Penn State Football Shows Parallels To Ohio State’s 2014 Championship Team
The 2014 Ohio State national championship squad is a story of overcoming improbable odds to take a leap toward the No. 1 spot at the end of the season.
Penn State isn’t clawing back from a devastating loss or even for a week this season seemed to be outside the reach of any national powerhouses, currently sitting at No. 2 in the polls. But heading into this weekend’s clash in Columbus with the sixth-ranked Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions seem to be battling against similar doubters to the ones who wrote off the inaugural College Football Playoff winners.
Penn State comes into Saturday as more than a touchdown underdog, much like 2014’s Ohio State team was ahead of both of its victories during bowl season against No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon en route to that title.
While the two programs share similar stories of outside disbelief, the squads also have comparable pieces that could lead to the same storybook ending.
These two teams have featured two of the best running back prospects in the last decade in Ezekiel Elliot and Saquon Barkley. Both of their skill sets include a rare combination of size, speed, quickness, and power. They contribute in the passing game as a receiver, pass block effectively, and carry a huge portion of their offense’s workload.
Broken and missed tackles are ordinary feats, not to mention they both love to hurdle. In the off season, Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer has approved of the comparisons between Barkley and Elliot, saying Barkley “is that quality of back.” More recently, Meyer referred to Barkley as the best all-purpose back he has faced in his career.
Rarely, if ever, has anyone compared the 6-foot, 205-pound Trace McSorley to the former 6-foot-5, 250-pound Buckeye, Cardale Jones. However, these two players served similar roles after reaching starting roles for their respective teams.
Both are dual-threat quarterbacks and have been used in the running game with designed and improvised plays both inside and outside the tackles. Each has good open-field vision and can be elusive in open space downfield, but lack the top-end speed to outrun defensive backs. McSorley and the 2014 version of Jones tout exceptional accuracy throwing deep balls, which opens up the ground game for their stud running backs.
Not to be forgotten, J.T. Barrett was the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes before breaking his ankle against Michigan in their 2014 regular season finale. In the 12 games Barrett started, he threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns. Cardale Jones watched his team from the sideline until the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin, when he emerged to keep the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes alive.
Penn State similarly has a capable and athletic backup signal-caller in Tommy Stevens. Stevens is the Nittany Lions’ not-so-secret weapon and has been used at wide receiver, where he can employ his size, speed, and running ability.
Ohio State’s championship team boasted eventual first- and second-round defensive juggernauts like defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darren Lee, cornerback Eli Apple, and safety Vonn Bell. While Penn State doesn’t have a defensive end of Bosa’s caliber, its secondary is comparable to that of the Buckeyes. Safety Marcus Allen and cornerback Grant Haley have earned spots as finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive backs in college football this season.
Allen and Haley lead a Penn State secondary that gives up less than 168 passing yards per game, which ranks seventh in the FBS. Ohio State’s 2014 defense averaged 2.3 forced turnovers per game, while Penn State’s defense averages roughly the same at 2.6.
Tom Herman, now head coach of the Texas Longhorns, was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Ohio State from 2012-14. Herman, who made an immediate impact in Columbus, was awarded the Broyles Award for best offensive coordinator after the 2014 season for leading Ohio State’s fourth-ranked championship winning offense with two backup quarterbacks.
Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was snubbed from the final round of the 2016 Broyles Award, but could be the leading candidate in 2017 with an offense that’s firing on all cylinders.
Moorhead transformed Penn State’s spread offense into a multi-headed monster and tailored it to the specific talents of quarterback Trace McSorley, ultimately leading the Nittany Lions to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl in January.