No. 3 Ohio State passed what might be its biggest test of the regular season Saturday night, beating No. 18 Penn State 38-25. The Buckeyes asserted their dominance early and never looked back.
The Buckeyes started the game with a three-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead. Then, already sensing the urgency of the situation, Penn State coach James Franklin decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 in his own territory on his team’s first possession of the game. The Nittany Lions did not convert, and Ohio State responded immediately with another touchdown to go up 14-0. While the score would get a bit closer than that, it never felt like Penn State had a legitimate shot at winning the game from that point.
Justin Fields continued his campaign to remind everybody that Trevor Lawrence isn’t the only candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft next spring as he completed 28 of 34 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns. That means Fields now has scored six total touchdowns in 2020 while throwing only seven incomplete passes through two games.
While Fields was the standout, it was an all-around performance for the Buckeyes. The offense finished with 526 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per play. The defense held Penn State to 325 yards and had five sacks and seven tackles for loss. The Buckeyes also did a great job getting off the field on defense, allowing Penn State to convert only four of its 10 conversion attempts on third and fourth down.
Jahan Dotson was the star of Penn State’s offense, catching eight passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns.
Here are five takeaways from the game as Ohio State earned its second win to begin its 2020 season.
1. Ohio State’s only threat this season is circumstances
I might look like an idiot later for saying this so early in the season, but don’t worry, I’ve looked like an idiot plenty of times before. I’m used to it. I’m also used to seeing this Ohio State team play, and even after only two games, it’s the cream of the Big Ten crop. Penn State was supposed to be the Buckeyes’ biggest challenger in the conference this season. After all, the Nittany Lions had played them close the last few years. But this game wasn’t close — not on the scoreboard, nor in the box score where the Buckeyes outgained the Nittany Lions by 201 yards.
Penn State is now 0-2 for the first time since 2010 and eliminated from Big Ten title contention, for all intents and purposes. Elsewhere in the conference, Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue are the only teams joining Ohio State at 2-0 after two weeks. Of those three, only Northwestern can be described as “impressive” during its two wins, and no offense to the Wildcats, but they’re not nearly on Ohio State’s level.
At this point, the only thing capable of derailing Ohio State’s season is COVID, whether it’s because of an outbreak on the team or because of games being canceled due to outbreaks elsewhere.
2. Ohio State run game improved this week
A concern coming into the season, and after last week’s win against Nebraska, was the Ohio State rushing attack. Well, Master Teague put some of those fears to rest on Saturday night. While he’s not a game-breaker capable of pulling off long touchdown runs and he won’t dazzle you with incredible moves in the open field, he’s an effective straight-line runner. On Saturday night, he was effective enough to finish with 110 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown.
Ohio State finished with 208 yards rushing as a team, and while it averaged only 4.6 yards per carry, that number improves to 5.2 if you remove sack yardage. However, more important than anything is that a week after having to carry the rushing load himself, Justin Fields only had six carries tonight, and two of them were sacks. The fewer hits Fields needs to take to help this offense keep the chains moving, the better.
3. Buckeyes have a terrific receiver tandem
This will not be a revelation to anybody who has paid attention, but Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave rival any receiving tandem in the country. The duo combined for 18 catches and 231 yards on Saturday. Both of them have finished each of the first two games with at least 100 yards receiving, becoming the first Ohio State tandem to pull that off in program history.
4. Penn State has new game-breaker on its hands
Wilson and Olave weren’t the only star receivers in this game. While it’s hard to feel good about anything that happened on Saturday if you’re a Penn State fan, Jahan Dotson is a silver lining. He had a breakout performance against Ohio State corner Shaun Wade, and that’s no small feat considering Wade might be a first-round draft pick.
Dotson’s line of eight receptions for 144 yards and three touchdowns is impressive on its own, but you need to see one of those touchdown grabs. It might be the best catch you’ll see all season.
With a lack of playmakers on the offense due to losses at the running back position and a slow start for tight end Pat Freiermuth, it’s crucial that a release valve emerges from somewhere. Penn State needs its version of Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson on offense to help keep the offense on the field.
Jahan Dotson is that player.
5. Appreciate James Franklin’s aggressiveness
There was some blowback on social media when Franklin chose to go for it on fourth-and-2 on his team’s opening possession, but it was the right move to make. Ohio State might be the best team in the country, and Franklin just watched it torch his defense for a touchdown in three plays. He knew he wasn’t going to beat Ohio State playing the field-position game.
Punting would put you down 14-0 just as easily as not converting on the fourth-down play would, so he took the shot. He did the right thing. Penn State wasn’t going to pull off the upset playing a timid game, and it didn’t. Unfortunately for Franklin and the Nittany Lions, the decision didn’t work out, but that’s going to happen against great teams.