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Post-Happy Valley Thoughts
The number one complaint I have heard from Ohio State fans after the Penn State game is that the play-calling was way too conservative. Well, with 13:24 to go in the game, Ohio State led 17-7 and had just gotten the ball. The OSU defense had given up only 94 yards and Penn State’s offense had not scored. The Nits were averaging 8.5 yards per drive at that point…..not 8.5 yards per play….8.5 yards “per drive.” I turned to my buddy in Beaver Stadium and said, “Ohio State will button it up the rest of the way; they can’t lose this game without turning the ball over and giving Penn State momentum.” So, on first down, with JT Barrett struggling, the OSU coaches elected to throw the ball over the middle, and the ball was picked off. Eight plays later, Penn State was in the end zone cutting the lead to 17-14, and Penn State had major momentum. The play call on Barrett’s pick was anything but conservative and it damn near cost the Buckeyes the game.
I usually don’t single out individual plays and play the hindsight game, but I will in this case. You absolutely cannot throw the ball over the middle on first down…at that point in the game…with the Buckeye defense dominating like it was…and with JT Barrett struggling like he was. In my mind, the overall play-calling wasn’t conservative enough. There is no way Penn State should have battled back to tie that game at 17-17. The stadium, with the night game white-out, was chaos….as it always is in Beaver Stadium. It wasn’t all that surprising to see the momentum completely shift after Barrett’s second INT. I also shook my head when Ohio State ran out of the wildcat four times on a third quarter drive, while not running out of that formation at any other point in the evening (that I can recall). What gives? Not a conservative philosophy in my mind.
The Ohio State coaching staff is, at worst, one of the top five staffs in the country. I guess that is why I was surprised at some of their calls. I wasn’t surprised to see: (A) a close game, (B) JT Barrett struggle in that venue, and (C) PSU get the OSU offense out of sync after the Lions had the extra week to prepare for Ohio State. I mentioned these concerns in last week’s blog and the concerns ended up being valid.
As for the two huge gaffes by the officials that helped Ohio State score 10 points that they maybe should not have scored….I don’t think the correct calls would have changed the outcome of the game. As critical as I am about the coaches play-calling that led to Barrett’s second INT, Urban Meyer almost always gets it done in crunch time. There is a reason why he is 7-0 in overtime games in his head coaching career. Nonetheless, I’d be pretty ticked off with the blown calls if I were a Penn State fan.
Does the Penn State game change the outlook of the season?
So, the consensus opinion I am now hearing is: Ohio State is in big trouble in East Lansing on November 8th. While this might be the case, the reality check in Happy Valley and the experience of playing in that environment helps this Buckeye team immensely. After pounding Kent State, Cincy, Maryland, and Rutgers, the Ohio State players needed a dose of reality. JT Barrett is still a freshman and he showed that for much of the night, Saturday. The OSU coaches pulled this team together after the Va Tech debacle and will have this team ready to go against Sparty. And they will have to, or this team will indeed be in big trouble.
The college football playoff committee initial rankings? About what I expected. I still believe the Buckeyes are in the playoff if they win out. Sportsbook.com’s updated odds to win the national championship have Michigan State as the 4th favorite (7 ½ to 1 odds against winning the national championship) and Ohio State as the 8th favorite (9 to 1). So, the oddsmakers seem to be thinking the same. And I’ll take the opinions of the oddsmakers over those of the talking heads any day of the week.
Next up: Illinois.
The Buckeyes can name their score against Illinois, but will they? I honestly see the OSU coaches taking a good amount of time this week to gear up for Michigan State, despite the coach-speak you will hear publicly. They also have to protect JT Barrett’s sprained knee, and really shouldn’t call Barrett’s number on a designed run at any point against Illinois. With Sparty on deck and Barrett ailing, my first thought was that OSU would have trouble covering the 28 point spread. But the more I look at it, I see a very bad Illinois team despite their upset of Minnesota this past weekend. And Urban will probably continue to keep his foot on the gas well into the 4th quarter, after seeing OSU come in at #16 in the initial playoff committee poll. The call: Ohio State 45 Illinois 10.