Ohio State Answers Last Remaining Doubt in Win vs. Penn State
Ohio State's overwhelming dominance birthed a nice-problem-to-have inquiry as blowout after blowout built its resume for a College Football Playoff berth.
Winners of all 10 games by three touchdowns or more, the second-ranked Buckeyes' only lingering caveat remained how they might respond if adversity ever arose in a tightly-contested second half.
Consider that question asked and answered Saturday in a 28-17 victory over No. 8 Penn State, which closed a 21-0 deficit to within four points late in the third quarter before OSU responded.
Quarterback Justin Fields' 28-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave with 1:35 left in the third quarter atoned for a pair of fumbles that set up short Penn State scoring drives to assist its comeback.
Fields lost possession at the OSU 35 midway through the quarter after running back J.K. Dobbins fumbled to the Lions at the OSU 12 early in the period.
Backup quarterback Will Levis, who relieved starter Sean Clifford to drive Penn State to its first touchdown, cashed Dobbins' turnover into another TD and Fields' fumble into a field goal to imperil the outcome.
"There was a point in the game where they had the momentum," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "I got the team together and said, 'Any time you're in a big fight, you're going to take punches.' We were taking punches at that point, and then we responded.
"The defense did an unbelievable job. I'm disappointed we didn't play cleaner, but I knew this game was coming, because we hadn't been challenged like this. That's a really good team in Penn State. They challenged us, but we responded in a big way."
While Fields and Olave provided Ohio State's offensive answer, linebacker Justin Hilliard supplied the defensive response.
He intercepted Levis at the Buckeyes' 20 with 10:16 left as the Lions drove to answer the Buckeyes' advance to a 28-17 lead.
Penn State never got in OSU territory again to lose for the second time in 10 games this season and for the third consecutive time to the Buckeyes in a matchup of Top-10 teams.
The win elevates Ohio State to 11-0 and into the Big Ten title game, regardless of its result Saturday at Michigan (8-2).
The Buckeyes will play the winner of Saturday's game in Minneapolis between Wisconsin (8-2) and Minnesota (10-1).
Penn State coach James Franklin lived with regret each of the past two years after one-point losses to Ohio State.
He might live with deeper regret this year, even though he lost by a larger margin.
Watching the quarterback he once had committed to play for him at Penn State, Franklin saw Fields power Ohio State to a 14-0 lead, build on that early in the third quarter and then provide the clincher to Olave.
Fields' only mistake in the first half was a fumble on the goal line just before scoring a touchdown.
Penn State recovered to preserve a 7-0 deficit that traced directly to Fields' 14-yard run on third-and-5 and 17-yard run on third-and-12 earlier in the drive.
Dobbins' 4-yard run at 5:04 of the first quarter provided that first touchdown, to complete a 13-play, 91-yard drive on OSU's first possession.
The Buckeyes came looking for more after a Penn State punt handed them possession at the Lions' 46, but Fields' fumble just before he crossed the goal line momentarily deterred OSU.
He went back to work late in the half, facing fourth-and-5 from the Penn State 26 with 3:45 left. From an empty backfield, Fields immediately split the defensive line and sped for 22 yards to the 4.
The Buckeyes gained 147 yards on the ground through two quarters and 229 on the day against a Penn State defense leading the Big Ten with an allowance of just 75.9 yards per game.
It's the third time this season OSU has made a mockery of an opponent's touted rush defense.
Wisconsin entered Ohio Stadium allowing just 58 yards on the ground and surrendered 264.
Michigan State came to Horseshoe allowing 55.8 yards rushing, fourth in the nation, and gave up 323.
On Saturday, Dobbins finished with 157 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. Fields added 68 on 21 attempts.
"It was a frustrating game on offense," Day said. "We turned the ball over on the 1-yard line. We had some penalties early on. It was just one of those games where all those things we were talking about came into play and it got frustrating.
"As we got into the fourth quarter, I knew the defense was strong and I just wanted to run the ball down and and secure the win. Frustrating on offense, but unbelievable game on defense."
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