STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — With its unbeaten season on the line on Saturday, No. 2 Ohio State delivered a fourth quarter to remember to stave off the upset-minded Penn State Nittany Lions in Beaver Stadium and improve to 8-0.
Quarterback C.J. Stroud completed 26 of his 33 attempts for 354 yards and a touchdown, and Marvin Harrison Jr. continued his march toward an All-American season with 10 catches for 185 yards.
After being bottled up for most of the game, TreVeyon Henderson finished with 78 rushing yards and two touchdowns, both in the final quarter, to lead Ohio State on the ground. Miyan Williams added a touchdown on the ground before exiting the game in the first half with an injury.
While the Ohio State offense sputtered along for most of the afternoon, the player of the game was on the other side of the ball, however for the Buckeyes as J.T. Tuimoloau turned in a performance for the ages. Tuimoloau finished with six tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble that he recovered, a pass deflection that led to an interception, and two interceptions of his own.
His second interception was returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, effectively sealing the win for Ohio State.
Ohio State received the opening kickoff and quickly moved into Penn State territory. Stroud connected with Harrison for a 37-yard gain to the Penn State 38, but the drive ultimately stalled, forcing a 38-yard field goal attempt by Noah Ruggles.
The kick was good and Ohio State claimed an early 3-0 lead with 9:47 remaining in the opening quarter.
Clifford’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Tuimoloau on the ensuing drive, and Zach Harrison came down with the ball for an interception to quickly give the ball back to the Ohio State offense with great field position.
Indicative of things to come, however, Ohio State wasted no time in squandering the opportunity, going three and out to force a long field goal attempt by Ruggles. The 53-yard kick fell short, and Ohio State was turned away without points.
Clifford was again intercepted on Penn State’s second drive when Tuimoloau stepped in front of a pass intended for Kaytron Allen, and the Ohio State offense was sure to make the most of the second turnover.
Consecutive completions of 18 and 19 yards from Stroud to Harrison moved the ball to the Penn State 4, and Williams capped off the drive a play later with a touchdown run to increase Ohio State’s lead to 10-0 late in the first quarter.
Penn State cut into the lead early in the second quarter when Clifford connected with Parker Washington for a 58-yard touchdown pass. Washington, who finished with 11 catches for 179 yards, broke two tackles on his way to the end zone, drawing Penn State to win three at 10-7 with 11 minutes remaining in the half.
Ohio State’s offensive struggles continued, and Penn State again came up with big plays on its next offensive possession.
Clifford found a wide-open Theo Johnson for 42 yards and a first down at the Ohio State 23. A play later, KeAndre Lambert-Smith was racing into the end zone after hauling in a pass from Clifford to give Penn State its first lead of the game.
Jake Pinegar’s extra point was good, and Penn State led Ohio State, 14-10, with 6:50 remaining in the half.
Another once-promising Ohio State drive ended in a Ruggles field goal, bringing Ohio State to within a point with just over three minutes remaining in the half.
After forcing a quick stop on the ensuing possession, Ohio State looked poised to reclaim the lead heading into the halftime locker room.
Taking over with just over a minute remaining, Stroud found Stover for 23 yards to get the drive started, and his 21-yard completion to Harrison moved the ball to the Penn State 8 with eight seconds to play.
With no timeouts and faced with a decision, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day elected to take one shot at the end zone, but the call backfired. Stroud was sacked by Johnny Dixon, ending the scoring threat and the final seconds ticked away and sending Ohio State into halftime trailing 14-13.
Ohio State was held to just 30 rushing yards in the first half and was outgained by Penn State 225-209 in a turn of events few could have predicted prior to the game.
Penn State received the ball to begin the second half and didn’t appear to have lost any of its first-half momentum, moving the ball to the Ohio State 27. Tyleik Williams came up with two big plays for Ohio State, however, sacking Clifford on second down and then stuffing Nicholas Singleton short of the line to gain on fourth down to turn Penn State away without points.
The two teams traded points midway through the third quarter before Ohio State edged in front again on Ruggles’ third made field goal of the game. His 40-yard kick gave Ohio State a 16-14 lead as the final seconds ticked off the third quarter, setting up a wild, back-and-forth final 15 minutes.
Penn State proceeded to drive 75 yards on 15 plays on the ensuing possession to begin the fourth, aided by two crucial Ohio State penalties, to recapture the lead. Kaytron Allen’s 1-yard rushing touchdown and the subsequent extra point gave Penn State a 21-16 lead with 9:26 to play, and the game looked bleak for the visiting Buckeyes.
With the game in the balance, however, the Ohio State offense awoke just in time to deliver an emphatic close to the game.
Henderson raced 41 yards to the end zone on just the third play of the ensuing drive, silencing a raucous Beaver Stadium crowd less than a minute after Penn State had taken the lead.
Now ahead once more, Tuimoloau delivered the first of two game-defining plays for Ohio State when he stripped Clifford of the ball and recovered the fumble to set Ohio State up to add to its lead.
Stroud needed just one play to do exactly that, connecting with Stover for a 24-yard touchdown catch and run that increased Ohio State’s lead to 30-21.
Penn State added a field goal to temporarily cut the Ohio State lead to a single score at 30-24, but Stroud and the Ohio State offense put the game away for good on the ensuing drive. Completions of 16 and 12 yards from Stroud to Harrison had them on the move, and Stroud then connected with Emeka Egbuka for 42 yards down to the Penn State 2.
Henderson polished off the drive with his second score of the afternoon as Ohio State opened a 37-24 lead with less than three minutes to play.
With Penn State in desperation mode, Tuimolou slammed the door shut on any chances of a comeback when he intercepted Clifford at the Penn State 14 and waltzed into the end zone, sending the sideline into celebration and sending Ohio State into November still firmly in the College Football Playoff discussion.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.