I kind of hate that I feel this way, but I’m more at peace with Penn State’s loss to the Indiana Hoosiers after the Nittany Lions dropped their second game to the Ohio State Buckeyes in more decisive fashion. Ohio State jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and rode that wave to a 38-25 victory in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford connected on touchdown passes with wide receiver Jahan Dotson three times to keep PSU in the game, but the biggest star of the night was Justin Fields, as the Ohio State QB enhanced his Heisman Trophy resume with four touchdown passes and a nearly flawless 28-for-34 passing performance.
Nittany Lions fans like myself knew it was going to be a long night right from the start.
Yeeeeeesh. That Garrett Wilson has some serious wheels. Since we’re trying to stay positive and find reasons why Penn State might win its next six games, I’ll point out that Joey Porter Jr. ran down Wilson from behind and might be the fastest guy on either team. Porter is only a freshman, but he battled Ohio State’s top WR Chris Olave all night. Olave may have won the battle with 120 receiving yards and a pair of touchdown grabs, but you could tell from watching Porter that he’s going to be a major problem for opposing offenses in a year or two.
During Olave’s first score, Porter was in his grill the whole time. For the second, the young defensive back wasn’t on the coverage.
That was probably Fields’s best throw of the night right there. The Penn State defense was solid enough to slow down Indiana for nearly the entire game last week, but Fields was never made uncomfortable. When Penn State played coverage, he was able to pick up yards underneath. When the Lions blitzed, Olave and Wilson won their one-on-one battles. Plus, the consistent rushing attack led by Master Teague III ensured that the Buckeyes were rarely if ever behind schedule.
Fields is maturing as a quarterback, and he might not be seriously challenged for the rest of the regular season. Michigan looked like a contender after it smashed Minnesota in the opener, but then Michigan State of all teams exposed the Wolverines’ defensive backs on Saturday with QB Rockey Lombardi torching them for 323 yards on just 32 throws. Who knows? Maybe the Spartans will prove to be the toughest competition for Ohio State after their clunker against Rutgers to start the campaign. Not much would surprise me after a second wild weekend in the Big Ten.
Much of what we thought we learned during that first Saturday turned out to be false. No, Michigan is NOT back. Maryland is NOT the worst team to ever grace a football field. Illinois is NOT a complete pushover even with its starting quarterback out due to COVID-19. Rutgers is NOT going to average seven takeaways per game, and Minnesota is just NOT good.
One thing that surprised me in a good way was Clifford playing better against Ohio State than he did at Indiana. Just two weeks ago, I thought the passing game would struggle in 2020 with tight end Pat Freiermuth being the only established pass-catcher. Dotson showed some promise last season, but no one foresaw a breakout performance like this against the Big Ten’s top team.
Any wide receiver who can make plays like THAT in man coverage is a quarterback’s best friend. We now have to consider Dotson as a key cog in the offense and someone that is going to be a focus of opposing defensive game plans going forward. I’m excited to see how the connection between Clifford and Dotson grows, especially with the not-so-intimidating defenses of Maryland and Nebraska up next on the schedule.
With the way 2020 is going, one of them will catch COVID-19 to put the kibosh on that. However, just in case that doesn’t happen, there’s still plenty to look forward to from these Nittany Lions after an 0-2 start. If the offense continues to gel and the defense continues to frustrate the offenses of the Big Ten that don’t have Fields under center, there’s going to be a lot of well-deserved hype for Penn State going into 2021. Now let’s see this team start to win some football games.