It’s like Penn State begins every game with a 14-0 lead. The Nittany Lions have dominated the first quarter all season; they entered Saturday afternoon’s game in Columbus having outscored opponents 90-0 in the first 15 minutes, and they scored 14 on host Ohio State within five.
That they did it almost entirely without their offense (Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, then the Nittany Lions scored on a short field following a fumble recovery) turned out to be a bit of a foreboding tale. PSU would actually need its offense later in the game.
Team of the Week: No. 6 Ohio State (def. No. 2 Penn State, 39-38)
Efficiency matters. It’s why Ohio State ranked No. 1 in S&P+ these past couple of weeks despite the poor performance against Oklahoma. And it’s why the Buckeyes were able to dig back into the PSU game after the nearly instant two-touchdown disadvantage.
Penn State, so good at the Little Things this year, did everything it could to hold on. The return score provided a cushion, as did a somewhat lucky plus-2 turnover margin, a 2.5-yard field position advantage, and far more success at finishing drives.
The Nittany Lions just couldn’t make enough successful plays, however.
- Success Rate: Ohio State 48%, Penn State 29%
- Yards per play, first down: OSU 5.8, PSU 2.5
Ohio State has the best first-down defense, and one of the best defensive fronts, in college football. For all of its increasing strengths, PSU still has a shaky offensive line and semi-inefficient run game.
Barkley is the best play-maker in college football, but he still ends up having to make a lot of moves in the backfield. And his instincts backfire at times, like when he almost spun his way into a safety late in the third quarter. Ohio State’s defensive line found more and more advantages as the game wore on, and Barkley’s last 10 carries gained just 4 yards.
Meanwhile, Ohio State’s offense just kept pushing. The Buckeyes blew a couple of scoring opportunities early on, which delayed the comeback and almost pre-empted it. But efficient teams just wear on you. And efficient, deep teams wear you out. Ohio State ended up with 14 more snaps than PSU, and by the late second quarter, you could see the Nittany Lions’ defense beginning to wilt.
In the fourth quarter, it gave out. The only stop PSU made then was when Barrett and J.K. Dobbins muffed a zone read exchange. Barrett completed his last 13 passes, Dobbins gained 88 yards in 13 carries, and K.J. Hill and Austin Mack combined for 18 catches and 192 yards. And as PSU tried to keep up, new weapons kept coming out of the woodwork. Johnnie Dixon scored on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, and with 1:48 left, tight end Marcus Baugh made just his second catch of the day, a 16-yard touchdown.
Just as J.T. Barrett was vastly underappreciated heading into Saturday’s game, so was Ohio State. The numbers saw it before we did, but there’s no denying it now.
Other teams of the week
2. No. 25 Iowa State (def. No. 4 TCU, 14-7)
Heading into October, ISU had beaten one top-five team in its history, the famous 2011 upset of Oklahoma State.
The Cyclones just scored two such wins in a month. They are tied for the Big 12 lead. They should end up in the AP top 20 this week, which will mark just the ninth season that has ever happened. These are unchartered waters in Ames. Matt Campbell is a coaching god.
3. No. 9 Notre Dame (def. No. 14 NC State, 35-14)
Last week’s team of the week upped the ante by laying the hammer down in the second half against a Wolfpack team that currently leads the ACC Atlantic. The matchups weren’t great for the Irish; it didn’t matter. And running back Josh Adams has now averaged 159 rushing yards per game since getting held to 53 by Georgia. He's done that in under 16 carries per game. Damn.
4. Boston College (def. Florida State, 35-3)
First 6 games: 98 points.
Last 3 games: 121 points. Against Louisville, Virginia, and FSU.
5. No. 3 Georgia (def. Florida, 42-7)
There was really no reason for the Dawgs to fear an upset in this game beyond “It’s a weird rivalry.” It was not weird on Saturday. Georgia physically dominated from the outset, went up 21-0 almost immediately, then resumed scoring after it got bored. Say what you will about the floundering SEC East; none of it applies to Kirby Smart’s Dawgs.
6. Houston (def. No. 17 USF, 28-24)
So far this season, Houston has:
- held an increasingly unstoppable Arizona to 16 points in a win
- eked by Temple
- beat a good SMU by 13
- gotten drubbed by a previously lifeless Tulsa by 28
- beaten an unbeaten USF on the road.
I’m assuming the Cougars will follow this up with a home loss to ECU. Are you not entertained?
7. UMass (def. Appalachian State, 30-27)
Mark Whipple’s Minutemen have shown some stark resilience. After an 0-6 start that featured four one-possession losses (and none by more than 10 points), they have continued to fight, and it’s paying off. They romped over Georgia Southern last week, and they pulled an upset of Sun Belt heavyweight Appalachian State in Amherst on Saturday afternoon.
I believe that earns you an automatic Sun Belt invitation. Hey, they let Idaho in for a while, didn’t they? Geography is a loose concept.
8. UAB (def. Southern Miss, 30-12)
College football’s favorite zombie is now within a game of bowl eligibility following a strangely easy romp in Hattiesburg. Down 12-9 at halftime, the Blazers outscored the host 23-0 in the second half. They have won three of four, they’re 5-3 overall, and they were dead and buried three years ago.
9. Arkansas (def. Ole Miss, 38-37)
Speaking of dead and buried, every sports outlet in the country was freshening up its “Bret Bielema fired” obituary on Saturday afternoon as Bielema’s 2-5 Razorbacks fell behind Ole Miss, 31-7. But this is Arkansas-Ole Miss, after all. We can’t have a normal, rational blowout.
Arkansas went on a 21-0 run to get within three, and after the Rebels kicked a pair of field goals to go back up two possessions, the Hogs scored on a fumble return with six minutes left, then kicked the game-winning field goal with four seconds left.
Keep that obituary fresh, just in case, but don’t deploy just yet.
10. Wyoming (def. New Mexico, 42-3)
Josh Allen, a.k.a. the artist formerly known as the surefire No. 1 pick in 2018, has had a miserable season. Heading into Saturday’s game with New Mexico, his Cowboys were a disappointing 4-3 despite a resurgent defense, and his passer rating was a ghastly 116.4. Wholesale turnover in the skill corps was more damaging than expected, but it’s hard to ignore the thought that the hype train was taking its toll on Allen as well.
With expectations off, Allen found a rhythm, and he produced his best game of the season. In a romp over the Lobos, he was 16-for-28 for 234 yards, four touchdowns, and no picks. Still not a great completion percentage, but a lovely step forward.
Perhaps with the ridiculous draft hype in the background, he can continue to improve as the season moves forwa- OH GOOD LORD, PHIL SIMMS.