A Monday morning grade card on one of the great comeback wins in Ohio State football history:
The idea that J.T. Barrett, with a 3-0 record against Michigan, was not a big game player, a falsehood to start with, should have been sent to the dustbin of history for all but the most stubborn doubters after his performance in Saturday’s 39-38 win over Penn State.
Barrett was 33 of 39 passing for 328 yards and four touchdowns and led the Buckeyes in rushing. He hit his last 16 passes and threw for three TDs in the final 11:05. His receivers also performed well on the big stage. K.J. Hill led the way with 12 catches after Parris Campbell left the game with an injury in the first quarter.
OSU’s offensive line gradually wore down Penn State’s defensive line. Or maybe they wore them out. The Buckeyes’ 78 offensive plays were 14 more than the Nittany Lions ran. Right tackle Isaiah Prince was solid after a nightmare game at Penn State last season.
On the negative side, Campbell’s first-quarter fumble helped put Ohio State in a 14-0 hole 3 1/2 minutes into the game and Barrett’s fourth-quarter fumble could have deflated the comeback.
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who came into the game as the mid-season favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, was held to 44 yards on 21 carries and was thrown for a loss on nine of his rushing attempts. Barkley hit the Buckeyes with 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game and a 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter but his three next-longest runs went for 8, 6 and 5 yards.
Ohio State’s defensive line was good throughout the game, then showed during the fourth quarter it deserved the accolades it has been given all seasons.
After Ohio State took its only lead with 1:48 to play, the defense pressured Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley into three interceptions and sacked him as the Nittany Lions went four and out. Forcing Penn State to settle for a field goal when it had first and goal at OSU’s 7-yard line early in the fourth quarter also was big.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D+
The special teams led OSU in mistakes and irony. OSU’s kick return team gave up one touchdown and allowed a linebacker to rumble 52 yards to the Buckeyes’ 23-yard line on another, which quickly led to a touchdown.
But the play that started Ohio State’s comeback was also made by the special teams. Denzel Ward’s blocked punt with 11:39 to play seemed to energize OSU and it took only two plays for Barrett to hit Johnnie Dixon with a 38-yard touchdown pass.
Kicker Sean Nuernberger made both of his field goal attempts. Kicker Drue Chrisman made a nice recovery to get off a 40-yard punt, with the help of a friendly roll, after he dropped the snap.
Ohio State had 529 yards of total offense and Penn State had 283 yards. If OSU had made fewer mistakes it would have taken control of the game earlier than it did.