If you watched Penn State take on Ohio State on Saturday night, you saw how in the first half, these two teams weren’t playing on the same field. One team’s defensive line dominated the other team’s offensive line. The same team’s offensive line dominated the other team’s defensive line.
Ohio State, dominant.
Penn State, dominated.
Ohio State 38, Penn State 25
When third-ranked Ohio State ran 62 yards on the game’s first play, the Buckeyes had immediate control. When Penn State, already down 7-zip, went for it right away on fourth-and-2 from its own 45-yard line, the Nittany Lions at least showed an understanding that they would have take chances. (Didn’t work. Ohio State held, and scored again five plays later.)
Fields is a legit Heisman contender for all sorts of reasons, but start with his poise. Ohio State’s quarterback understands time and space, how to use one to create the other. He also has terrific receivers, easy to place trust in. Add in that offensive line giving him time, he’s the best the Big Ten has to offer.
Third down? No worries. Fourth down? Twice, Fields completed passes on the fourth-quarter scoring drive that ended any reasonable Penn State hopes.
The clock operator. No, really. There were 2 seconds left in the first half when Fields took a snap, a couple of steps, and a knee. Both teams ran off the field. Both teams were told to come back. A video replay somehow decided that Fields had done all that in one second. Penn State was given the ball, and nailed a 50-yard field goal to draw within 21-6 at the break.
Hard to grade Penn State’s QB for his first half. Sean Clifford didn’t throw costly interceptions as he had at Indiana, but he didn’t have the time to operate, and didn’t have receivers who were open downfield. At halftime, he had two completions in seven attempts.
Third quarter, he began operating effectively immediately, putting Ohio State’s defensive backs on their heels, finding four different receivers as Penn State finally got into the end zone.
Could that last? Ohio State adjusted to the quick hits and crossing routes, and kept bringing extra pressure. Penn State countered with a couple of spectacular catches by top receiver Jahan Dotson, who added a second touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Bottom line: Ohio State’s offense was too efficient for this game to come down to Clifford’s play. He was not the problem, though. Even a late Clifford interception, a bad call by the QB, wasn’t a game-changer.
It may not have mattered that Penn State has two injured tailbacks. Was there a hole for Devyn Ford to run through? This may have been one of those games where Saquon Barkley couldn’t have made a difference.