Ohio State Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Buckeyes' Win vs. Penn State
The No. 9 Ohio State Buckeyes went into one of the most hostile environments in the country and came out winners, defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions, 35-23, Saturday night.
The Buckeyes overcame a rough start by scoring four second-half touchdowns in the 12-point victory. Braxton Miller was once again the key to Ohio State's success, leading the Buckeyes to their first 9-0 start since the 2006 season.
Here's a look at 10 things we learned from Ohio State's 35-23 win over Penn State.
1. Penn State fans are loud.
It's safe to say most college football fans already knew this, but Saturday night's game proved that the NCAA sanctions that crippled this Penn State program haven't silenced its fans.
107,818 is the announced attendance. Been one of the loudest crowds I've heard.— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) October 28, 2012
Penn State fans were more excited for this game than many of the previous matchups, and it was good to see that fanbase so fired up for a football game after the kind of offseason they had.
During the first half, it felt like part two of the 2005 Ohio State-Penn State game. That crowd was off the charts and really made things tough for the Buckeyes early.
2. Braxton Miller can silence a crowd.
Facing a seven-point deficit and a crowd that other Ohio State quarterbacks have failed to silence, Braxton Miller needed to make something happen to swing the momentum.
Like so many times before, Miller responded in a big way.
After gaining just 70 yards their first six drives of the game, Miller put together a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive right before the half ended to tie the game at seven.
After a Penn State field goal cut the Buckeyes' lead to four later in the second half, Miller put the game out of reach by orchestrating consecutive touchdown drives of 57, 85 and 92 yards.
By the end of the game, the small pocket of Ohio State fans in attendance were louder than the folks dressed in white.
3. Miller's injury didn't linger.
The sophomore quarterback looked hesitant in the first quarter, ignoring his usual running lanes on roll outs in favor of throwing wildly inaccurate passes.
But on Ohio State's late touchdown drive in the second quarter, Miller ripped off a 33-yard run that set the Buckeyes up inside Penn State's 10-yard line. From then on out, Miller looked like his old self running the ball, with the sole exception of a funky-looking slide at the end of some of his carries.
Miller finished the game with 277 total yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one passing), and it was clear that the whiplash injury he suffered last week didn't effect his play against Penn State.
4. The offense executed the zone-read play better than it has all season against Penn State.
The base running play in Meyer's spread offense requires Braxton Miller to read a defensive end's movement and decide whether to keep the ball or hand it off to his running back.
Through the first half of the season, Miller struggled making the correct read at times. There was improvement in that area in recent weeks, but against Penn State, Miller was nearly flawless running the zone-read play.
Especially in the second half, Penn State defenders whiffed in almost comical fashion on some of Ohio State's zone-read plays. The best example—which can be seen at the 36-second mark in the video here—came when Braxton Miller pulled the ball from Hyde at the last second, made a defender miss, then dove over the line into the end zone.
5. Ryan Shazier is a bad dude.
Shazier shared the team lead with seven tackles against Penn State, but it was his ability to make huge plays in pivotal positions that deserves special mention.
Coming out of halftime tied at seven, Penn State was inside their own 20 after a bobbled kick return. Needing to set the tone, Shazier sacked Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin for a nine-yard loss to set up 3rd-and-long.
On the very next play, Shazier dropped back in coverage and picked McGloin off. The sophomore linebacker then darted 17 yards into the end zone for a touchdown, giving Ohio State a lead it would never lose.
The Buckeyes might be hurting at the linebacker position, but Shazier has been solid all year long.
6. Zach Boren is proving to be a serviceable linebacker.
As mentioned earlier, Shazier shared the team lead with seven tackles against the Nittany Lions.
Who, you ask, did he share that lead with?
Zach Boren, the converted fullback, also notched seven tackles Saturday night. This performance came just two weeks after leading the Buckeyes with eight stops against Indiana.
With how well Boren is starting to play on this side of the ball, you have to start asking yourself why it took so long for him to make the move.
7. The defense has improved drastically over the last two weeks.
Part of the credit does go to Boren, who has really helped Ohio State fill its biggest hole in the defense.
With the play of the linebackers improving, the coaching staff has done a fantastic job tightening up the Buckeyes' tackling issue.
At the beginning of the year, it didn't look like Ohio State could get anyone on the ground. Against Purdue and Penn State, the Buckeyes haven't missed many tackles and the unit isn't hemorrhaging points like it was earlier this season.
Aside from the opening play of the Purdue game, the Buckeyes haven't allowed many big plays. The defense was just as responsible for last week's come-from-behind victory over the Boilermakers as Guiton, and this week, the defense held Penn State's offense to just one field goal before two garbage-time touchdowns.
8. Jake Stoneburner is alive.
People were starting to worry about the senior receiver, but Stoneburner appeared against Penn State after weeks of mediocre play.
During the four games preceding this one, Stoneburner had just five catches for 58 yards. That lack of production is shocking when you recall Urban Meyer saying he and Jordan Hall were the only real playmakers on offense outside of Braxton during the offseason.
Against Penn State, Braxton threw a dart to Stoneburner, who ran a perfect post route that put him behind the Nittany Lions defense. Stonebuner outran every defender on his way to a career-long, 72-yard touchdown catch.
9. The specials teams will be hit or miss the rest of the year.
Ohio State's special teams have been up and down all year. Against Penn State, there wasn't an "up" to balance out the "down" that seems to be a weekly occurrence for this team.
Buried deep in their own territory in a scoreless game, the Buckeyes were forced to punt after Penn State's defense forced a three-and-out. Cameron Williams missed badly on a block and the Nittany Lions broke free to block Ben Buchanan's punt, which was recovered by Penn State in the end zone for a touchdown.
Plays like that usually lead to a loss, but Ohio State has dodged bullet after bullet this year. A lack of healthy bodies is really hurting the Buckeyes special teams unit, and until the team heals (which won't happen until the offseason), this group will struggle.
10. Ohio State is, without a doubt, the best team in the Big Ten.
There weren't too many people out there who thought otherwise, but Ohio State's victory over Penn State pretty much ends the debate.
It wasn't just the 12-point victory, but rather the fact that the three other contenders—Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin—all lost on Saturday.
The Buckeyes will ultimately have a chance to eliminate all these questions over the next four weeks. Ohio State will host Illinois next week, then finish the season against Wisconsin and Michigan after their much-needed bye week.
Follow David on Twitter @davidreg412.
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