COLUMBUS — Nothing came easy for No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday night as self-inflicted wounds and a spirited Penn State effort gave the Buckeyes all they could handle in a 33-24 victory in Ohio Stadium.
Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 305 yards and a touchdown, and running back TreVeyon Henderson rushed for 152 yards and a score in the victory. As a team, Ohio State wracked up 466 yards of total offense but scored just one touchdown in six red zone trips.
Quarterback Sean Clifford showed no signs of the injuries that had ailed him the two previous weeks, throwing for 361 yards and a touchdown in the loss. While effective through the air, Penn State managed just 33 rushing yards on 29 carries.
Three Penn State turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown, proved to be crippling for a Lions team that entered the game having lost their last two contests.
Ohio State received the opening kickoff and moved near midfield, but tight end Jeremy Ruckert’s fumble while fighting for extra yardage ended the drive.
Set up with great field position, the Penn State offense wasted no time in returning the favor. On the first play from scrimmage, running back Noah Cain was stripped of the ball by Ohio State’s Marcus Williamson, and Haskell Garrett pounced on the loose ball.
Penn State regained a possession minutes later following a three-and-out by the Ohio State offense, and Nittany Lions offense finally broke the stalemate. Clifford’s 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brenton Strange capped off a 13-play, 89-yard drive and gave the Lions an early 7-0 lead.
Still searching for a rhythm on offense, Ohio State put together a drive late in the opening quarter. A crucial false start penalty on Olave deep in Penn State territory would lead to a stalled drive, however, and the Buckeyes were forced to settle for a 35-yard field goal from Noah Ruggles and a 7-3 deficit.
The two teams traded stops through much of the second quarter before Ohio State finally found the end zone. Stroud connected with Olave for a 38-yard touchdown strike to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the night. Ruggles’ extra point made it 10-7 with 3:48 left in the first half.
Disaster struck for Penn State on the ensuing possession when Clifford was strip-sacked by Tyreke Smith. Defensive lineman Jerron Cage scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 57 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, increasing Ohio State’s lead to 17-7 with just over two minutes remaining in the half.
Penn State was able to add a field goal just before the end of the half, sending Ohio State into the break with a 17-10 lead.
Despite the deficit, Penn State outgained Ohio State in the first half and held the Buckeyes to just 19 yards rushing.
Penn State received the opening kickoff to begin the second half and quickly turned up the pressure on Ohio State. Jahan Dotson’s 2-yard touchdown run finished off a 12-play, 75-yard drive and tied the game at 17-17 five minutes into the third quarter.
Ohio State appeared poised to answer right back with a touchdown of their own on their first offensive possession of the second half. A catch and run of 58 yards by Jaxon Smith-Njigba had the Buckeyes in business at the Penn State 17-yard line, and they would get as close as the 1-yard line.
Another blunder, this time on a false start by Henderson, would spoil Ohio State’s touchdown chance, however. Forced to again settle for a field goal, Ruggles’ 23-yard attempt was good and the Buckeyes recaptured the lead at 20-17.
Henderson would atone for the mistake on the next offensive drive, taking a carry and racing 68 yards to the Penn State 3-yard line. Two plays later, Henderson busted into the end zone from two yards out to put Ohio State up 27-17 with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Despite the 10-point deficit, Penn State refused to go away. In need of an answer, Clifford and the Nittany Lions did just that. Five completions by Clifford for a total of 68 yards had them inside the Ohio State 10-yard line, and Keyvone Lee finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to get Penn State back within three points at 27-24 as the game moved to the fourth quarter.
Another prime opportunity for the Ohio State offense to turn up the pressure on Penn State fell by the wayside on the next possession. After moving to the Penn State 17 yard-line, a short completion from Stroud to Smith-Njigba set up a fourth down at the 13-yard line.
Electing to forego the short field goal, Ohio State head coach kept his offense on the field. But Stroud’s woeful pass attempt fell short of a wide-open Olave in the end zone, turning the ball back over to Penn State and keeping the lead at just three points with under 12 minutes to play.
With a chance to take their first lead since the first quarter, another critical turnover by Penn State quickly ended the drive. On the fourth play of the drive, Clifford’s pass was intercepted by Cam Brown and returned to the Penn State 25-yard line.
The red zone woes would continue for Ohio State, though, as they were only able to muster a field goal off the turnover. Ruggles’ third field goal of the night had the Buckeyes out in front, 30-24, as the game clock ticked under eight minutes.
After Penn State was unable to sustain their drive, Ohio State took over possession and finally put the Nittany Lions away. Ruggles fourth and final field goal of the evening increased the Buckeye lead to nine points and effectively sealed the deal.
Following the game, Day said of the win, “Proud of our guys for working through a gritty game like this. It’s not untypical of the Penn State, it’s not what we didn’t expect. I thoiught it would be very mnuch like it happened. It was certainly frustrating, and we’re going to go back and look at the film, learn from it, grow from it, pull our hair out because of it. But we kept swing away … We didn’t panic and that’s what these games are going to take.”
Stroud said of the offensive effort, ”Like I said a few weeks ago, I feel like we’re the best offense in teh cuntry no matter what’s going on. We just kept fighting and that’s what it’s all about. Football is not a perfect sport/ You’re not going to run the ball well every game, you’re not going to throw the ball well every game. It’s just about fighting, and I am so proud of my team just just continuing to keep going.”
Ohio State returns to action next Saturday when they travel to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln. Kickoff is set for noon, and the game will be televised on FOX.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.