It’s a sense of maturity, leadership, yeah maybe a little chip on your shoulder and we’ve done a lot of work to have everyone have faith in us.”
Ohio State played without wide receiver Emeka Egbuka for a second game in a row, which should have allowed Penn State to focus more on Marvin Harrison Jr. The Nittany Lions tried to contain but just like many teams, they didn’t have answer for OSU’s top receiver. Harrison finished the game with 11 catches for 162 yards and one touchdown.
“You know I would think most teams the first thing they look at is how do I take away Marvin Harrison and we targeted him 16 times and I think he was open on most 16 of those plays,” Day said. “He showed up in a big spot today again and I would argue to say and I haven’t seen everybody play across the country that it’s hard for me to find somebody’s who better in the country.”
10 of Harrison 11 catches went for a first down. That’s second year in a row he’s recorded 10 catches for a first down against Penn State.
“I can’t really explain it man the bigger the game I just love those moments, love playing against a great team like that a great defense so very exciting each and every year,” Harrison Jr. said. “I’m just doing my job really. Out there on the field I don’t really realize what I’m doing. When the ball comes my way just trying to make a play for my teammates that’s really all I try to do.”
Harrison is now the first receiver in Ohio State history to have five games of 160 yards or more. He’s also recorded five games this season with 100+ receiving yards. His quarterback Kyle McCord believes he should be in the conversation for the Heisman trophy.
“If it’s truly truly the award that goes to the best player in college football I don’t see how he’s not in the mix,” McCord said. “Obviously what he’s done especially these last few games I don’t know if we’ve seen kind of a stretch like that of how consistent he is, how reliable he is . . . he’s done a great job and he’s a lot of fun to play with.”
Buckeyes offense still finding its identity
Ohio State’s offense moved the ball well against one of the best defenses in the country. Penn State was the No. 1 ranked team in the country in total yards allowed per game (193) and Ohio State shattered that mark with 365 yards, including 286 yards passing.
Kyle McCord missed a few open receivers early in the game, which continues to be an area that needs to be improved for Day’s offense. But the most glaring part that needs to be addressed is a lack of consistency in the run game. Ohio State played without starting running back TreVeyon Henderson for a second week in a row and it showed. Ohio State rushed for 79 yards and less two yards per carry. Not having Henderson hurts, but the offensive line is still going through growing pains that need to get sorted out.
“I thought there were times we moved the ball OK,” Day said. “We didn’t run the ball well enough. It didn’t get enough explosive plays. We certainly could use Tre and Emeka back, but we did enough to win.”
Day said he believes Henderson is close to returning and remains confident in his other backs, including Miyan Williams who had a season-high 24 carries for 62 yards and one touchdown.
Ohio State was also inconsistent in the red zone. The Buckeyes scored on four of their five trips inside the 20-yard line, but did settle for two field goals and turned the ball over on downs on two plays inside the three-yard line. Day said the Buckeyes missed not having backup quarterback Devin Brown who rolled his ankle on the play before the turnover on downs.
“That kind of threw us off, but we still can’t get in on those third and fourth down plays that would’ve been a huge difference maker. Overall, just not good enough,” Day said. “I think the biggest part of that is getting some of these guys healthy and continue to build the passing game a little bit more and the running game to be more explosive. If we can take that next step, we have a chance to be really good and reach our goals.”