Braxton, Shazier Help Buckeyes Break Down Penn State Late

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Against a ghostly army of more than 100,000 fans clothed and painted white, the Buckeyes overcame a special teams blunder, a costly turnover, and a Nittany Lion team looking for their signature win of the season. Braxton Miller led the offensive effort, accounting for three total touchdowns, and Ryan Shazier made big plays on the defensive side to lead the Buckeyes to a 35-23 win in Happy Valley Saturday evening.

When these two teams meet, it usually means a few things. It’s going to be a low-scoring, defensive struggle with field position being a key factor in determining who comes away the victor. This game started out as just that, with the two teams trading punts for the first nine possessions with a few missed opportunities for big plays thrown in between the punts. Penn State then went for it on 4th & 7 (eventually, 12 due to penalty) rather than kicking a 37-(or 42) yard field goal and turned it over on downs. After another three and out for the Bucks, the rugby punt formation did them in. Buchanan rolled to his right and had his punt attempt sent back by linebacker Mike Hull. It was recovered in the end zone by Michael Yancich to break the scoreless tie.

The Buckeyes seemed to be losing that battle of field position that I mentioned earlier, starting inside their 20 on nearly every first half drive (including two inside the 10). But, OSU answered back with a lengthy drive of their own to end the first half. The drive stalled out after just three plays as the Buckeyes punted it away. However, defensive holding was called on Penn State which restarted the drive at the Buckeye 37. From there, it was Braxton Miller’s key 33-yard off-tackle scamper down to the OSU 6 that setup a 1-yd touchdown for Carlos Hyde on third and goal.

The Nittany Lions started with the ball out of the break, but it did not last long. The one linebacker who has been the constant, legitimate force on the defense, sophomore Ryan Shazier, came through in a big way. After sacking McGloin for a loss of 9 yards, Shazier dropped back into coverage on third and long, read McGloin’s eyes, and stepped in front of the pass and walked into the end zone. The defense had its trying moments in this game, but they answered the bell repeatedly. After C.J. Barnett got burned deep for a 42-yard completion down to the OSU 4, the D held strong and forced a Penn State field goal to hold onto the lead. That was the ultimate turning point as the momentum stayed with Ohio State and two Braxton Miller rushing touchdowns later in the quarter ensured that Penn State would not get any closer.

Miller no doubt struggled in the passing game as Penn State’s defensive line was able to sack him four times plus several more hits and hurries. When he did get the ball away, he was overthrowing his receivers or not hitting the open receiver. What Braxton did excel in was the running game after a slow start. In the second half, Miller perfected the read option plays and maximized yardage in doing so. Miller began to sell his fakes harder, give the play away much later in the sequence, and kept an up-tempo pace to keep the Nittany Lions guessing. It resulted in a big 28-yard run for Rod Smith and his own highlight-reel score. On 3rd & goal from the 1 after the Penn State field goal made it 14-10, the read option was on again as Miller went to hand the ball to Hyde. Miller pulled the ball out at the last possible second just as Hyde was ready to be crushed by the Penn State defender who had sprung free. Miller then made one incredible juke to the left to avoid a loss on the play, sprinted for the goal line, and went airborne, avoiding another Nittany Lion defender in the process. Instead of coming away with three, the Buckeyes had pushed the lead to 11, and you could see the air come out of that raucous crowd.  Miller would finish with 25 carries for 134 yards and the two third-quarter scores.

Though the passing game was pretty non-existent, who was getting the receptions was interesting. With Philly Brown sustaining an injury in-game and Devin Smith getting a little banged up as well, it was Evan Spencer who led the team with 3 receptions for 33 yards and Jake Stoneburner who truly put things out of reach with the only big pass play of the night, a 72-yard touchdown grab after he broke one tackle past the first down marker and sprinted for the end zone. That pass was a relatively gutsy third down call with the Buckeyes trying to keep the clock rolling by running the ball. But, Braxton delivered a good enough pass which Stoney was able to corral and take to the house.

There were still plenty of big plays for Penn State as McGloin threw for 327 yards and 2 touchdowns1. But, Ohio State’s D was able to minimize their impact and got the big turnover to change the momentum in the game. Shazier was the star with 7 tackles, 2 sacks, and the pick six, but Zach Boren (7 tackles), Nate Williams (6 tackles, 1 sack), and Bradley Roby (4 pass breakups) played key roles as well.

OSU is now 9-0 on the season and they will face the Illinois Fighting Illini next Saturday afternoon in the ‘Shoe.

(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP)

 

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Footnotes:

  1. Both of those coming in the fourth quarter with the game virtually decided []