Yesterday the Ohio State Buckeyes went to Happy Valley and a stadium packed with 110,000 screaming, white-clad fans and came away with a very convincing 24-7 win. It was a true team win, with good play from the defense, the offense, the return units, and the kicking units. The result was the team’s first “signature win” of the season, obtained against a higher-ranked team on the road in a very hostile environment.
The Ohio State defense was tremendous. The defensive line consistently wreaked havoc with the Penn State offensive schemes, with quick penetration by Cam Heyward and Thad Gibson often blowing plays up before they had any chance to develop. Linebackers Brian Rolle, Austin Spitler, and Ross Homan were all over the field, and the defensive backfield was solid. The only big play for Penn State was a well-executed swing pass that the receiver turned into a 30-yard gain. That play came on Penn State’s only drive, which resulted in an apparent touchdown on a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak. In all, Penn State gained only slightly more than 200 yards for the whole game, and the continued three-and-outs delivered by their offense clearly deflated the Beaver Stadium crowd.
The special teams also were solid. The punter kicked well, frequently pinning Penn State deep in its end of the field, and the backup placekicker performed well on kickoffs and converted his lone field goad attempt. Ray Small, in the meantime, had two fine punt returns that clearly influenced the outcome of the game. The first return, early in the game, was a 40-yard speed burst that put Ohio State in the red zone and led to the team’s first touchdown, and the second was a twisting, cutting affair that took Ohio State from close to its own goal line out to midfield.
And finally, the much-maligned offense played a terrific game against a very good defense. The offensive line kept a gimpy Terrelle Pryor from being sacked and opened holes that allowed Pryor, Boom Herron, and Brandon Saine move the ball on the ground. Pryor played perhaps his best game as a Buckeye, throwing sharp passes, avoiding the forced throws that have occurred in some games, and running for crucial first downs and the first Ohio State touchdown. The Ohio State coaches also deserve credit for some nifty play-calling — an end-around, a small pass to the fullback for a first down, an excellent fake dive and pass to Saine for the final, crushing touchdown, and two well-timed deep balls, one of which just missed before halftime and the second of which produced the Buckeyes’ second touchdown and put the game effectively out of reach.
In all, the game was a well-played, well-executed pleasure to watch for any Buckeye fan, and with Iowa’s unexpected loss yesterday it opens the door to the Big Ten championship, if Ohio State can just walk through. Next up are the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Horsehoe.