It wasn’t the blowout many expected, but No. 5 Ohio State got the job done with a 33-24 win over No. 20 Penn State on Saturday night in Columbus.
Penn State put forth a valiant effort and limited Ohio State to just three points for much of the first half, but it was only a matter of time before the Buckeyes broke through. That came late in the second quarter when CJ Stroud found Chris Olave behind the Penn State defense for a 38-yard touchdown.
That flipped a 7-3 Penn State lead into a 10-7 advantage for the Buckeyes. From then on out, Ohio State would never trail again.
Penn State managed to tie the game at 17-17 early in the second half. But every time PSU cut into Ohio State’s lead, Stroud and the OSU offense would respond accordingly. And one particular 10-point swing in the third quarter proved to be the difference for Ohio State.
TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State’s star freshman running back, had been bottled up for much of the game but broke through the PSU front for a 68-yard gain. Henderson then scored on the very next play to give OSU a 27-17 lead with 3:35 left in the third.
Penn State would counter with a touchdown of its own to make it 27-24 with 10 seconds left in the third. The Nittany Lions had two fourth-quarter possessions that gave them the chance to take the lead. The first, with the score still 27-24, resulted in a Sean Clifford interception. The second, with the OSU lead at 30-24, ended with a punt at the 6:05 mark.
The PSU staff hoped its defense could get a stop and give Clifford and the offense one more chance to take the lead. Instead, the Buckeyes marched right down the field and tacked on a field goal to put the finishing touches on a big win.
What does this mean for Ohio State?
With the win, the Buckeyes improved to 7-1 ahead of the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season on Tuesday night. OSU lost at home to Oregon in Week 2 but has rattled off six straight wins since then.
The previous four wins — over Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana — came by a combined margin of 231-44. PSU presented a much tougher test, and it’s safe to say that the Buckeyes passed it.
Things have come so easily to the OSU offense in recent weeks, so it was a promising development for the young Buckeyes to respond to a slow start positively.
Ohio State's first five drives went fumble, punt, field goal, punt and punt before the Stroud touchdown pass to Olave. After that touchdown, Ohio State would never punt again.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 31, 2021
What's next for Penn State?
Penn State is now 5-3 after opening the year with a 5-0 record.
PSU's season changed when Clifford got injured on the road against Iowa. The Nittany Lions had a 17-7 lead when Clifford got hurt and Iowa ended up storming back to win 23-20. After a bye, Clifford was clearly hobbled at home against Illinois, a game PSU inexplicably lost 20-18 in nine overtimes.
A week later, Penn State looked nothing like the lifeless squad that was on the field against Illinois. The lack of a run game was still present, but PSU was able to move the ball through the air as Clifford threw for 361 yards. The receiving duo of Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington combined for 20 receptions for 235 yards in the loss.
Despite the ability to move the ball, the Nittany Lions also turned it over three times.
PSU's defense forced a fumble on the first drive of the game, only for the offense to fumble it right back. Late in the first half, PSU's offensive line gave up a strip sack that OSU's Jerron Cage returned 57 yards for a touchdown.
And then early in the fourth, with OSU's lead just 27-24, Clifford made one of his only mistake of the night by throwing a costly interception.
Penn State's CFP hopes are dashed and its Big Ten East title chances are remote. With that said, PSU will have an impact on the division race with Michigan and Michigan State left on the schedule.