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Turnovers Haunt Penn State In Yet Another Hard-Fought Loss To Ohio State

A win against Ohio State has eluded Penn State football once again.

In 2020, you could blame COVID-19 for the loss. In 2019, maybe the Nittany Lions would’ve completed the comeback if Sean Clifford didn’t get hurt. The 2018 game could have gone a different way if the playcalling was slightly better.

In the 2021 version of the Penn State-Ohio State series, you could argue turnovers were the deciding factor in the Nittany Lions 33-24 loss.

“The turnovers is what really kind of caught us…,” James Franklin said after the game. “We’ve just got to eliminate the turnovers. Turnovers cost us. It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over.”

Penn State coughed up two fumbles in the game and suffered one big interception. These three turnovers only directly resulted in 10 points for the Buckeyes, but that’s a big deal when Ohio State’s margin of victory was only nine. In a very literal sense, eliminating turnovers would have won Penn State the game.

The points the Buckeyes scored off the Nittany Lions’ turnovers were a big factor, but the timing of them could not have been worse. Just when you thought Penn State was gaining momentum, the Buckeyes would come up with a takeaway.

The scoop-and-score was perhaps the worst example of this. After two straight drives stalled, Penn State’s offense was finally rolling and had a chance to retake the lead. Three straight passing gains brought the Nittany Lions into prime field position down at the Buckeyes’ 37.

But then, Tyreke Smith and Jerron Cage showed up to crash the party.

“It was on my blind side. I wish I would’ve just dirted it. I was a split second decision,” Quarterback Sean Clifford said. “I didn’t see it. I gotta protect the ball.”

After this 57-yard fumble return for a score, Ohio State’s 17-7 lead felt daunting. The Nittany Lions had hung around up until this point, but the game could have easily gotten away from them here. The Horseshoe was rocking, the run game was floundering, and Clifford was facing lots of pressure up front.

But, Penn State bounced back. Both Franklin and wide receiver Jahan Dotson talked after the game about controlling the “middle eight” of the game, which meant the Nittany Lions wanted to score right before halftime and then come out and score again.

Penn State did just that. A Jordan Stout field goal as time expired and Dotson rushing touchdown to start the third quarter equalised things at 17.

After last week’s historically embarrassing loss to Illinois and a demoralizing, injury-fueled defeat to Iowa the week before, the Nittany Lions could have folded against the high-powered Buckeyes. Instead, Penn State buckled down and rallied behind a healthy QB1 in Clifford.

The quarterback largely looked like his old self Saturday night. He completed 67% of his 52 passes for 361 yards and a score, which was good for a 72.4 QBR. That’s a far cry from his 17.8 QBR against Illinois, and it was easy to see Clifford looked much more comfortable against a considerably better Ohio State defensive front.

But when you throw the ball 52 times, mistakes are bound to happen. Clifford’s fourth-quarter interception, which was intended for a deep Dotson, was one of these costly mistakes. Again, a turnover came when Penn State was starting to march down the field with a chance to take the lead.

“Turnovers kill you…when you’re playing a good football team like that, you can’t afford to give them more opportunities,” Dotson said. “We gotta control the turnover battle. We’ve got to be better in that field.”

Franklin and many of his players shared the sentiment after the game that there were plenty of positive takeaway from the loss. The defense played well against one of the nation’s top offense and got lots of pressure. Parker Washington had a breakout performance. Mike Yurcich called a creative and efficient offensive game.

But, as Clifford repeated twice after the game, the Nittany Lions lost the game. In the grand scheme of Big Ten championships and College Football Playoffs, hard-fought losses against Ohio State aren’t going to be good enough.

Yes, Penn State generally played well. Penn State fought hard. But, all it took was a few poorly timed turnovers to derail the Nittany Lions’ efforts.

“That’s the worst part,” Clifford said. “You feel like you’re getting better, right? But it’s just not enough.”

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected].

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