Sometimes it can be as simple as looking at one statistic in the box score to tell you the entire story of the game. For Penn State’s 33-24 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes, they can easily glare at 10 points off of turnovers for the Buckeyes to zero for the Nittany Lions and say that a nine-point deficit came down to coughing the ball up.
Penn State had chances to take control of this game. On the fourth play, Penn State had their first chance to take advantage of an Ohio State turnover. The Buckeyes fumbled, and Penn State started their night with strong field position. However, they immediately gave the football right back with a fumble of their own on the next play. They went into the half down seven, and that seven was a 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Jarren Cage.
“Offensively, the turnovers make it difficult on the road,” state head coach James Franklin. “Especially when one of those turnovers is for a touchdown.”
From the first snap offensively, into the half, and right out of it Penn State was chasing their turnovers. They scored to end the half, kicking a field goal, and score right out of the half, with a long touchdown drive, but dominating that swing in momentum only got them tied.
The team also had a chance down 27-24 in the fourth quarter, but another turnover crushed any chance of putting the pressure on the Buckeyes. Sean Clifford did not have his first read and looked to the next guy. He wanted to give his receiver, Jahan Dotson, a chance, even though he was contested, but that pass fell so short that the receiver had no shot.
The interception led to another field goal, as the defense once again stood up. Penn State had three turnovers in total, but only three points were given up by the defense off of turnovers, and the turnover started OSU in field goal range.
“I thought we did well defensively with sudden change,” Franklin said of his teams ability to force a punt after the Nittany Lions first fumble, and a field goal after the late interception.
But, now pressing for a touchdown, Clifford and the Nittany Lions went three-and-out, a drive that essentially killed their chances.
“Turnovers kill you no matter who you are playing,” said senior wide receiver Jahan Dotson. “But, when you are playing a good team like them, you cant give them more opportunities than they already have, you have to control the turnover battle, you have to be better.”
Credit has to be given to the No. 5 ranked Buckeyes as well. They earned that ranking for a reason. Still, it was the offense that earned all the hype, and it was Penn State forcing that offense to kick four field goals and punt three times while inside PSU territory. When you add in the defensive score, it is hard to say that the defense did not put the Nittany Lions in a position to pull off the upset. The offense had chance after chance and could not get out of their own way when it mattered most.
“There are some critical mistakes that we have to eliminate if we want to win consistently,” added Franklin of his offensive performance.
The team will look to clean things up against Maryland next week.
Losing the Field Position Battle
Beyond losing the turnover battle, the field position battle had Penn State facing an uphill climb all night. On average Penn State started at their own 22, while the Buckeyes started at their own 33. The Buckeyes spent 53% of the game in PSU territory, and only had one drive result in a three-and-out. Penn State had four drives go three-and-out.
The Buckeyes chipped away at field position and consistently made Penn State work for everything. The three PSU touchdown drives were 11, 12, and 13 play drives going 75, 75, and 89 yards. Nothing was easy for the offense.
“We did put some drives together, but most of the time we were going the length of the field, ” added Franklin on the discrepancy in field position. “One time it was 90 yards on 13 plays. but we weren’t able to do it consistently enough and that is what caught us.”
Sean Clifford Looks Healthier
Sean Clifford was injured in the Nittany Lions loss to Iowa, and while he played against Illinois, the ugly 9 OT loss spoke to his status in that game. Still, after going 19-34 against Illinois, he bounced back with a 35-52 performance for 361 yards. Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington were the beneficiaries, grabbing 20 passes for 235 yards between the duo.
James Franklin noted after the game that he saw a noticeable difference between his play against Illinois and Ohio State.
“Sean did a good job extending plays,” added Franklin “That is back to his health. One of the big differences tonight was Sean’s health.”
Franklin also shot down a question that Clifford was antsy in the pocket because of his injury.
“He came out to practice like everyone else, worked, stayed after with all of us, so it was what we expected,” added running back John Lovett.
Joey Porter Jr. struggles
It was an early theme that seemed to show up throughout the night, but Joey Porter Jr. had his struggles against the talented Buckeye wide receivers, and particularly Garrett Wilson. He spent most of the night on Wilson, who had seven catches for 82 yards, but it could have been more.
Porter was hit with three penalties in this game, a pass interference, a defensive holding, and a personal foul for a late hit. What stings even more, is that two penalties were key plays on scoring drives, and the other saw the Buckeyes fail to get points in the red zone. All three penalties were backbreakers, and the future NFL talent at wide receiver was too much for the young corner.
Jahan Dotson in the wildcat
The Nittany Lions ran a play we have not seen before when Jahan Dotson took a wildcat snap and ran to the left for a two-yard touchdown. The Nittany Lions have run the wildcat before, but Dotson is the sidecar to Tyler Warren. This time, the direct snap went to Dotson, who caught the defense off guard, and scampered to the corner of the end zone. Franklin said the team just put it in the wrinkle this week.
“A different look in the wildcat,” said Franklin on the idea of the design. “When we get into the wildcat, we have typically been getting downhill with Tyler, so this time we got Jahan to the perimeter with some lead blockers. We put it in this past week.”
Dotson was excited to run the play and knew it was going to be a score.
“I knew it was a touchdown once we put it in,” said Dotson confidently. “I have that confidence in coach Yurcich, he has confidence in me.”
Franklin added that he thought Yurcich did a great job calling plays tonight. There were plenty of similar elements with motion and disguise to catch the Buckeyes off guard. Overall, it was a good gameplan, and a good effort, but an effort that came one or two plays short of an upset.