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Takeaways: Penn State football faces a reality check at Ohio State

Penn State football was exposed in its first loss of the season at Ohio State. What hard lessons did we learn about James Franklin and the Nittany Lions in Columbus?



Penn State Football, Ohio State

Penn State football faced the first big test of the season Saturday, and yet again was unable to live up to expectations. The Penn State defense kept the team in the game for a long time, but ultimately Ohio State pulled away for the 20-12 statement win. Where does Penn State go from here as its Playoff hopes take a big hit? Here are five takeaways from the loss to the Buckeyes.

Penn State football is still not elite

There is all this talk every season about whether James Franklin can get Penn State football from great to elite. Franklin himself brought it up a few years ago after an Ohio State loss. The reality is, this team isn’t elite. There still is a talent gap between Ohio State and Penn State; just look at the recruiting rankings. The Buckeyes average a top 3 class whereas the Nittany Lions tend to hover around No. 12.

Recruiting isn’t everything, though. And at some point coaching is a factor. Just look at what Michigan has done in the past two seasons. The Wolverines have an almost identical roster when looking at recruiting talent, and yet they have dominated Ohio State recently. Michigan looks ready to do it again this year. The Wolverines built their identity on being good in the trenches and running the football. Something that a lot of coaches nowadays seem to forget is what wins you football games.

Penn State football seems to still be taking the approach of trying to beat Ohio State straight up. Something Michigan tried for many years until recently. The talent simply isn’t there across the board to do that. This game was as close as it has been in years and still, coaching held the Nittany Lions back. An offense with a 5-star quarterback and running back never stood a chance.

Penn State may be a good team, but to break through to the next level, you need to be flawless in your preparation unless you are one of those top 4 teams in recruiting.

The coaching staff put Allar in a bad spot

Let’s do a quick thought exercise. If you had a 19-year-old first-year quarterback making his 7th start, would you throw it 40+ times? What if I told you that you also had two running backs that could average 5 yards per carry? How about if the game is on the road in a hostile environment? What about against the No. 3 team in the country?

That is what Mike Yurcich had Drew Allar do on Saturday in Columbus. It was clear early on that the sophomore quarterback wasn’t comfortable, and was missing throws that we have seen him make in the past.

The offense clicked a little bit after Nick Singleton ripped off a 20 and 15-yard run on one drive. Yet instead of continually finding ways to run the football and get the offense going on the ground, the coaching staff decided it was best to have Allar keep slinging it.

The playcalling was pitiful all game, and that is one of the reasons the offense went 1-16 on 3rd down. Yes, Allar didn’t look good, but the playcalling was dropping a propane tank on a house fire.

Wide receivers struggle again

We knew this was an issue heading into the season. Penn State doesn’t have the bonafide No. 1 wide receiver. KeAndre Lambert-Smith is a good player, but he always has felt more like a No. 2 option. There is no KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, or Parker Washington to get the tough 1st downs and find a way to get open.

Ohio State had that on Saturday with Marvin Harrison Jr., and it honestly might have been one of the biggest differences in the game. If you flip Harrison to Penn State, you can make a legitimate argument that the Nittany Lions win the game.

Dante Cephas was supposed to assert himself as WR1. Through 7 games, I think we can confirm that isn’t going to happen. In fact on one of the many trick plays that were unsuccessful, Cephas ran parallel with Tyler Warren down the sideline, essentially blowing up the play. Warren turned and was visibly upset leading many to believe that Cephas had run the wrong route. Something that we have already seen this season.

This isn’t just on Cephas though; the wide receivers as a whole didn’t get any separation to give Allar a chance to get in rhythm. There is some talent at the position in the room based on what we saw in the recruiting rankings. However, at some point, you need to develop guys and make them great and that simply just isn’t happening right now.

What is even more alarming is that the 2024 class doesn’t have a single blue-chip receiver prospect, meaning this problem could get worse before it gets better. It may be time to take a page out of Florida State’s book and try to go to the portal once again.

Penn State defense was incredible

It is sickening how tough this defense has played week in and week out, and in a game that should have been their coming out party, we have to focus on how bad the offense was.

Penn State football held Ohio State out of the endzone for much of the day and ended up allowing just 20 points. All that was after the Nittany Lions lost Chop Robinson to injury in the 1st half.  Kyle McCord was flustered for much of the afternoon, and if it wasn’t for Marvin Harrison Jr., the Buckeyes’ offense may have looked more like Penn State. The Nittany Lions held the Buckeyes to just 79 yards on 41 carries. That is 1.9 yards per carry for an offense that has talent all over the field.

Penn State was in the backfield all game, tallying 2 sacks and 9 tackles for loss. The game was almost flipped when Kyle McCord was stripped in the first half and Curtis Jacobs returned it for a touchdown. Ultimately, there was defensive holding on Kalen King, who was covering Marvin Harrison, bringing the play back.

The secondary had a pretty solid day as a whole, but King did struggle with Harrison. That job would be tough for anyone considering he will most likely be a top 3 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Worst fears realized on the offensive line

What has been a concern all season reared its ugly head against Ohio State, as the offensive line had a tough performance. The Buckeyes had 4 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. But the amount of times that Allar was hurried was a lot more than that.

Multiple times the Ohio State pressure forced Allar to get rid of the ball quickly, and oftentimes, inaccurately. The offensive line had only allowed 4 sacks in the previous 6 games combined. Even projected top-10 pick Olu Fashanu struggled throughout much of the game.

What we saw on Saturday doesn’t give much more hope for things to come. Penn State football still has to deal with a possibly even better defense in Michigan coming up. If the corrections aren’t made, Drew Allar might find even more time on the ground.

Now this isn’t completely on the offensive line, but the decision to throw the ball 42 times and seemingly abandon the run doesn’t help. Offensive linemen need the run game to get into a rhythm and keep the defenders honest. Hopefully, there are some adjustments made. If not, it could be a long day against the Wolverines.

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Former contributor at Nittany Central, Patrick joined Basic Blues Nation in 2023 as the Social Media Director, Penn State Wrestling beat writer, and producer of the Penn State Roar Room spaces. Patrick is also a contributor of Penn State football, basketball, and ice hockey news for the site.


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