Coming into Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State, the Nittany Lions were red hot, fresh off five wins in a row.
Bill O’Brien looked like he was the main character in an underdog story, turning around a program that had fallen from grace.
Quarterback Matt McGloin was atop the Big Ten in passing and only had two interceptions through seven games.
Penn State football looked like it was back and ready to shock the nation with a big win over the Buckeyes.
But we all know what happened on Saturday.
McGloin’s timing was a little off, and O’Brien’s gutsy calls didn’t work out like they should have.
The Lions were held to 32 yards rushing on the day and averaged 1.1 yards per carry, all while Braxton Miller alone ran for 134 yards.
McGloin threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns, but his interception that he returned for a touchdown was at one of the most critical moments in the game.
Ohio State sacked McGloin four times and seemed to be in his face all night.
So what went wrong here? Why didn’t Penn State look as good as we thought they were?
For starters, the Nittany Lions’ offensive line isn’t very good and hasn’t been very good all season.
With all of the success Penn State has seen this year, there hasn’t been a game where you could sit back and say the offensive line played great.
The defensive line of Ohio State was the best that the Nittany Lions have seen so far, and the Buckeyes exposed the Penn State offensive line on Saturday.
Penn State’s rush offense, which stems directly from the offensive line, is another weak spot that has been under-emphasized all year.
Injuries in the beginning of the season ravaged O’Brien’s depth at running back, forcing the coach to move fullbacks Michael Zordich and Zach Zwinak into bigger roles.
This worked against teams like Navy and Temple, but against tougher competition, having a pure running back is essential.
Bill Belton has proven he is a solid athlete, and Zwinak is a tough runner with good balance. But neither of these backs are doing it for Penn State.
Zwinak doesn’t have the speed or quickness to break away, and Belton just isn’t experienced enough and hasn't shown he can be an every-down back.
The fact that Penn State’s longest rush of the year so far has been by Zordich for 25 yards speaks volumes of the problems O’Brien’s offense has.
It’s been a good story for Penn State this year, and especially for McGloin, who has transformed his career.
But as proven Saturday, McGloin is human and he makes mistakes. Without any type of running game, play-action passes (McGloin’s strongest game) become useless and the passing game suffers.
So why isn’t Penn State as good as everyone thought?
A mediocre offensive line and an inconsistent running game are the main factors.
You can pick and pull out other little details, such as an inexperienced secondary or even argue that McGloin showed Saturday that he hasn’t changed as much as people believed.
But at the root of Penn State's problems is the offensive line and lack of production from running backs.
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