Buckeyes dominate early in 38-25 victory over Penn State

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – For a while against Penn State on Saturday night, Ohio State looked like the juggernaut it's expected to be.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the first-half dominance they showed was sufficient for a 38-25 victory over No. 18 Penn State at Beaver Stadium.

Riding the passing of Justin Fields and a smothering defense, the No. 3 Buckeyes took a 21-6 halftime lead and weren't seriously threatened despite three second-half touchdown catches by Penn State's Jahan Dotson.

It was the Buckeyes' most lopsided victory in Happy Valley since a 38-14 win in 2010.

"Overall, just a gutsy win on the road," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "It's hard to win here, and I'm proud of our guys."

It helped that Ohio State (2-0) didn't have to contend with the White Out crowd of 106,000 because of the Big Ten's ban on fans.

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It helped more to have quarterback Justin Fields. The junior threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns on 28-of-34 passing. Garrett Wilson caught 11 passes for 111 yards. Chris Olave had seven catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

"Of course, those guys are talented," Fields said. "They definitely make my job easier by the way they perform. I'm just glad they're on my team and I get to show those guys the ball."

The Buckeyes' passing excellence has become expected. The more important development was the clear improvement the Buckeyes' defense showed, or at least the front seven. Nebraska gained 370 yards a week ago as Ohio State defenders often looked tentative and missed tackles.

They were suffocating early against Penn State when the Buckeyes took command. Ohio State's defensive line was markedly more disruptive than in the opener against Nebraska. Ohio State sacked Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford five times, three by nose tackle Tommy Togiai.

Dotson did his best to keep the No. 18 Nittany Lions (0-2) close. The junior caught three touchdown passes in the second half.

"I feel we threw the first punch early," said senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper, the ringleader on the line Saturday. "But when it comes to a fight or football game, you're going to get punches thrown right back at you."

The Dotson touchdowns kept the Buckeyes from making the game a blowout. But trading touchdowns was all they needed after building first-half cushion by outgaining Penn State 280-75.

The Buckeyes' offense clicked from the start. On the game's first snap, Wilson went in motion, took a handoff, capitalized on excellent perimeter blocking and went 62 yards to the Penn State 13. Master Teague III (23 carries for 111 yards) needed only two carries to score from there.

Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson (5) runs past Penn State Brandon Smith in the third quarter.

Probably sensing that his team would need to take chances to try to match Ohio State, coach James Franklin had his team go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Penn State 45 on its first possession. The decision backfired when quarterback Clifford's pass under heavy pressure fell incomplete.

The Buckeyes took advantage. Fields threw a deep corner pass to Olave. Joey Porter Jr. had tight coverage, but Olave plucked the ball for a 26-yard touchdown to make it 14-0.

The Buckeyes' third touchdown, a 10-yard pass to tight end Jeremy Ruckert, gave them a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter.

Penn State was fortunate to get the two first-half field goals it got. Its best drive of the half would have been thwarted without a first down, but linebacker Baron Browning was called for a late hit on Clifford on a third-down incompletion to keep the possession alive.

The second field goal was even stranger. With two seconds left, Ohio State took a knee on fourth down at its 36 and headed to the end zone. But the refs ruled that 1 second remained on the clock, and Penn State kicked a 50-yard field goal.

When the Nittany Lions used short passes to go 75 yards to open the third quarter to make it 21-13, it looked like it could turn into a game, after all.

But the Buckeyes answered with its own score on a beautiful Fields-to-Chris Olave deep pass for a 49-yard touchdown.

Dotson then made back-to-back dazzling catches while covered by Buckeyes star cornerback Shaun Wade for a Penn State score that made it 31-19.

Ruckert caught his second touchdown pass on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 after Dotson caught his third touchdown pass. 

"Overall, I thought we played physical," Day said. "I thought we had good energy. I thought we played tough. It wasn't clean, but our guys just kept swinging away. We had some adversity along the way and we just kept playing hard."

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