Ohio State had not really toyed with many inferior opponents like fans are used to seeing them do, and that was a cause of some angst in the fanbase and questions from national pundits.
Is that a fair standard? No, but perception often is reality — especially when you’ve lost two in a row to Michigan and the Wolverines dominated their first nine opponents.
Here are five thoughts from last weekend to kick off the penultimate week of the regular season:
1. Did the real Ohio State offense finally stand up?
Kyle McCord had his best game all around, and the ground game appeared to take another step forward.
It helped McCord could throw to all of his weapons instead of just one or two, and the offensive line must have had a good night because they were barely noticeable.
Maybe banking all those reps and different looks since a rocky start of the season at Indiana is starting to pay off as well for McCord.
TreVeyon Henderson looked sharp again before getting the second half off, Chip Trayanum was more productive than he had been in a while, and the perimeter runs to Xavier Johnson Jr. continued to work to stretch the defense.
Instead of just calling outsize zone or inside zone and hoping for the best, the Buckeyes have a full running package that can challenge opponents inside and out.
2. The Buckeye defense had to rely on reserves at several positions, but Michigan State might have the worst offense in a conference.
The Spartans certainly have no passing game, as indicated both by the numbers and the eye test, but any game experience for true freshman Malik Hartford is valuable. The same can be said of more snaps for Sonny Styles at deep safety after he played closer to the line of scrimmage most of the time until Lathan Ransom was injured two games ago.
Nate Carter and Jaren Mangham combined for 87 yards on 20 carries, so the run defense remains something to keep an eye on for Ohio State.
For what it’s worth, giving up some ground on the ground is now part of modern defensive football so long as you’re preventing explosive plays. Ohio State did that, holding Michigan State to just two, tying the fewest the Buckeyes have given up in the Jim Knowles era.
3. We can now officially declare Drew Allar’s first season as the starter for the Nittany Lions a wasted opportunity by the Penn State coaching staff.
I guess James Franklin must also feel that way since he fired offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich on Sunday.
Allar is responsible for his play, of course, but I was wondering when watching him prior to the Ohio State game if they were doing enough to develop the former five-star prospect. Were they not pushing the ball down the field because they felt he couldn’t do it, or were they just being overly cautious? Well, we know now he can’t do it, but I can’t help but wonder if it is through lack of trying earlier in the season.
Much of the optimism about this being the best Penn State team in years was centered on Allar being an upgrade over Sean Clifford, who was more guts than talent for PSU the last few seasons. But at the end of the day, Clifford and the offense were much more productive.
Clifford was kind of Penn State’s J.T. Barrett, and Allar was supposed to be their Dwayne Haskins Jr., but it hasn’t worked out that way this season.
4. That said, Penn State’s running game was eye-catching.
After running for 49 yards at Ohio State, the Nittany Lions had 164 yards against Michigan. They were efficient, too, with a 53-percent rushing success rate, and they accomplished their goal of staying ahead of the chains by averaging 6.5 yards per run on first down.
But with a struggling young quarterback and too few weapons on the outside, Penn State couldn’t take advantage despite getting a strong outing from their defense.
5. Saturday was also very good for Michigan’s running game.
Michigan has developed a well-deserved reputation as a ground-and-pound team the last two years, but the Maize and Blue rushing attack has been somewhat underwhelming most of the season.
The Wolverines flipped their season script at Penn State.
All year they have been efficient on the ground but severely lacked big plays.
At Penn State, Michigan’s rushing success rate was only 27 (compared to 53.7 on the season, which ranked sixth in the country), but the Wolverines had five explosive runs that were absolutely vital to their success.
After having major problems protecting quarterback J.J. McCarthy early, the Wolverines completely abandoned the passing game, which was a curious decision considering their quarterback is supposed to be a Heisman Trophy candidate, but it worked out in the end.