NCAA: How Ohio State Kept their Playoff Hopes Alive

In its annual meeting with Penn State, Ohio State came back from a two-possession deficit in the fourth quarter for the second straight year. For almost the entire game, the Bucks looked like the lesser team. So how were they able to beat the Nittany Lions without their best player? It came down to a few small factors like field position, an incredible drive, and a little help from James Franklin’s play-calling.

Drue Chrisman

Ohio State’s sophomore punter Drue Chrisman, a member of the pre-season Ray Guy watchlist, was called on nine times during this game, and he delivered. Eight of his nine punts were downed inside the Nittany Lions’ 30-yard line, including one at the 19 and one at the 1-yard line. PSU found itself working with a long field often, and on their five return attempts, they averaged 1.4 yards/return, which speaks to Chrisman’s ability to pin his opponents deep and to Ohio State’s stellar punt coverage team. Chrisman and the special teams unit were able to flip the field all night, and it seems like he is just as good as advertised.

Damage Control

Ohio State’s first eight drives? Punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, punt. Somehow, they were only down 13-7 at halftime. They have their defense and a missed field goal to thank for that. OSU’s offense looked stagnant and nervous for the bulk of the first half.

Dwayne Haskins got no type of protection from PSU’s bull rush and was forced to make quick throws without a chance to get comfortable in the pocket. Aside from a 93-yard pass to KJ Hamler, however, Trace McSorley and the Penn State offense couldn’t find paydirt against Ohio State’s stout defensive line. Things could have gotten out of hand very quickly, but the defense bailed Haskins and the rest of the offense out, keeping Ohio State in the game into the second half.

Guys Stepping Up Under Pressure

There was a lot of speculation as to how the Buckeye defense would fare against a high-powered offense after pre-season All-American DE Nick Bosa went down against TCU two weeks prior. A lot of pressure fell on sophomore end Chase Young, who is slated to take Bosa’s spot as the go-to guy next year after Nick (probably) goes to the draft.

Young answered the call big time, amassing six tackles (three for loss), two sacks, and two PBU. He also made the game-winning tackle on fourth and five in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. While Young was solidifying himself as the interim leader on defense, Haskins maintained his throne as king of Ohio State’s offense.

The Heisman hopeful played his worst game of the season and still managed to put up 270 yards and three touchdowns through the air. His offensive line didn’t allow him much time in the first half, but they got it together in the second. Haskins led an eight-play, 96-yard drive in just over two and a half minutes to give the Buckeyes the lead with only 2:03 remaining. He and the rest of the offense stepped up when they were needed most.

Worst Play Call of the Season?

Picture this: you’re down one point with 1:22 left in the fourth, and you’re on your opponent’s 43-yard line, facing a fourth-and-five situation. Your QB has 286 yards and two touchdowns passing the ball, and your receivers have been playing well all game. You call two timeouts to figure out how to handle it. What play do you call? If you said a quick out route, a slant, or basically any other passing play, you’re probably literally anyone besides James Franklin. Penn State QB Trace McSorley had been slinging the ball with ease, and everyone watching the game was expecting a pass on fourth down. But Penn State elected to run what looked like a read option. Ohio State DE Dre’Mont Jones immediately got to McSorley, who was forced to hand the ball off to RB Miles Sanders, who got swallowed up by Chase Young.

All Ohio State had to do was kneel the ball and let the clock run out. People are still wondering why Franklin allowed his offense to run this play, which seemed like a terrible idea at the time and still seems like one now. It was reminiscent of Pete Carroll electing to call a pass on the goal line in the Super Bowl against the Patriots instead of giving it off to Marshawn Lynch. I know these guys are paid a lot to make these decisions, but sometimes it’s hard not to wonder what they were thinking.

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