STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Any memorable drive has a jumping-off point, and Saturday night J.K. Dobbins — with some help from his friends — provided the leap that set in motion “one of the great drives in Ohio State history,” according to coach Urban Meyer.
It led eventually to the 24-yard game-winning touchdown on a screen pass from Dwayne Haskins Jr. to K.J. Hill that completed the Buckeyes’ rally from 12 points down in their 27-26 victory over Penn State. The touchdown capped the 96-yard march, but it was the 35-yard screen catch-and-run by Dobbins that was the impetus.
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“Go make a play for my team, go win the game,” Dobbins said of his thoughts as he hauled in the flip from Haskins.
On a night when big plays came seldom for the Buckeyes through the first three quarters, they came in bunches in the last seven minutes. The first was a dazzling 47-yard catch-and-run by Binjimen Victor with 6:42 left that cut the PSU lead to 26-21.
The final drive featured the screen to Dobbins, an 11-yard run by Mike Weber, a 14-yard inside screen catch-and-run by Parris Campbell and the 24-yarder to Hill.
Dobbins wound up with 118 yards in total offense. He gained 57 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries, and 61 yards receiving on two catches, both screens. On the first catch, he followed critical blocking toward the end zone for the Buckeyes’ first score of the game late in the second quarter.
In the aftermath, though, Dobbins treated the victory as more of a steppingstone than a top-podium achievement for the team, even if it did put the Buckeyes seemingly in control in the Big Ten East.
“We’ve just got to keep building,” Dobbins said. “We’re going to move past this. We won the game. Time to move on.”
A stifling play to end it
When push came to shove on the biggest defensive play of the season for Ohio State, Chase Young and his teammates delivered, and it was in Bosa-like fashion.
On the same field where former OSU defensive end Joey Bosa once ended a two-overtime game in 2014 with a shove sack, and in the same manner his younger brother Nick was making plays this season before suffering a core muscle injury, the Buckeyes’ defensive front stepped up again Saturday night against Penn State.
It was fourth-and-5 at the OSU 43-yard line with just over a minute left — right after the Buckeyes had fought back to take a 27-26 lead — when the stop of the season occurred. Ohio State reasoned Penn State would run a zone-read option to the weak side, the right side, involving quarterback Track McSorley, who already had set a school record for total offense in the game, and running back Miles Sanders.
Young and a host of other Buckeyes crashed the play, though, and stifled both Sanders, who wound up with the ball, and McSorley, just for assurance.
“We didn’t know exactly what it was going to be, but just watch the ball,” defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said. “It was a crucial moment. We didn’t want to jump offsides and allow them to get an advantage.”
But they gained such great penetration, they took both options away at once.
“It did,” Jones said. “I think it was a good call.”
Sanders honors teammate
Penn State's Sanders honored a teammate by switching his jersey number from 24 to 8. The latter is the number usually worn by fifth-year senior running back Mark Allen, who was lost for the season to injury a week earlier in a win at Illinois.
Sanders went into the Ohio State game No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 123.8 yards per game.
Ohio State defensive tackles Tommy Togiai and Taron Vincent and defensive ends Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday are four freshmen who have earned more and more time as the season has progressed. Junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, the ringleader as end Nick Bosa recovers from a core muscle injury, appreciates the challenges the younger players have embraced.
“It’s difficult, because you’re coming into an environment you’ve never been in before,” Jones said. “You’re coming out of high school and now you’re playing at the elite level, that’s something you’re not used to, so you’ve got to adjust to it fast.
“But thanks to guys like me, Chase (Young), Nick and Coop (Jonathon Cooper) helping them out, they’re adjusting quickly.”
Ready when needed
Drue Chrisman probably is better known as the holder for kicker Sean Nuernberger than as the Ohio State punter. Headed in Saturday, Chrisman had punted just 13 times for a 42.4-yard average, but 10 of those had been downed or had gone out of bounds inside the 20-yard line, with nine being fair-caught.
“If there’s anything I learned from last year is when you get the chance, you’ve got to be able to take advantage of it,” Chrisman said. “You’re not going to punt much. This is Ohio State. But you really need to pin them deep when asked to … and do the best you can for the team.”
Like a critical punt in the win over Texas Christian, which was downed at the 7-yard line. Chrisman said he ran off the field after that feeling “good, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
“I fully believe we’re the best punt team in America. Not just me but our gunners (the lead men down the field), our long snapper Liam (McCullough), our protection. … And I know if I just put it out there, they’re going to be forcing him to fair-catch.”