Penn State Football

Scouting the opponent: Talking Ohio State with Cleveland.com’s beat writer

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, seen here in last season’s meeting, has played some of his best football over the last three or four games.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, seen here in last season’s meeting, has played some of his best football over the last three or four games. Centre Daily Times, file

In a marquee Week 2 matchup, Ohio State fell flat against Oklahoma. But since then? It’s been a different Buckeyes team.

Ohio State may rank sixth in the Associated Press Top-25 poll, but Bill Connelly’s S&P+ advanced analytical system rates the Buckeyes as college football’s No. 1 squad.

To help break down Penn State’s Saturday opponent, we caught up with Bill Landis — Buckeyes beat writer for Cleveland.com.

Q: Since falling to Oklahoma, Ohio State has won five straight, outscoring its opponents 266-56. In your opinion, what’s at the root of that? Have the Buckeyes improved that much, or are these lopsided results a product of playing lowly competition?

A: There’s just been overall improvement in the offense. That’s broad strokes, but this offense needed a makeover. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has seemed to really settle into a play-calling flow with co-OC and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day. Ohio State is playing with more tempo, using passing concepts that get their athletes in space rather than catching the ball in a stationary position. The receivers and tight ends have stepped their game up. And quarterback J.T. Barrett has played the best ball of his career over the last three or four games. He’s more accurate and, more importantly in my opinion, aggressive with throwing the ball into tight windows instead of waiting for players to break wide open.

Q: A lot of people were watching the Buckeyes’ season-opening win over Indiana in that Thursday night game at Bloomington. J.K. Dobbins went off with 181 rushing yards against the Hoosiers. He had 172 against Army and hit the century mark again at Nebraska a couple weekends ago. What does this kid do so well that makes him dangerous?

A: He brings an explosive element to the running back position that Ohio State hasn’t had since Zeke Elliott. He’s got breakaway speed, and a nasty jump-cut he uses to create separation from defenders at the second and third levels. He runs low to the ground, and he’s strong. He’s really a good complement to Mike Weber, who’s more of a power back. But Dobbins is much more of a threat because his speed and vision.

Q: Urban said the three guys injured at Nebraska — Parris Campbell, Jalyn Holmes and Jamarco Jones — will play against Penn State. Which one of those three is the most invaluable for the Buckeyes?

A: Without question it’s left tackle Jamarco Jones. Ohio State’s offensive line depth is not great, and it’s especially thin at tackle. The third tackle was actually starting right guard Branden Bowen. But Bowen is now out for the season with a broken leg. The Buckeyes are deep at receiver and defensive end, and while losing Campell or Holmes would hurt, they can come back from that. If Jones, who I think is playing at a borderline All-American level this year, ever goes out for a prolonged period, Ohio State would have to turn to a true freshman to play left tackle. That would be a disaster.

Q: Somewhat along those lines, who’s an unsung hero for Ohio State this season, and why? Looking for a guy that Penn State fans might not be super familiar with who may prove to be a difference-maker on Saturday.

A: Safety Jordan Fuller seems to really coming on a little bit. He was in a position battle to replace Malik Hooker that carried over even into the first couple games of the season. He’s not Hooker, but he’s got some corner skill that makes him a good cover guy, and he’s been solid in run support. They started using him as the nickel corner against Nebraska. I expect that to carry over to this week. So we should see Fuller matched up with DaeSean Hamilton, and maybe even Mike Gesicki and Saquon Barkley at times. Fuller needs to play well.

Q: Of course, for the Nittany Lion fans (and media) traveling out to Columbus for the game, any suggestions or go-to spots for food and a beverage or two?

A: Not too familiar with the campus-area bars closest to Ohio Stadium. I’m too old for that now. But the Short North District, a mile or so down High Street from campus, has a lot of nice bars and restaurants. I like Pint House, Mac’s Cafe, Philco and Novak’s Tavern to name a few. And if you can get to the German Village area of Columbus, check out The Thurman Cafe for a really good burger and a beer — as long as you’re willing to wait for a table.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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