Defense helps Ohio State football pull away for 44-31 win over Penn State

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Ohio State faced a real test Saturday for the first time since the season opener.

The No. 2 Buckeyes pulled through thanks to 34 decisive seconds midway through the fourth quarter and then two knockout blows late for a 44-31 victory over No. 13 Penn State in front of 108,433 at Beaver Stadium.

Don't be deceived by the final score. The Buckeyes (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) were in trouble for much of the game.

But Penn State (6-2, 3-2) had no answer for Marvin Harrison Jr. in the passing game, and sophomore defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau had a game for the ages, forcing four turnovers. That included a pick-six touchdown for the game's final score.

Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson scores on a 41-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Saturday.

Until then, Penn State looked like it might pull off the upset. Ohio State trailed 26-21 after an eventful touchdown drive by Penn State with 9:26 left.

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But the Buckeyes needed only three plays to go 75 yards to retake the lead, the final 41 by TreVeyon Henderson.

Ohio State safeties Tanner McCalister and Ronnie Hickman (14) tackle Penn State running back Nick Singleton on Saturday.

It was the only long run of the day for the Buckeyes, who had 37 yards in its previous 19 carries as its running game sputtered for the second straight game.

Ohio State safeties Tanner McCalister (15) and Ronnie Hickman (14) and linebacker Tommy Eichenberg tackle Penn State receiver Parker Washington on Saturday.

Tuimoloau then forced his third turnover of the game when he strip-sacked Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and recovered the ball at the PSU 24.

On the next play, C.J. Stroud threw to tight end Cade Stover, who shed several tackles for a touchdown. Stroud finished completing 26 of 33 pass attempts for 354 yards. That put Ohio State ahead 30-21. Penn State drove for a field goal with 5:49 left to return it to a one-possession game.

Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison (9) reacts after making an interception on Saturday.

But the Buckeyes clinched the win with a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 7-yard Henderson run after a 42-yard completion to Emeka Egbuka.

Harrison kept the drive alive with an 11-yard catch on third -and-10, his 10th of the game for a career-high 185 yards.

Penn State linebacker Abdul Carter tackles Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud on Saturday.

Tuimoloau's interception for a touchdown added the exclamation point before a late PSU touchdown that affected only bettors.

“I’d say it was crazy, but we were expecting this game to be that way,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day. “It comes down to the fourth quarter. We knew that would be the case. A lot of things in the first half we wish we would have done better, there’s no question, but that’s playing football. That’s competing, and Penn State has one heck of a team.

"We played really hard, and it doesn’t come easy. But like I said, I’m very proud of how the team played, especially in the fourth quarter. I thought C.J. Stroud was unbelievable in the fourth quarter, the way he played. JTT was off the charts and Marvin Harrison, but it was everybody.”

Ohio State trailed 14-13 at halftime, which was its first time trailing at the half since the season opener against Notre Dame.

Ohio State receiver Julian Fleming runs after a reception on Saturday.

The Buckeyes took a 16-14 lead on a 40-yard field goal by Noah Ruggles before Penn State went on a 75-yard touchdown drive with plenty of twists and turns. A missed field goal was negated by an Ohio State penalty. Safety Ronnie Hickman forced a fumble after a fourth-down conversion, but Penn State recovered at the goal line. Running back Kaytron Allen shed a tackle by linebacker Tommy Eichenberg and others on a fourth down for the touchdown.

After a drive like that, it looked like it might be Penn State's day, especially the way Ohio State's run game sputtered.

But the Buckeyes took over after that.

Ohio State took a 3-0 lead on the game's first possession. Harrison caught a 37-yard pass on third down for most of the yardage on a 55-yard drive.

Tuimoloau, who'd earlier tipped a pass intercepted by Zach Harrison, picked off Clifford (32 of 47 for 371 yards) to set up an OSU touchdown.

Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson scores on a 41-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Saturday.

Penn State made it 10-7 early in the second quarter. On third-and-4 from the PSU 42, Ohio State blitzed. Clifford threw to Parker Washington. Cornerback JK Johnson and safety Tanner McCalister closed on Washington, but he broke through their tackles and ran for the 58-yard touchdown.

Penn State took the lead after the second straight three-and-out by Ohio State's offense. Washington made a diving catch to keep PSU's possession alive. Clifford threw to tight end Theo Johnson for 42 yards and then connected with KeAndre Lambert-Smith on a 23-yard touchdown.

Ohio State cut Penn State's lead to 14-13 on a 37-yard field goal with 3:14 left in the second quarter and had a chance to take the lead in the final seconds of the half.

Consecutive completions from Stroud to Harrison moved the ball to the Penn State 6 with six seconds left. Instead of kicking a field goal, Day tried a play from scrimmage. That backfired when Stroud was sacked.

“When we go into these games, the expectation’s to win," Day said. "I know that’s not everybody’s expectation, but it’s our expectation. Do we want to play perfect? Yeah. Do we want to win by four touchdowns? Yeah. But the expectation coming in here is to win, and that’s what we did.

"Every game has its own story, and this is one we will be telling for a while."

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