Justin Hilliard is a fifth-year player for Ohio State, but the linebacker was not recognized during Senior Day introductions.
That's because Hilliard, whose career has been disrupted by three major injuries, has applied to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. So Hilliard didn't get the customary hug from coach Ryan Day and ovation from the crowd before the game Saturday. But he made perhaps the biggest play of the day by the defense.
With just over 10 minutes left, Penn State was on the move again, driving to the Ohio State 28-yard line and trailing by 11. Quarterback Will Levis tried to throw to his most trusted target, tight end Pat Freiermuth, over the middle.
But Hilliard read the play and snatched the ball at the 20, thwarting Penn State's last realistic shot to pull the upset in Ohio State's 28-17 victory.
“When we see two tight ends in the game and bring in that package and Justin's in, we all feel confident and we know that Justin is going to give us his all,” linebacker Pete Werner said. “When you see him make that play, it's awesome.”
Hilliard has had two seasons end because of separate biceps injuries. This spring, he tore his Achilles tendon.
“How about Justin Hilliard, somebody who spent a lot of time in this program, put his heart and soul into it,” Day said. “And to have the play of the game with that interception, I couldn't be happier for him. We had a lot of guys who made a lot of great plays in this game, but he was one that really stuck out to me.”
Junior running back J.K. Dobbins moved into third place on Ohio State's career rushing list, surpassing Eddie George, when he picked up 4 yards on his second carry against Penn State.
Dobbins finished with 157 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries.
His career total is 3,902 rushing yards, 60 yards shy from passing Ezekiel Elliott for second. Archie Griffin's 5,589 career rushing yards remain the most.
When Chris Olave first looked up to make the catch that gave the Buckeyes some much-needed breathing room in the fourth quarter, he couldn't see the ball.
“It was in the lights so I couldn't really see it until the last minute,” Olave said.
But Olave's hands were in the right spot, and when he did locate the ball he was able to grab it above cornerback John Reid with safety Jaquan Brisker closing in for a 28-yard touchdown reception. The touchdown came after Penn State had scored 17 straight points.
“We talked all week that we're going to go through adversity,” Olave said. “They started throwing some punches and we took it, but we knew we had to come back with something. We had to put good drives together and make a play.”
About three hours after a win over Penn State, the Buckeyes also picked up a recruiting win.
Miyan Williams, a three-star running back from Cincinnati who had been committed to Iowa State, flipped to Ohio State.
The Buckeyes did not have a running back in their 2020 recruiting class after several of their top targets committed elsewhere over the summer.
Williams announced his commitment in a tweet. He was among the high school recruits who were visiting Columbus this weekend and in attendance for the game.
Fans flock to 'Shoe
Ohio State's average home attendance was 103,383, an increase from last season when it drew an average of 101,947.
The official capacity at Ohio Stadium was also 102,780 this season, gaining 698 seats.
The announced attendance for the Buckeyes' final home game against Penn State was 104,355, their second-largest this season. They surpassed the stadium's capacity in six of the seven home games.
Day is set for a $50,000 bonus because Ohio State clinched the Big Ten East title, according to the terms of his contract. It was the first performance bonus he is eligible to receive. … After missing the previous three games for undisclosed reasons, senior receiver Austin Mack returned to the starting lineup and caught two passes for 27 yards. … Defensive tackle Haskell Garrett did not play against the Nittany Lions after he was listed as a game-time decision on the team's status report Friday.