Heading on the road for its first away game of the season, the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes kept a pesky Penn State team at an arm’s length en route to a 38-25 victory on Saturday night in State College, Pennsylvania.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields continued his masterful start to the season, completing 28 of his 34 passing attempts for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Receiver Chris Olave hauled in seven catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns, and tight end Jeremy Ruckert added two touchdowns of his own.
Despite a dreadful first half in which he threw for just 29 yards, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford rallied for the Lions, throwing for 265 yards and three second-half touchdowns on the night.
The Buckeyes got off to a booming start after receiving the opening kickoff. On the first play from scrimmage, receiver Garrett Wilson took a handoff and raced 62 yards down to the Penn State 13-yard line. Two plays later, running back Master Teague III punched into the end zone from four yards out to give Ohio State an early 7-0 lead.
A strange coaching decision by Penn State head coach James Franklin would again set up Ohio State on the ensuing drive. Facing a fourth and two from his own 45-yard line, Franklin elected to keep his punt team on the sideline and his offense on the field. Clifford’s pass was incomplete, turning the ball over to Fields and the Buckeyes with prime field position.
It took just five plays for Ohio State to cash in on the questionable Penn State decision. Fields connected with Olave for a 26-yard touchdown throw and catch, increasing the Buckeyes’ lead to 14-0 just over seven minutes into the opening quarter.
Things appeared to go from bad to worse on Penn State’s next offensive drive when it looked as if they were forced into a three-and-out. Buckeye linebacker Baron Browning was flagged for a late hit on Clifford, however, extending the Lions’ drive. Penn State made good on the new life, moving the ball deep into Ohio State territory before the Buckeye defense forced a field goal attempt from the Lions.
Jake Pinegar’s 31-yard attempt was good, and Penn State cut into the Buckeyes’ lead, making it 14-3 with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter.
Fields and the Ohio State offense continued to move the ball with ease on the next drive, but a promising drive came up empty as Blake Haubeil’s chip-shot, 20-yard field goal started and finished right of the upright, turning the Buckeyes away without points.
The two teams traded punts early in the second quarter before Ohio State would get back into its scoring groove. Backed up to its 11-yard line following a hold on the punt return, Fields engineered a 16-play drive that ended with his second touchdown pass of the night, this time to Ruckert from 10 yards out, to increase the Buckeye lead to 21-3.
Ohio State appeared poised to take the 18-point lead into halftime until an odd sequence at the end of the half gifted Penn State with a long field goal opportunity.
With just two seconds on the clock, Ohio State lined up to take a knee on fourth down. Fields took the snap and took two steps backward before taking the knee. Both sidelines began heading to the locker room before the officials called the teams out of their respective tunnels.
The officiating crew ruled that a second remained on the clock when Fields’ knee hit the playing surface, much to the dismay of Day, who was incredulous that two seconds didn’t pass in the time it took Fields to take a knee. Nevertheless, the Penn State field goal team trotted onto the field, and Pinegar drilled a 50-yard attempt to move the Lions to within 15 points at 21-6 and send his team into the locker room with momentum.
That momentum was sustained to open the second half as Clifford led the Penn State offense right down the field on the first possession of the third quarter. Clifford completed all five of his passing attempts on the drive, including a 14-yard touchdown strike to Jahan Dotson to cut the Ohio State lead to 21-13 just under four minutes into the third quarter.
Fields would have an answer of his own on the ensuing drive. On second and eight from the Penn State 49-yard line, Fields found Olave deep down the Ohio State sideline. Olave made a fingertip catch and tumbled into the end zone for the score, pushing the Buckeye lead back up 15 points at 28-13.
But Ohio State struggled to deliver the knockout blow all night despite having Penn State nearly dead in the water on multiple occasions.
After adding a 22-yard field goal by Dominic DiMaccio to move the Ohio State lead to 31-13, the Buckeye defense was unable to deliver a stop. Clifford connected with Dotson on completions of 37 and 21 yards, the second of which resulted in a Penn State touchdown.
Penn State elected to go for the two-point conversion, but Clifford was stuffed on a quarterback keeper, keeping the Ohio State lead at 31-19 with 14:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, the Ohio State offense was simply too much for the Penn State defense, as was the case all night. In desperate need of a stop, the Lions conceded a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ate up more than five minutes of game clock. Fields found Ruckert on a fourth-down touchdown pass from the Penn State 1-yard line, Ruckert’s second score of the game to up the Buckeye lead to three scores.
Owning a 38-19 lead, the Ohio State defense continued to be victimized by Clifford and the Penn State passing attack, a troublesome theme throughout the second half. Clifford hooked up once again with Dotson for a scoring strike, this time from 20 yards out, capping a seven-play, 75-yard drive that needed just under three minutes.
The two-point conversion was again unsuccessful, making the Ohio State lead 38-25 with 6:27 to play in the game.
Safety Marcus Hooker’s interception of Clifford with 3:35 remaining in the game finished off the win for the Buckeyes, who move to 2-0 on the season heading into a week-three home matchup with Rutgers.
Following the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said of his team’s performance, “Overall, just a gutsy win on the road. It’s hard to win here (at Penn State), and I’m proud of our guys.”
Day said he was most pleased with the way his team started, as well as the physicality with which the Buckeyes played throughout the night.
Of Fields’ performance, Day said he is no longer surprised at just how good his quarterback. “When you can start taking the meeting room to the field that quickly, that’s when you have something special,” Day said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.