Since losing to Oregon on Sept. 11, Ohio State has dominated in a five-game winning streak. Penn State, meanwhile, had been miserable in their last six quarters of football, incorporating a road loss to Iowa and an unimaginable home loss to Illinois.
So the Buckeyes – playing at home in a night-time Scarlet the Shoe game – shouldn’t have had a problem dealing with the struggling Nittany Lions. It’s funny, though, because teams have yet to go on the pitch and earn it.
And that’s what Ohio State, fifth in the table, did as the Buckeyes held off No. 20 Penn State, 33-24, in front of a sold-out crowd of 102,951 on Saturday night at the stadium. Ohio.
“It’s good to get a win as tough as this,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day. “They have a good team and a very good defense. I thought our defense was gritty. They caused turnovers and played well throughout the last stretch. Our guys played hard. It’s good to have this victory. It’s always a tough game for us.
The win keeps the Buckeyes (7-1, 5-0) tied for first place in the Big Ten with No.8 Michigan State (8-0, 5-0), who beat No.6 Michigan 37- 33 earlier Saturday. In addition, the first ranking of the college football qualifiers will be published on Tuesday. But Day said his team are only focusing on one thing.
“Our goal was to go 1-0 tonight, win this game and survive,” Day said. “And we did. These games are difficult. We knew the home stretch of this season was going to be tough and here we are. “
“We weren’t trying to get style points against Penn State. That’s not how it works.”
Ohio State had reached the 50-point plateau in four straight games. But the Penn State defense – among the Big Ten’s best despite the two recent losses – has largely overpowered the OSU’s offense. Penn State (5-3, 2-3) entered the game as an 18-point underdog.
OSU quarterback CJ Stroud was 22 of 34 passing for 305 yards with a touchdown. He hit Garrett Wilson for seven passes for 82 yards and Jaxon Smith-Njigba six times for 97 yards.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot, but then we just started rolling,” Stroud said. “We feel like we are the best attack in the country when we are riding. I just had to be a leader. It wasn’t my best game. We could have done better. But we got the job done. “
The Buckeyes weren’t able to establish the run until the second half. They finished with 164 rushing yards on 32 attempts. That’s below their season average of 207.6 yards per game. TreVeyon Henderson pulled off a 68-yard run in the second half to improve those numbers. He finished with 28 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown.
“We were trying,” Day said. “We never really managed to do it. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Going against a defense like this is how it goes. If we do a better job on the third try and convert in the red zone, that’s how you win big games like this.
“They had a good plan ahead. You could tell they had worked on it. They gave us different looks and that’s what you need to do when facing an explosive attack.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who injured his ribs against Iowa three weeks ago, looked no worse for wear. He has found open seams in the defense of the OSU area time and time again. He completed 35 of 52 passes for 361 yards and one touchdown and one interception.
He did great damage to receivers Jahan Dotson (11 catches, 127 yards) and Parker Washington (nine catches, 108 yards). However, it was a third straight loss – and a fifth straight loss to Ohio State – for the Nittany Lions.
“I’m glad we played hard and I think there will be a bunch of positive things about this band to learn and develop, but there are some critical mistakes that we have to eliminate if we are to win consistently,” a said UAP coach James Franklin. “We didn’t play well enough to win tonight. But we are close.
Ohio State had a defensive touchdown. In the second quarter, OSU’s Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison hit Clifford in a pass rush, forcing a fumble. Defensive tackle Jerron Cage recovered the fumble and returned it for 58 yards for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
“It was great to see him run on the field,” Day said of Cage’s return. “He’s a guy who’s been through a lot in this program. What about Tyreke and Zach’s game to get the ball out?
After Cage’s touchdown, Penn State rallied with a field goal to end the first half and a touchdown to start the third quarter to tie it at 17-17.
OSU took the lead 27-17 after a field goal and a touchdown from TreVeyon Henderson. Penn State responded with a 1-yard TD executed by Keyvone Lee to reduce it to 27-24 in the bottom of the third. OSU’s offense was never able to regain the end zone, however, settling for two more goals from Noah Ruggles’ field in the fourth quarter.
The game was finally settled when Penn State kicker Jordan Stout’s 49-yard field goal was short and wide to the left with 1:19 to go. The Buckeyes ran out of time and then celebrated with their fans and students, who gradually took to the field.
It was a big game for OSU defensive end Smith, who was credited with five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hit. He and JT Tuimoloau teamed up to hit Clifford on a sack at fourth base in the first half and he also pressured Clifford for a fourth quarter interception by teammate Cameron Brown as the Buckeyes clung to a lead three points.
“I’m happy for Tyreke,” Harrison said. “It’s a special talent. He had the chance to show what he can do with his rushing abilities.
Day praised the defense for keeping a cover on what Penn State might be doing offensively. The Lions have only registered 33 rushing yards on 29 attempts.
“It was good to see our defense play the way they did,” Day said. “They had two turnovers. We did good things on offense, but we won this game with our defense. If our defense plays like that, we have a chance to be good enough.