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Like & don’t like: Penn State just not as good this season as everyone had hoped

Photo by Penn State Athletics

There’s always a lot to like and not like during a football game. This is my comprehensive list of things I liked and did not like, starting with the most important plays of the game, then going through the contest from the beginning.

Don’t like: Penn State is not as good as everyone hoped and believed it could be this season. That probably was obvious to everyone after the sloppy loss at Indiana, but it was reinforced in Saturday’s loss to Ohio State. You just can’t lose the likes of Micah Parsons, Journey Brown and Noah Cain — three of your four best players — and still expect to be a top 10 team and College Football Playoff contender.

Like: Now, it wasn’t all bad news for the Nittany Lions. They played a solid second half and can take a lot of positives out of that. The offense got some things figured out in the second half and scored 19 points against a good Ohio State defense.

Like: Penn State appears to have found the answer of whether Jahan Dotson can be the No. 1 receiver. He was fantastic Saturday with 144 yards receiving and three TDs, and he made back-to-back highlight-reel plays.

Don’t like: The fourth-down call by James Franklin on the first series was a bad call. No doubt about it. I like being aggressive and going for it in a lot of situations, especially when you’re beyond your own 40 (PSU was at the 45 and faced fourth-and-2). In fact, I often cite the high school football coach in Arkansas who never punts — ever — and has won a ton of state titles. However, in college, you have to have a good feel for your team, the other team and the game situation when you go for it on fourth down. Ohio State had a bunch of momentum right off the bat scoring a TD on its first possession, and the defense was fresh and ready to go on its first series. Misfiring on that fourth-down call gave the ball right back to Ohio State, which drove in for a TD to make it 14-0. Penn State’s chances of winning the game were pretty much done at that point, with the only hope remaining of at least trying to stay close.

Like: Want to hear something interesting: Penn State outscored Ohio State 25-24 over the game’s final 53:39. But the 14-0 deficit was too much to overcome.

Don’t like: The offensive playcalling in the first half by Kirk Ciarrocca was way too conservative. He opened things up in the second half, and it made a big difference. But it was too late at that point.

Don’t like: The third-down comparison. Ohio State was 10-of-18, while PSU was just 3-of-9.

Don’t like: There’s no cheering in the press box for media. But we were very close to a bunch of Buckeye fans, and you could hear them cheer loudly every time something happens.

FOURTH QUARTER

Like: Jahan Dotson made a terrific catch on an excellent throw to start the quarter, hauling in a 37-yard pass to convert a third-and-17.

Love: Just as I was typing what a great catch Dotson made on that play, he came up with a spectacular one-handed grab for a TD just seconds later.

Don’t like: Once again after scoring, the defense allowed Ohio State to move right back down the field for a touchdown. The Lions just couldn’t get enough stops in the second half to legitimately mount a comeback.

Like: Penn State’s offense continued to do good things late in the game, finding some rhythm and marching down the field. That’s the kind of thing the team can certainly build on as it breaks in new running backs and receivers.

Like: Dotson made another good grab and dove into the end zone to cap the drive, pulling the Lions within 38-25.

Like: Brandon Smith had a monster sack on Fields with 4 minutes to go, drilling the quarterback hard from the blind side.

THIRD QUARTER

Love: The Lions put together a beautiful drive to start the second half, going 75 yards in eight plays and doing all the damage through the air. Sean Clifford was 5-for-5 on the drive for 75 yards, and all five completions went for more than 10 yards. The playcalling was exceptional by Kirk Ciarrocca, getting the receivers in the middle of the field to make some plays.

Don’t like: Right after scoring, the Lions had a chance to get the ball right back as Ohio State faced third-and-4 from its 31. But Fields threw a nice out pass to Garrett Wilson for 5 yards to keep the drive alive and prevent PSU from getting more momentum.

Don’t like: Joey Porter Jr. went down during the drive with a scary-looking leg injury. His replacement was Marquis Wilson, and Fields picked on the backup on a gorgeous 49-yard TD pass to Garrett Wilson with 8:41 left in the third.

Like: Porter was able to come back into the game on defense at the end of the quarter. He also made a good play to break up a pass in the end zone, helping force the Buckeyes to settle for a field goal.

Like: The PSU defense allowed Ohio State to drive down the field and get a first down at the 11. But the Lions held up at that point and forced a field goal, which was a small silver lining on the night. Fields and the Buckeyes put up big numbers and made things very tough on the PSU defense, but the group showed some fight in that spot.

SECOND QUARTER

Don’t like: Fields continued to carve up the PSU secondary through the air, starting the game 7-for-7. He hit a 20-yard pass, and Brandon Smith was flagged for a late hit, giving the Buckeyes first-and-goal at the 9.

Like: The Penn State defense held, with some help. Fields misfired a tad high to an open receiver in the end zone on third-and-goal from the 3. That forced a FG try, and Blake Haubeil missed it wide right from 20 yards. That was a big break at the time for the Lions, who seconds earlier appeared to be ready to fall behind 21-3.

Don’t like: PSU was given a gift on the missed field goal and needed to get a sustained drive to keep building momentum. Instead, the Lions had a quick three-and-out and gave the ball right back to the Buckeyes.

Don’t like: It was evident early in the game that Penn State’s wide receivers were having lots of trouble getting separation. That was expected to be a problem, and sure enough it was.

Like: Antonio Shelton came up with a big 8-yard sack to stymy a Buckeye drive early in the quarter, the first time the Lions had really stopped Ohio State.

Don’t like: The Buckeyes faced third-and-2 at their 19 midway through the third quarter. Fields threw an errant pass to his right that wasn’t catchable, but the Buckeyes got a huge break when Lamont Wade grabbed the receiver and was flagged. That gave Ohio State a first down, and it marched right down the field after that for a TD and 21-3 lead.

Don’t like: Penn State had about a 10-minute window where it was still a game, with the offense having a couple of opportunities to build some momentum. But back-to-back quick three-and-outs killed those hopes, and once Ohio State moved right down the field to make it 21-3, there really wasn’t much hope left for the Lions.

Don’t like: Boy, did Ohio State screw up the clock at the end of the first half. That was embarrassing. The Buckeyes had to kill 2 seconds on fourth down, and Fields kneeled too quickly, giving PSU a chance to kick a field goal with 1 second to go. That was absolutely horrendous clock management.

Like: Stout booted a 51-yard field goal as time expired to send the Lions into the locker room with a sliver of momentum.

FIRST QUARTER

Don’t like: The Lions were asleep at the wheel at the outset, giving up a 62-yard run on a jet sweep to Garrett Wilson on the first play from scrimmage. It was a beautiful playcall by the Buckeyes, and executed perfectly on a quick handoff by Justin Fields. But it was more about PSU’s defense just not being ready. At all.

Don’t like: After the long run on the jet sweep, PSU’s defense was still shellshocked and gave up a 9-yard run to the 4, then a 4-yard TD to Master Teague III, with the pile moving forward to carry him into the end zone.

Don’t like: The decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 on the first offensive series was … dumb. I love being aggressive on fourth down and usually like it when teams go for it. It shows you’re playing to win instead of playing not to lose. But in this situation, it was ill-advised. It was too big of a risk right off the bat, in a game the Lions already trailed 7-0, it was too risky. It gave Ohio State the ball at the PSU 45, and they drove right in for a TD and 14-0 lead.

Don’t like: Ohio State needed only five plays after the failed fourth-down try to find the end zone. It became evident here that PSU’s defensive backs couldn’t cover the Buckeye receivers.

Like: Man, what a gorgeous throw and catch by Justin Fields to Chris Olave on the 26-yard TD to make it 14-0. That was impressive, with Olave making a terrific catch over defender Joey Porter Jr.

Don’t like: The Lions appeared intent on trying to run Sean Clifford early on. It wasn’t overly effective the first few tries, then Clifford did have a good run for 10 yards to the Ohio State 11.

Like: Penn State came back with a nice drive after falling behind 14-0, bailed out by a late hit on Clifford that kept the drive alive after a missed throw on third-and-12 from the Lions’ own 23. Clifford threw a 20-yard pass to Jahan Dotson, and Devyn Ford took off for 28 yards to get PSU into scoring position.

Don’t like: With a chance to get right back in the game, PSU had first down at the Buckeye 11 but had to settle for a field goal. A costly delay of game penalty turned third-and-9 into third-and-14, and PSU couldn’t convert.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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