Ohio State found a way to escape State College with a win.
The second-ranked Buckeyes trailed No. 13 Penn State, 21-16, at the 9:26 mark of the fourth quarter, but managed to score four touchdowns in a span of just over six minutes to turn that deficit into a 44-31 victory.
For the Buckeyes, there were two players at the center of it all: JT Tuimoloau and Marvin Harrison Jr.
While Harrison caught 10 passes for 185 yards and was clearly the best player on Ohio State’s offense, Tuimoloau wreaked havoc on defense.
In the first quarter, Tuimolowo tipped a pass down the line into the hands of teammate Zach Harrison for an interception. Later in the quarter, he had an interception of his own. Both plays gave the OSU offense a short field, allowing the Buckeyes to jump out to a 10-0 lead.
But Penn State hung around and scored twice in the second quarter to eventually take a 14-13 halftime lead. OSU went back in front with a field goal before PSU answered early in the fourth to take that 21-16 advantage.
Up until that point, Ohio State’s high-powered offense had struggled with the Nittany Lions’ speed and sure tackles. Until it wasn’t. After PSU got back in front, OSU needed just three plays to regain the lead as a 41-yard touchdown run by TreVeyon Henderson capped a 75-yard drive that took just 35 seconds off the clock.
There was still plenty of time for PSU, but Tuimoloau quickly got the ball back into their attack. Tuimoloau broke off the edge, broke through Penn State’s backup right tackle and caught the ball as PSU quarterback Sean Clifford looked to deliver it downfield.
Tuimoloau fumbled the ball and recovered the fumble himself, giving the Buckeyes the ball at PSU’s 24. On the very next play, CJ Stroud found Cade Stover for a 24-yard touchdown to make it 30-21 with 8:17 to play.
PSU would add a field goal to make it a one-possession game in hopes of stopping and getting the ball back on offense. But that suspension never materialized. Stroud, Ohio State’s Heisman quarterback candidate, led the Buckeyes right down the field and put away the Nittany Lions with a 75-yard field goal.
On that drive, Stroud connected with Harrison Jr. for a crucial third-down conversion. He also delivered a 42-yard dime to Emeka Egbuka to set up the clinching touchdown.
And to top off Ohio State’s fourth-quarter barrage, Tuimolow threw a 14-yard pick-six to cap his incredible day.
Tuimoloau finished the afternoon with six tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a pass breakup, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Did you understand all this?
Tuimoloau’s breakout day was needed as Penn State was up to the task through about 50 minutes of play. But then the wall broke and the Buckeyes were able to walk out of Beaver Stadium with a win and improve to 8-0.
What does this mean for Ohio State?
To this point in the season, it’s fair to say that Ohio State hasn’t faced many significant tests. Six of OSU’s first seven games were played at home, so going to Beaver Stadium presented the Buckeyes’ toughest challenge of the year so far — even if it was a noon game instead of PSU’s annual whiteout.
And Penn State definitely challenged the Buckeyes. PSU actually outgained the Buckeyes 482 yards to 452, but turnovers were the difference. Clifford, PSU’s sixth-year senior quarterback, finished the day with three interceptions and a sack. Tuimoloau was directly responsible for each of these turnovers.
OSU again had trouble running the ball and saw Miyan Williams go out with an apparent injury, but the combination of Stroud and Harrison was able to overcome that. Stroud finished the day 26 of 33 for 354 yards, with Harrison his most reliable target and Jackson Smith-Njigba out with a hamstring injury.
Ryan Day and his team can take a lot from this game. And the upcoming schedule – Northwestern, Indiana and Maryland – shouldn’t pose much of a problem before the Nov. 26 showdown with Michigan. This game will likely decide the Big Ten East and a College Football Playoff spot could be on the line.