Dienhart: 'The Buckeyes sure do look like a playoff team'

Dienhart: 'The Buckeyes sure do look like a playoff team'

It was billed as the “game of the year.” And Ohio State’s 39-38 win over Penn State was all that … and then some. In the process, Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett showed why he may be the best player in America while keeping OSU’s Big Ten and playoff dreams alive.

As the sun was setting on the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio, Ohio State’s hopes also dimmed. Penn State led, 35-20, as the fourth quarter began. Time and again on this chilly day, the Buckeyes were their own worst enemy. If Ohio State wasn’t committing penalties (10), it was turning over the ball (two times). But the Buckeyes found a way to rally for the win behind Barrett, who completed his last 16 passes and led OSU to 19 fourth-quarter points.

Barrett finished 33-of-39 passing for 328 yards with four touchdowns. He also led the team with 95 yards rushing on 17 carries. It was a Heisman Trophy-type of an effort. Put Barrett alongside Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Stanford’s Bryce Love as the top Heisman contenders … for now.

“I think that H word is appropriate after today’s game,” said OSU coach Urban Meyer.

Ohio State had no wiggle room coming into the game. It already had a loss on its resume, suffering a humbling 31-16 defeat to Oklahoma in the Horseshoe back in September in the second game of the season. The Buckeyes knew no team had earned a spot in the College Football Playoff with two losses. Lose to Penn State, and kiss playoff hopes good-bye.

Ohio State responded, just like you thought the best program in the Big Ten would do. The Buckeyes deserved to win this game. It was domination, as Ohio State out gained Penn State, 529-283. Urban Meyer continued his post-bye excellence, winning his last 22 games off an off week.

Since that loss to the Sooners, Ohio State got on a roll, ripping off five wins in a row vs. mostly middling opponents. In the process, Barrett showed life, hitting 99-of-137 passes (72 percent) for 1,351 yards with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. Barrett also ran 39 times for 232 yards and four scores, averaging 5.9 yards per tote.

Some wondered if, indeed, Barrett had regained his mojo—or had he just gotten fat on Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska?

Barrett has his mojo. Just ask Penn State, which had no answer for the senior in crunch-time, as Barrett hit his last 16 passes. With Ohio State needing points, the clock winding down and fans holding their breath … he delivered.

“I’ve never had a kid play perfect, but damn he was close tonight — 33 of 39,” said Meyer. “I can count four drops off the top of my head and two penalties that kept him from big completions. And he’d be the first one to tell you he’s a product of those around him, which he is — receivers and offensive line played. That’s the No. 1 defense in America, we have great respect for. And I just can’t — just how proud of J.T.”

After Penn State took a 38-27 lead on a field goal with 5:42 left, Barrett went to work. First, he capped a five-play, 76-yard drive with a 10-yard TD pass to Johnnie Dixon. Then, Barrett hit tight end Marcus Baugh for a 16-yard scoring strike to culminate a five-play, 58-yard drive with 1:48 left.

The Buckeye defense deserves top-billing with Barrett, as it largely contained an explosive Penn State attack on this day. The Nittany Lions entered the day No. 2 in the Big Ten in total offense (463.3 ypg). But Penn State never got on track, masking its offensive shortcomings with a special teams TD.

Barkley began with a bang, running back the opening kickoff 97 yards for a TD. But he did little after that. The junior had 21 carries for 44 yards and TD to go with four receptions for 23 yards. McSorley also was held in check, hitting 17-of-29 passes for 192 yards with two TDs and running 13 times for 49 yards and a TD.

Ohio State had revenge on its mind after losing at Penn State last season, 24-21. The Nittany Lions were the only team to beat Ohio State in the regular season after Grant Haley ran back a blocked field goal 60 yards for the winning TD late in the fourth quarter. Before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU.

Despite the loss, the Buckeyes still earned one of the four precious spots in the College Football Playoff even though they didn’t win the Big Ten—or even the Big Ten East—and proceed to get clobbered by eventual national champ Nebraska. Penn State won the East and the Big Ten. But, the Nittany Lions were left out of the playoff, largely because they had two losses. Still, Penn State’s resume looked playoff-worthy in the eyes of many.

Now, the Nittany Lions may not have to worry about getting passed over by the committee. Penn State must win out vs. a schedule that includes a trip Michigan State next. After that, Penn State finishes vs. Rutgers, vs. Nebraska and at Maryland. The Nittany Lions also need Ohio State to stumble vs. a schedule that includes games at Iowa, vs. Michigan State, vs. Illinois and at Michigan. Long story short, Penn State looks like a long shot to make the playoff.

But there is too much football left to get ahead of ourselves, but America will get its first snapshot of the College Football Playoff this Tuesday when the maiden rankings are revealed. As today showed, anything can happen. Just asked Penn State … or TCU, which saw its unbeaten mark end in a loss at Iowa State.

For now, Ohio State has to feel good about where it sits heading into the homestretch of the season.

The Buckeyes sure do look like a playoff team.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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