STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — When the Ohio State football team got back to Columbus around 5 in the morning following the Wisconsin game, the No. 2 Buckeyes changed up their routine. They took an off day on Sunday and watched film on Monday. Throughout the week the team tried to correct the woes in the passing game that carried over to Wisconsin from the Indiana game the week before.
Once again, a sluggish offensive performance reared its ugly head on Saturday night against the Penn State Nittany Lions. However, this time it ended in the team’s first loss of 2016, 24-21 in regulation. It was coach Urban Meyer’s first loss in 21 true road games with the Scarlet and Gray.
“Offensively we didn’t control the line of scrimmage,” Meyer said. “(J.T. Barrett) was under pressure all night when he threw it. We didn’t move them off the ball in the run game.”
After three quarters, the Buckeyes looked to be in control. Samuel silenced the white-out crowd with an electrifying 74-yard touchdown run that put OSU up 19-7. Then, a Penn State snap went over the head of punter Blake Gillikin who recovered it in his own end zone for a safety. The Buckeyes led 21-7, then things went south.
Penn State scored on a 90-yard drive in just five plays. Then, after an OSU three-and-out and a blocked punt, the Nittany Lions put three more on the board to trim the deficit to 21-17. After OSU accumulated 59 yards, Penn State junior cornerback Grant Haley blocked a field goal attempt from OSU senior kicker Tyler Durbin and returned it 60 yards for the game-winning score.
Albeit, the outcome wasn’t entirely the offense’s fault, but the team’s inability to gain first downs early in the game came back to haunt them late.
With 4:21 on the clock for a game-tying or go-ahead score, a typical Urban Meyer offense can manage that time and score without much of a problem. For whatever reason, this year that has not been the case and it showed on Saturday.
The kickoff was muffed, giving redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and the offense difficult field position. The entire drive, the Penn State defense — ranked 102nd in the country in rushing defense prior to the game— continued to disrupt the OSU offense. Barrett was flushed out of the backfield, had little time to throw and redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber had nowhere to run.
Barrett was sacked twice on the drive in the team’s final two plays. In total, Penn State had six sacks on the night, the most allowed this season by OSU’s offensive line.
“We didn’t get our job done,” redshirt senior center Pat Elflein said. “They were playing hard and we just didn’t do it. We didn’t get it done tonight.”
For the third straight week, the passing game has not been met expectations. Barrett completed 28-of-43 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown, but over half of those completions were to Samuel and Weber — many on checkdowns.
Barrett was forced out of the pocket on numerous occasions, but that wasn’t the problem in the past two games. Even when there was protection, Barrett often had to create more time to find an open receiver. He said after the game that the timing between the receivers wasn’t an issue.
“I think it was just mental errors,” Barrett said. “It’s not looking for a hot (receiver) … not clearing out on some routes so somebody else can get open. I think that was part of it. I think we put our O-line in bad spots early on in drives, so we’re in 2nd-and-long and then we had to pass.”
Moving forward, OSU has plenty of questions to answer on both sides of the ball, but the the presence of a passing game might avoid another loss that would effectively end OSU’s playoff hopes.
“We’re not a great team right now,” Meyer said. “We got to regroup and get guys healthy and come back and keep swinging.”