Prior to No. 1 Ohio State’s 38-10 victory over Penn State, The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz pitched five things they would be watching for in Saturday’s game.
Here is how those items played out during the game.
Bosa vs. Nassib
Two of the nation’s top defensive ends were on the gridiron in Columbus on Saturday, in junior Joey Bosa for the Buckeyes and senior Carl Nassib for the Nittany Lions. Both players made their presences felt.
Bosa finished the game tied for the team lead in tackles with seven total, five of which were solo. He had one sack, three tackles for a loss and quarterback hurry as well.
“I think he’s playing at a very high level,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said following the game. “Maybe statistically doesn’t have some of those other numbers. But he’s extremely disruptive.”
Bosa’s disruption commenced early on and lasted nearly until the final whistle.
On Penn State’s second possession, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native made a play reminiscent to the game-ending one he made in the matchup in 2014, as he nearly drove the Nittany Lions’ right tackle Brendan Mahon into Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Twice on third down, Bosa made tackles that forced Penn State punts, the first of which was his sack of Hackenberg. The second came midway into the second period, as Bosa swallowed up freshman running back Saquon Barkley on a 3rd-and-2 for a four-yard loss.
For Nassib, his game began in a different fashion than Bosa’s.
The 6-foot-7 former walk-on had a relatively quiet first half, as he registered only 2.5 tackles. Something must have clicked in the locker room at halftime, however, because Nassib came out aggressively from the start of the third quarter.
Nassib was in on two tackles on OSU’s first offensive series in the second half, and halfway through the frame, he blew by redshirt senior right tackle Chase Ferris and dragged down redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones for his first sack of the game.
He continued to make plays for the rest of the second half, including bringing down redshirt sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett for a four-yard loss at the end of the third quarter. Nassib ended the evening with 1.5 sacks — bringing his season total to a nation-leading 11.5 — as well as eight total tackles.
Despite the numbers, offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Ed Warinner thought the Buckeyes did a solid job keeping Nassib in check.
“We knew we had to be aware of him,” Warinner said. “I think we contained him pretty well, but he’s a good player.”
Repeat performance in the red zone?
For the second consecutive week, OSU scored points in all six of its trips to the red zone. Against the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes found the end zone five times, with the other resulting in a 39-yard field goal from redshirt senior kicker Jack Willoughby.
Meyer continued to insert Barrett into the game when OSU neared the 20-yard line — before benching Jones in favor of Barrett full-time — and it worked well.
The Wichita Falls, Texas, native had two rushing touchdowns in the first half and two scores through the air in the second half.
Junior running back Ezekiel Elliott accounted for the other OSU touchdown on a 10-yard run, in which he made multiple defenders miss before diving head-first for the score.
Whether Barrett continues to be used in red-zone situations or if he becomes the full-time starter remains to be seen, but he continued to be effective during his time on the field, especially in the red zone.
Even if Meyer gives the starting nod to Jones next week, the coach can at least count on Barrett and the offense to continue its success in the red zone.
Does Braxton solidify himself as a playmaker?
After an up-and-down start to his career as a wide receiver, redshirt senior Braxton Miller finally strung together two consecutive successful games.
Following an outing against Maryland in which he had 90 total yards and one touchdown on eight touches, Miller had six touches for 63 total yards, 33 of which were receiving, while catching a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It was a solid performance for Miller after his first touch of the game resulted in a six-yard loss. Besides his touchdown catch from Barrett, the highlight of the night for Miller came late in the first quarter when he made a diving reception for 17 yards on a pass from Jones.
The night might not have had an jaw-dropping plays like the spin move against Virginia Tech, but Miller being able to have consecutive performances with notable contributions is a good sign for the OSU offense moving forward.
Offensive line penalties
The offensive line had four penalties against Maryland, which gave Meyer concern. Those issues appeared to have been addressed heavily in practice during the week, as no flags flew in the O-line’s direction on Saturday.
Meyer praised the performance of “The Slobs” after the win.
“Our offensive line played well,” he said, later adding that “(Elliott) and the offensive line took control of the game.”
Elliott, who extended his streak of games with 100-plus yards rushing to 12 after finishing with 153 yards, applauded the blockers up front for their efforts.
“We finally looked like the Ohio State rushing game that you saw in the last three games last year,” he said. “The holes they were opening today were just so big. They made it easy for me. All I had to do was get to the second level and make guys miss.
“I’m so thankful for those guys”
OSU’s secondary vs. a pocket passer
Prior to Saturday’s tilt, the largest damage done to the OSU defense came by way of opposing quarterbacks’ legs, notably Indiana’s Zander Diamont and Maryland’s Perry Hills. The secondary specifically has done a nice job sans the quarterback run game, as it has held opponents to an average of just 147 yards through the air per game.
The threat of the quarterback using his legs to complement his arm was not in play at the ‘Shoe on Saturday with Hackenberg.
All in all, the defensive backfield limited the Nittany Lions’ aerial assault. Hackenberg finished the night just 7-of-13 for 120 yards.
Most of those yards were picked up on two completions, a 45-yarder on Penn State’s first possession of the game and a 56-yard gain on the first play of the second half.
Perhaps the only black eye on the secondary’s performance game by way of penalties.
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Gareon Conley had a pass interference and a late hit that resulted in laundry being tossed. Redshirt junior safety Vonn Bell was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first half, as well.
Sans the flags on Conley and Bell, the secondary continued its solid performance against pocket passers on Saturday.