Minimizing Turnovers, Being ‘Explosive’ Key For Penn State Against Ohio State
Penn State football’s gut-wrenching loss to Indiana last Saturday left us with many questions surrounding the Nittany Lions’ offense.
Penn State controlled the ball for 40 minutes and totaled nearly 500 yards of total offense. Despite this, the team could muster only 35 points while outgaining Indiana by nearly 300 yards.
Turnovers plagued the Nittany Lions. Quarterback Sean Clifford threw two uncharacteristic interceptions in the first half, both of which resulted in points for Indiana. It took QB1 five weeks to throw two interceptions in 2019, and he didn’t throw his third pick until week eight against Michigan State.
“I thought I played well but the mistakes I made weren’t just minor mistakes,” Clifford said Wednesday. “If I miss those throws a different way or they’re in a different coverage, those throws are just incompletions and it was very evident that those plays swung the momentum.”
Clifford took responsibility for the errors and said those plays helped Penn State be its own worst enemy during the loss. Those interceptions resulted in 10 points for Indiana.
Penn State’s third turnover of the day came on a quarterback keeper from Will Levis on Indiana’s seven-yard line. On the day, Penn State lost the turnover battle 3-2.
Another contributing factor to Penn State’s offensive flaws against the Hoosiers was the lack of big or explosive plays. As previously noted, the Nittany Lions doubled the Hoosiers in possession but still managed only 35 points.
According to Clifford, Penn State defines “explosive plays” as passes of more than 15 yards or rushes of more than 12 yards. The aim is for the Nittany Lions to have around 16% of their offensive snaps be “explosive plays.” Penn State ran 90 plays, and nine fit that description.
Three of those big plays resulted in scores. One was Clifford’s 35-yard run late in the third quarter and the second one was Jahan Dotson’s 60-yard touchdown late in the fourth. The final was Devyn Ford’s 14-yard touchdown late, where he could’ve gone down and Penn State would’ve been able to kill almost the entire clock.
“Indiana did a pretty good job of keeping us under our explosive goal that we have for the week,” Dotson said. “That was totally on our part. We gotta get open, it’s as simple as that.”
Dotson said the team has the ability to make the plays but stressed the need to make the simple plays.
“Be guys. We got recruited to Penn State because we were guys in high school. We gotta prove that every single day we step on the field,” Dotson said,
Both of these offensive categories need major improvement this weekend if the Nittany Lions want to have a shot at upsetting No. 3 Ohio State. Last year in Columbus, Penn State managed to win the turnover battle but still lost the game. Those turnovers came on back-to-back drives in the third quarter and kept Penn State down by only one score until a fourth-quarter Chris Olave touchdown secured the victory for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State returns a large majority of its star defense starters. On the back end, senior Shaun Wade could’ve gone to the NFL draft but decided to return for his final season. He will most likely be matched up with Dotson for most of the game and cause issues for him and Clifford. Add onto that the linebacker core of Pete Werner and Tuf Borland, and the Buckeyes still possess a large amount of their talent from a team that allowed only 12.5 points per game last season.
In their week one matchup versus Nebraska, the Buckeyes won the possession battle by a relatively small margin but still managed to put up 52 points on the Cornhuskers’ defense. Offensive efficiency will be key for the Nittany Lions, as they will not be able to control the possession battle like they did against Indiana.
Penn State will host the Buckeyes at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.
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