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Third-Quarter Surge Nearly Leads Penn State Football To Miraculous Comeback

No. 8 Penn State football fell to No. 2 Ohio State 28-17 on Saturday afternoon, but the Nittany Lions nearly clawed all the way back into a game they were down and out of.

James Franklin’s team fell behind 21-0 after Ohio State’s KJ Hill caught a 24-yard dime from Justin Fields in the end zone. That touchdown was seemingly a backbreaker thanks to the Penn State offense’s lethargic performance in the first half, but the Nittany Lions responded instantly.

The Nittany Lions put up 64 total yards of offense in the first half, but they began the second by marching down the field 75 yards in nine plays on a drive that was capped off by Journey Brown finding the end zone from eight yards out. Starting quarterback Sean Clifford got injured four plays into the drive, but Will Levis picked up where he left off and led Penn State into the end zone.

“Obviously early on, we couldn’t get things going offensively — especially with the running game, which made us a bit one-dimensional. We were able to battle back there,” Franklin said postgame. “We have a strong locker room. Everybody in there is totally invested and had a lot of confidence that we could come here and win. Obviously, going down 21-0 to the No. 2 team in the country is not ideal, but we battled.”

Brown’s 18-yard touchdown was quickly followed by an absolutely crucial play by the Penn State defense. JK Dobbins was forced into fumbling the ball by a combination of Micah Parsons and an Ohio State lineman, and Lamont Wade eventually emerged from the chaos with the ball at the Buckeyes’ 12-yard line.

Will Levis scored Penn State’s second touchdown in 25 seconds that, more importantly, drew the Nittany Lions within a touchdown of Ohio State. If that wasn’t enough, star quarterback Justin Fields fumbled for the second time of the game just three plays into his team’s next possession. Penn State took over and put up a field goal to trim its deficit to 21-17.

“Well, the turnovers were a big part of it,” Franklin said. “And then we made some subtle adjustments in the running game. The reality is, we broke some tackles that, in the first half, we didn’t break. We broke some tackles and got some big runs at both the quarterback and running back positions, but the turnovers were the biggest factor. They gave us some opportunities, and we capitalized it to some degree.

We can spend all day analyzing the specific plays and fundamentals that went into Penn State’s 17-point surge. But at the end of the day, the Nittany Lions don’t make a surge like that against the No. 2 team in the nation without a boatload of heart.

“We battled. That’s who we are,” Franklin said. “That’s really who we have been for six years, and that’s how my teams have been for nine years. We’ll fight and battle, but again, you have to give Ohio State credit.”

“We didn’t hang our heads. We kept fighting,” sophomore defensive lineman PJ Mustipher added. “We had a whole ‘nother half, and we kept that positive mindset going in. We know what we’re capable of, and we got those big turnovers and showed it. We played hard, we played tough, and I think we gave them a challenge.”

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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