Penn State vs Ohio State: Nittany Lions shake off slow start to season


The Penn State Nittany Lions claimed the upset of the year last night, as they defeated the No. 2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 24-21.

Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Penn State proved to be more than just an upset. As a team tagged to have top 25 potential coming into the 2016 season, the Nittany Lions were geared up for their first successful season in years. As we all know, though, Penn State started the 2016 season with a few questionable games.

After falling to Michigan, Pittsburgh and a number of close games that should not have been close, the Lions were looking at another disappointing year.

Coming into Week 8, Penn State didn’t rank in the top 50 of any statistical category. Besides Saquan Barkley and Garrett Sickels, there isn’t a player in the top five of any Big Ten stat list.

These numbers didn’t really mean much to Penn State. Along with the entire Nittany Lions’ nation, the team knew the defense was the strong part of this team. After injuries to Nyweem Hartman-White, Jan Johnson, Christian Campbell and Amani Oruwariye, the Nittany Lions defense was doomed for another season of disappointment.

However, against Ohio State, this defense was anything but disappointing. Penn State nearly doubled the Buckeyes total tackles, 102-57. On top of that, they recorded six sacks and 11 tackles for loss.

This defense played like one of the best in the country. Just like they were meant to coming into 2016. Like many believed they would for each game this season, this defense controlled the tempo. Even when Ohio State would make big plays, or take a double-digit lead, this defense calmed the Buckeyes, and forced the tempo back to Penn State.

After a blowout loss to Michigan just three weeks ago, the expectations for the Nittany Lions coming into Saturday weren’t high. As 19-point underdogs, Penn State shouldn’t have made this game close. Let alone win. What should have happened was simple. Ohio State should have came into Happy Valley, claimed a double-digit lead early in the first half, and never looked back.

At the beginning, that’s how this game was starting to look. Before Trace McSorely led the offense 74-yards in one minute, there was no light in the Penn Sƒsuptate offense.

Then something clicked. Penn State’s slow start to the game and the season suddenly stopped. Even giving up a safety early in the third quarter didn’t affect them. There was something about this team that looked, promising.

For the first time in 2016, the Nittany Lions looked like they were supposed to. There was confidence and energy on the field. Something no one has seen thus far. This team looked like they knew they would win, even when it seemed inevitable. Before Ohio State, this Penn State team could be winning by 40 and still seem uneasy with themselves.

If this team didn’t come up short in two games this season, it’d be hard to say they weren’t on the brink of a year much better than expected. But trying to salvage two losses is a task near impossible in college football. The College Football Playoffs isn’t what this team is looking for, though. Right now, there’s a strong chance Penn State squeezes themselves into the top 25 in the country. From here, they still play Iowa and Indiana, both impressive wins if they can win out.

A successful season for this team has shifted, but it hasn’t vanished. There’s still a chance for the Lions to impress the bowl committee and make their way into a top bowl.

There’s more than just this season too. Next year, the Lions have a lot of returning starters including two key components to their success. If Trace McSorely continues to grow as a quarterback, and Saquan Barkley becomes the Heisman candidate he’s projected to be, the Penn State offense can become just as strong as their defense.

This game was a turning stone for the future of Penn State football. It proved that this team wasn’t just another bust with unfulfilled talent. It proved that the Nittany Lions are going to have a successful 2016 season. It just started a little slower than expected.