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Ohio State 33, Penn State 24: Rapid Reaction From Columbus

Penn State didn't buckle as 19-point underdogs. But the Buckeyes turn big plays into victory.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, a Cincinnati native, said last year he didn't come to State College to hang with the Ohio State Buckeyes but to beat them.

Clifford hung with them once again but likely ended his career without a win over the Buckeyes. No. 5 Ohio State scored a defensive touchdown, hit two huge plays and withered the Lions with their defensive front in a 33-24 victory at Ohio Stadium.

Penn State's senior class moved to 0-5 against Ohio State, even though three of those losses have been by one possession.

Here's the breakdown.

Penn State's remarkable offensive resilience

A week after scoring 18 points in regulation and nine overtimes against Illinois, the Lions fairly shocked Ohio State in the air, as Clifford threw for 361 yards and a touchdown, and Parker Washington and Jahan Dotson combined for 20 catches.

Clifford played a confident, mostly on-point, making just a few mistakes in the margins that routinely are the difference against Ohio State. He fumbled under heavy pressure, leading to a defensive touchdown, and underthrew a pass (also under heavy pressure) on a fourth-quarter interception.

Still, the offense played one of its most effective, fun-to-watch games of the season. Penn State converted 11 of 18 third downs, attacked Ohio State with a provocative passing game and ran the Wildcat with Dotson for a touchdown.

Ultimately, Ohio State's pass rush and skill players on offense proved too much for the Lions, as expected. Still, it was a game performance.

The first turning point

In the second quarter, Penn State's offensive line had given Clifford three solid pockets and enough time to complete three first-down throws. But Ohio State, which launched blitzes at Clifford all night, extracted a big play from blitz pressure.

While the line's interior weathered the blitz, Penn State's tackles were rounded by defensive ends Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith (whom Clifford will see often when he closes his eyes). Clifford fumbled off Smith's helmed, providing 305-pound tackle Jerron Cage with the opportunity for a 57-yard scoop-and-score that gave the Buckeyes a 17-7 lead.

Ohio State's Jerron Cage returns a fumble 57 yards for a touchdown against Penn State. (Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch)

Ohio State's Jerron Cage returns a fumble 57 yards for a touchdown against Penn State. (Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch)

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The second turning point

Penn State had bottled Henderson through nearly three quarters, allowing him 20 yards on 14 carries. But the freshman broke that grasp, lashing the defense for a 68-yard run that led to his 1-yard rushing touchdown.

Henderson had a wide hole, then curled around safety Ji'Ayir Brown for the longest rush (by 40 yards) against Penn State this season. The touchdown gave the Buckeyes a 27-17 lead.

The third turning point

Penn State caught a huge fourth-quarter break, when Stroud missed a wide-open Chris Olave in the end zone on fourth down. Trailing by three points, the Lions had a tantalizing opportunity to at least tie the game.

But Clifford, under more pressure from Smith, short-armed a ball to Dotson, which was intercepted by Cameron Brown. Clifford got away with a similar heave against Illinois last week, when Dotson took the ball from three defenders. But this time, Dotson hadn't broken his route, and Brown had the easy pick.

Franklin's aggressive fourth-down decision

Franklin follows most fourth-down analytics that suggest going for it in plus territory. So the coach left his offense on the field on 4th-and-4 from its 46-yard line in the second quarter.

Ohio State squelched that pretty quickly, sacking Clifford for an 8-yard loss. Penn State's defense got a stop, but field position remained an issue. The Lions their next possession at the 11-yard line (for the second straight series), couldn't move the ball, and Ohio State took advantage with Stroud's 38-yard touchdown pass to Olave.


Penn State had its share of plays on the margin. Daequan Hardy forced a fumble that was overturned because the receiver was down. An Ohio State fumbled snap was negated by the rare snap-infraction penalty. And running back John Lovett had a potential touchdown reception called back because he went out bounds before catching the ball. Coach James Franklin thought Lovett was pushed out of bounds.

Linebacker Curtis Jacobs played a terrific game, with seven tackles (two for losses) and some strong pressure on Stroud.

Penn State's Ji'Ayir Brown forced a fumble on the Buckeyes' first offensive series. But running back Noah Cain fumbled it right back on the Lions' first play from scrimmage. It was Penn State's first lost fumble of the season.

Penn State allowed Ohio State's offense just one touchdown in six red-zone trips.