Ohio State escaped Happy Valley with a dramatic 27-26 win. (Associated Press)
Ohio State did it to Penn State again.
For the second year in a row, No. 4 Ohio State overcame a double-digit fourth quarter deficit to pull out a crucial win. This time, No. 9 Penn State went ahead 26-14 with 8:00 to play in front of a raucous home crowd, but the Buckeyes scored twice in a span of 4:39 to take a 27-26 lead.
That gave the ball back to Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions offense with 2:03 to play. PSU advanced into OSU territory, but ended up facing 4th & 5 from the OSU 43. Curiously, on a night where McSorley had the best statistical output of his career (286 passing yards, 175 rushing yards), PSU handed to running back Miles Sanders, who was stuffed for a two-yard loss.
That ultimately sealed the win for the Buckeyes and a heartbreaking loss for the Nittany Lions.
With the win, Ohio State is now in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten as the only team in the conference without a loss. On top of that, the Buckeyes have a direct route to the College Football Playoff.
A Penn State turnover changed the the game drastically
Penn State dominated things early on, but failed to capitalize on the scoreboard. With McSorley leading the way, the Nittany Lions advanced into Ohio State territory on four of their first five offensive possessions but came away with only six points.
An electric 93-yard catch and run TD by K.J. Hamler increased PSU’s lead to 13-0 with 5:59 left in the first half. When Ohio State punted on its next two possessions, PSU had the chance to add onto its lead before halftime. A turnover changed things.
PSU regained possession at its own 25 and handed to Sanders — who rushed for 200 yards vs. Illinois last week — on first down. Sanders fumbled and Ohio State recovered. Two plays later the Buckeyes were on the board, with Dwayne Haskins finding J.K. Dobbins out of the backfield on a screen pass. OSU play caller Ryan Day used PSU’s aggressive pass rush against it, and Dobbins went 26 yards for a score without much resistance.
That cut PSU’s lead to 13-7 going into halftime.
The second half featured three big swings
Ohio State opened the second half by going right down the field, scoring and taking its first lead of the game, 14-13.
The rest of the third quarter went without points, but McSorley and the PSU offense got things going again in the fourth. McSorley found Hamler behind the defense for a big gain, setting up a go-ahead TD pass to freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth to put PSU ahead, 20-14.
Penn State got a fourth-down stop near midfield on the next possession, and McSorley used his legs to set up the next score, this time a short run from Sanders. All of a sudden, PSU’s lead was 26-14.
But Ohio State would not go away. It took just three plays for the Buckeyes to go 78 yards and cut into the PSU lead, this time on a wild catch-and-run from Binjimen Victor to make it 26-21.
Dwayne Haskins to Binjimen Victor (via ABC).
OSU then forced a PSU punt, but was backed inside its own 5-yard line. The field position wouldn’t matter. This time, the Buckeyes gashed PSU with screens and quick passes, going 96 yards in eight plays. The eventual winning touchdown was a Haskins out to K.J. Hill, who broke a few tackles en route to the end zone.
What does this mean for Ohio State?
As previously mentioned, the Buckeyes are now the Big Ten’s only undefeated team. OSU now has two really strong victories — Penn State and TCU — on its College Football Playoff resume before September even ends. Beating Penn State, OSU’s main competition in the Big Ten East, gives the Buckeyes a clear path to the Playoff. It’s still very early in the year, but this is the ideal start to the season for OSU.
What does this mean for Penn State?
When Penn State has lost in recent years — and it hasn’t lost often — it has been in heartbreaking fashion.
Penn State’s last four losses have been by a total of eight points and Penn State has had a fourth quarter lead in all of them.
— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) September 30, 2018
This loss is obviously a big setback, but the team’s CFP dreams are not entirely squashed. But there’s no room for error the rest of the year for the Nittany Lions, who will need OSU to slip up somewhere along the way twice and go undefeated to have a hope of making the Big Ten Championship Game. Or, if that doesn’t happen, hope that missing out on the title game with one loss on the season is enough for the playoff like it was for Alabama in 2017.
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