I was a believer in Penn State.
The Nittany Lions hovered around my top 5 for months. Throughout the summer I believed Penn State’s offense would kick into another gear with the addition of Minnesota play-caller Kirk Ciarrocca. I believed the defense would be good enough to slow Ohio State just enough, particularly at Happy Valley.
Then came news of running back Journey Brown sitting out the season due to a medical issue. Whoa. That’s huge, but it’s OK, I thought. The Nittany Lions are in the same boat as everyone else in this pandemic. They will find their next man and not miss a beat.
Well, I was wrong. I was way wrong.
The Nittany Lions may have rallied — and should have defeated Indiana — Saturday, but the program proved in a series of blooper-reel screw-ups that they are nowhere close to being a top-5 team this season.
Ciarrocca’s offense looked great on script, but once the first possession ended, so too ended the good vibes. Penn State never looked like a team with a rhythm or an identity. They turned the ball over three times in the first half. Sean Clifford threw two interceptions. Jake Pinegar missed three field goals, including a game-winner just a few inches short of the crossbar on a 57-yard kick.
The running game without Clifford (119 yards and one touchdown) averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.
Yes, give Indiana credit. The Hoosiers deserve it with their biggest win in 33 years, but does anyone really believe this Nittany Lions team has what it takes to battle against the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin or even Michigan?
Ohio State proved everyone right with its 52-17 victory against Nebraska. Justin Fields continues to look like a top-shelf quarterback with the most efficient day of his career (20 of 21 passing for 276 yards and two touchdowns). The defense settled down after missing several tackles in the early moments. The only question remains with running backs Master Teague and Trey Sermon, who combined for 96 yards on 23 carries. Fields had to carry the ball 15 times, the second-highest total of his career, and asking him to do so again and again is not how the Buckeyes win.
Still, is it possible Fields looked even better than his breakout season a year ago? His passes certainly seemed to have more zip.
Either way, Ohio State and Penn State are much further apart with their rosters and coaching staffs than I first believed entering the season. Too much stock was placed on Penn State, and it came crashing down Saturday. The Buckeyes should cruise to a double-digit win this week in Happy Valley, where only players’ families will have to fight through the pain of an 0-2 start.