Penn State Report Card: Offense
COLUMBUS, Ohio - As ugly as it may have been, Ohio State finally got the four-quarter game they've been preparing for all season. It took three turnovers by Ohio State's offense, but Penn State was able to stay in the game up until the Buckeyes were able to finally pull away in the fourth quarter.
Ohio State found early success against Penn State's rushing defense while the passing game took a backseat, but it took an effort from Justin Fields and Chris Olave to finally close things out through the air. In a mistake-filled game that still resulted in a two score win over a top 10 team, find out how we graded Ohio State's offense in this week's report card.
Even though Ohio State largely got the win behind Justin Fields' legs for the first time this season, it certainly was not his best outing against the Nittany Lions.
Through the air, Fields finished 16-of-22 for 188 yards and two touchdowns. This was par for the course based on his previous performances this season, though he did have a potential interception that had to be broken up, so there were certainly a couple of throws he would have liked to have back.
The main story from this game, however, was the way Ohio State used Fields on the ground. He had a career-high 21 carries for 68 yards, the first time Ryan Day has really taken the bubble wrap off of the sophomore quarterback this season. Fields started the game off strong with runs of 17 and 14 yards on the opening touchdown drive, but things took a quick turn after that.
On the Buckeyes' second drive, they drove 50 yards down to the Penn State five-yard line, and on what would have been a touchdown to put Ohio State up 14-0, Fields fumbled the ball just inches away from the goal line into the welcoming arms of a Penn State defender.
Later in the game, now only up 21-14 after a J.K. Dobbins fumble led to a Penn State touchdown, Fields again fumbled the ball, this time in Ohio State territory which led to a field goal by the Nittany Lions make things close.
Fields was playing well outside of the turnovers, but the turnovers are unfortunately what allowed Penn State to keep it a close contest late into the game. While Fields didn't have to pay for the turnovers this time around, against better opponents and bigger games, opposing offenses may not be so forgiving.
This isn't to say that Fields didn't still have a successful game against a good defense. He may not have thrown as much as expected against a defense allowing 240 passing yards per game, but he was still able to carve Penn State's impressive rushing defense up in short chunks on the ground. The two turnovers (and a fumble late in the game that he recovered) cast a shadow over the performance, so they weigh heavily in his grade this week.
This was the third time this season Ohio State has gone up against the best rushing defense in the Big Ten (other than themselves), and like those other occurrences, the Buckeyes had success on the ground, albeit on a larger sample size this time around.
J.K. Dobbins and Fields made up 57 of Ohio State's 61 total rushing attempts, and the team combined for 229 yards on those carries for an average of just 3.8 yards per carry. While this seems low relative to other performances this season, the 229 yards and 3.8 yards per carry are both season highs against Penn State.
Dobbins finished with 157 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 36 carries, and he was an integral part of Ohio State's opening drive which helped to set the tone for the contest. The Buckeyes went 91 yards on 13 plays (12 rushing attempts and one incompletion) to show the Nittany Lions that they weren't going to back down. In fact, the 91 rushing yards on the opening drive were more than Penn State had allowed per game (75.9), so Ohio State made it clear early on that they wouldn't become one-dimensional.
The rest of the game didn't go quite as well on the ground, as after that opening drive the Buckeyes only rushed for 138 yards on 49 carries, just a measly 2.8 yards per carry. Penn State was able to lock down their defense better after the first drive, and Ohio State was forced to pay for continuing to run the ball late into the game.
There was certainly an argument to be made that Ohio State went too conservative in the second half. Of the Buckeyes' final 18 plays (not including the kneel down) after Penn State cut the lead to just four, 14 of them were rushing attempts that went for just 51 yards in a close game. The play calling at that pont may have been questionable, but Dobbins and company kept on trucking to eventually finish the game with just Ohio State's ninth highest rushing total of the season.
Given the number of carries, you'd expect Ohio State to find success on the ground. However, with how the Buckeyes have fared against other premier rushing defenses this season, you'd expect to see more out of them in this big of a game. Not to mention the fumble by Dobbins that helped set up the Penn State touchdown, and there were certainly some big mistakes and room for growth from the game, but it's hard to harp on a team that set season highs in rushing yards and yards per carry against a top rushing defense.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
While other aspects of the offense had struggles, the receiving group had arguably the best day out of anyone. Six receivers finished with at least two receptions and three had a catch of at least 15 yards. K.J. Hill led the way with four receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown while Chris Olave added another impressive touchdown snag in the corner of the end zone to help Ohio State ice the game.
With 61 team carries, opportunities were limited for the receivers against Penn State, but they still made the most of it. Olave even helped break up a pass from Fields that was most likely going to get picked off, so everybody was making an impact when the ball came their way. Most importantly, however, no receiver put the ball on the ground.
Austin Mack returned for the first time since the Northwestern game and caught two balls for 27 yards on Senior Day, so it was a nice moment for him in a season hampered by injuries.
Given that the receivers didn't have any costly turnovers or drops, there's not a whole lot to ding them on for this week since they didn't have a ton of participation due to the focus on the rushing attack, so they get the lone "A" of the week.
After strong games against Maryland and Rutgers, Ohio State's offensive line fell back down to earth against Penn State's defense.
Fields was sacked three times fairly early on in his progressions after not being sacked in the last two games, and he generally didn't have as much time against the Nittany Lions as he did against other teams this year.
Things opened up early for the rushing game on Ohio State's first drive, but after that, Dobbins and Fields were being met often at the line of scrimmage. 19 of Ohio State's carries ended with gains of one or fewer yards with 10 of them resulting in lost yardage. Penn State's defense was plugging the holes Ohio State used on the first drive and they never really found a way around it.
A costly holding penalty in the second quarter by Thayer Munford backed up Ohio State, and then a sack on the ensuing play backed the Buckeyes up and later forced a punt after Ohio State had previously reached the Penn State 36-yard line. These were just some of the mental mistakes that Ohio State self-inflicted against the Nittany Lions, and no position group was immune from them in this type of game.
It's difficult to grade them harshly when Ohio State won by two possessions against a top 10 team and ran for 229 yards, but the three sacks given up and the inefficiency of the rushing attack in the second half have to be reflected.