Two Halves Make A Happy Whole

Yesterday, Ohio State had its biggest-ever comeback by a Jim Tressel-coached team.  The Buckeyes overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit to crush Penn State with 35 unanswered second-half points and win, 38-14.

The two halves of yesterday’s game could not have been more different.  Penn State dominated the first half.  The Nittany Lions’ defense came up with big stops against a very lackluster Ohio State offense, and Penn State’s walk-on quarterback, Matt McGloin, sliced up the Buckeyes with pinpoint throws and two touchdown tosses.  (He also enraged Buckeye fans like me with his cocky strutting.)  If not for a big fourth-down stop by Jermale Hines and the Ohio State defense, the Buckeyes could easily have gone into halftime down 21-3.

The Buckeyes came out with more fire in the second half, and it showed.  After stopping the Penn State offense on their first series, the Buckeyes marched 96 yards for a score to close the margin to 14-10.  Boom Herron, who totaled 190 yards on the ground for the game, set the tone for a great second half in which he, Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Saine, Zach Boren,and the Ohio State offensive gutted the Penn State defense on the ground.  Then, McGloin went from looking like an apparent Heisman candidate to looking like a walk-on.  He threw an interception that Devon Torrence returned for a touchdown — the first of two pick sixes for the defense in the second half — and the game was off to the races.  McGloin completed only two passes in the second half and ended the game on the bench.

I wrote yesterday about trying to figure out whether this Ohio State team could be great.  Yesterday’s game teaches us, at least, that the team has some character and determination, sufficient to overcome poor play and then blow out a determined opponent that is a traditional power.  The ground game exhibition the Buckeyes put on during the second half also bodes well for the two remaining games, which could easily be played in bad weather.  Let’s hope, however, that yesterday’s game is the last time Ohio State plays a bad half of football.  Against Iowa and Michigan, and in any bowl game, two solid halves of football will be needed.

How Good Are These Guys?

Today Ohio State returns to action after a bye week.  The Buckeyes have played nine games and won eight of them, are tied for the lead in the Big Ten, and are ranked ninth in the country.  And yet, somehow, they aren’t really well defined.  A lot of people are wondering:  how good are these guys?

This is the time of the season when you try to draw conclusions about a team’s relative quality by looking at its schedule.  For the Buckeyes, that indicator doesn’t tell us a whole lot.  Earlier wins that looking impressive — like at home against Miami, or on the road against Illinois — now don’t look quite as meaningful, as those teams have struggled since playing Ohio State.  Sure, the Buckeyes have soundly beaten teams they were expected to beat, but when they went on the road to play a conference foe now ranked in the top ten, they came up short.

You can certainly conclude that Ohio State is a good team.  Can it be great?  We’ll start to learn today, when Penn State comes to the Horseshoe.  We’ll learn still more in the next two weeks, when Ohio State travels to Iowa to play the Hawkeyes and then ends the season against Michigan.  Today’s opponent, the Nittany Lions, stand 3-2 in the Big Ten, having won three straight in the conference.  They have a good defense and an excellent running back in Evan Royster.  They also think they have found a quarterback in sophomore Matt McGloin.  McGloin has played in Penn State’s three conference wins and has thrown for seven touchdowns, including four last week against Northwestern.

In the Jim Tressel era, Ohio State’s matchups against Penn State have tended to be low-scoring defensive battles, so you would expect today’s game to be a good test for the Buckeyes.  Can the offense put up points against the traditionally tough Penn State defense?  Can the defense stop Royster and halt Penn State’s recent offensive resurgence in its tracks?  The answers to those questions will tell us more about how good the 2010 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes really is.