For all the fumbles, drive-killing penalties and missed tackles that allowed Penn State to hang with the Buckeyes Saturday, it took one play for Ohio State to recapture momentum.
Sophomore quarterback Justin Fields launched a pass up the left sideline into the endzone. Junior wide receiver Chris Olave climbed above Penn State redshirt senior cornerback John Reid, snatching a 28-yard score through the defender’s outstretched arm.
With a 28-17 lead in hand, No. 2 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) held on for victory by that same final score against No. 8 Penn State (9-2, 6-2) despite several self-inflicted wounds due to solid defense and a strong running game.
“From the beginning to the end, you couldn’t take a deep breath at all,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “Felt like you were holding your breath for 60 minutes of football.”
Fields finished 15-for-21 for 183 yards and two touchdowns through the air, adding 67 rushing yards that at times proved crucial in third- and fourth-down situations. Junior running back J.K. Dobbins carried 35 times for 150 yards and two scores, setting a season-high in rushing attempts.
Because he fumbled and didn’t perform to his standards, Dobbins still wasn’t satisfied.
“I want to reach my expectations,” Dobbins said. “I haven’t this year yet. So whenever that day comes, I’ll let you know.”
When redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford left the game with injury as Penn State trailed by three touchdowns, it appeared all hope was lost for the Nittany Lions. Then Ohio State started fumbling its way into a football game.
Penn State redshirt sophomore running back Journey Brown shook four defenders on an 18-yard dash to paydirt to cut the lead to 21-7.
The ensuing Ohio State drive, Dobbins lost his grip on the football crossing the line of scrimmage. Penn State junior safety Lamont Wade dove on the loose change at Ohio State’s 12-yard-line, generating an easy score for the Nittany Lions.
After yet another fumble by Fields, Penn State backpedaled before kicking a 42-yard field goal to climb back within four points at 21-17, 4:22 to play in the third quarter.
“We talked about going into a big, heavyweight match and you’re going to take shots,” Day said. “And one of the things about playing in a game like this is you have to be willing to take punches and you have to not flinch when it happens. And that was a great example.”
Prior to Olave’s snag, the Ohio State defense forced a key three-and-out to produce a short field. Junior defensive end Chase Young recorded a sack to force second-and-20, and he set Ohio State’s new single-season sack record at 16.5 after his nine-tackle, three-sack, four tackle-for-loss performance.
“I just think Chase Young deserves to be in New York,” Day said. “How dominant of a player is Chase Young? And the impact he has on the game is just unbelievable.”
Ohio State’s offense wouldn’t score again, but neither did Penn State’s after an interception by redshirt senior linebacker Justin Hilliard and two fourth-down stops by the defense. Young recorded another sack.
On its first drive Saturday, Ohio State gained 91 yards and a touchdown in 13 plays.
Every inch gained was on the ground.
Dobbins did the dirty work with 56 yards on eight carries and polished off the end zone expedition with a four-yard plunge, but Fields picked up two key first downs in third-down situations, including a 16-yard scramble on third-and-16.
“He’s so tough,” redshirt sophomore center Josh Myers said. “He’s so poised. The way he was in that game is the way he was last week at Rutgers. There was no difference. And that’s what you want out of a quarterback.”
Toward the end of the second quarter, Ohio State faced a fourth-and-5 at the Penn State 26-yard-line. Rather than trot out junior kicker Blake Haubeil for a 43-yard field goal, Day elected to go for it and dialed up a draw play for Fields.
Fields took the ball 22 yards to the Penn State four. Day again pressed his luck soon after on fourth-and-goal at the one, and Dobbins responded by plowing ahead for a touchdown. Ohio State led 14-0 with two minutes to play in the first half.
The Buckeyes carried that lead into halftime, but after out-gaining the Nittany Lions 255-64 and dominating nearly every relevant statistic other than turnovers, it felt like the lead should have been greater than two scores.
Dobbins continued his workhorse-load in the second half, carrying the ball six times for 35 yards on the Buckeyes’ first third-quarter drive.
Fields dusted off the scoring drive with a 24-yard dime to redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill. Ohio State led 21-0 with 11:31 to play in the third quarter.
Ohio State received a short field in the second quarter at the Penn State 45-yard-line following a punt and marched 45 yards to the goal line — but Fields fumbled going in.
Penn State senior linebacker Cam Brown recovered the ball for a touchback, removing seven Buckeye points from the scoreboard.
Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan at noon next Saturday.