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An Eight-Play Guide To Blowing A Fourth-Quarter Lead To Ohio State

Penn State football had the lead against the No. 2 team in the country with just over nine minutes on the clock. The only issue is that the team was Ohio State.

Over recent years, the Nittany Lions have seen no problem building leads against the Buckeyes. Blowing them is a different story.

James Franklin’s squad played hard, sound football for more than three quarters. Despite some early mishaps, Penn State put itself in an excellent position to upset Ohio State for the first time since 2016. But then, running back TreVeyon Henderson broke free.

1. HENDERSON, TreVeyon rush for a gain of 41 yards to the PSU0, 1ST DOWN, TOUCHDOWN OSU, clock 08:51

With nearly nine minutes on the clock, this shouldn’t have been the back-breaker.

Penn State went down by two points but it had been trailing for about two-thirds of the game anyway. It was only a matter of time before Ohio State’s explosive offense broke off a huge score.

It was up to Penn State’s defense to bounce back, and that was the mentality it had

“They just scored. Let’s get another stop when we take the field again,” cornerback Kalen King said. “At that moment, it’s not over so we just keep playing.”

But, Kalen and the rest of the defense didn’t know just how quickly it would be taking the field again.

2. CLIFFORD, Sean sacked for a loss of 7 yards at the PSU24, fumble on the sack, recovered by OSU at the PSU24, clock 08:26.

Penn State’s offense burnt just 35 seconds off the clock before turning the ball back over to the defense.

This play is partially on Clifford, but most of the blame rests on Bryce Effner, who started in place of Caedan Wallace. The redshirt senior got embarrassed by J.T. Tuimoloau, leading to the strip sack.

“We had the chance to win the game, but we made too many mistakes at critical moments,” Franklin said postgame.

Chalk this one up as a critical mistake in a critical moment. Still, the defense had been employing a “bend don’t break” mindset all day. Holding the Buckeyes to a field goal would have kept it a one-possession game.

3. STROUD, C.J. pass up the middle complete for 24 yards to STOVER, Cade caught at the PSU18 and advanced to the PSU0 TOUCHDOWN OSU, clock 08:17

On the very next play, CJ Stroud found Cade Stover in open space, short of the line of scrimmage. The Nittany Lions’ earlier sure tackling disappeared, as the Buckeye tight end proceeded to break tackle attempts by Keaton Ellis, Joey Porter Jr., and Jonathan Sutherland. Ji’Ayir Brown just sat and watched as broke the plane, essentially turning it into a two-possession affair with just over eight minutes left.

“I don’t know what caused the momentum swing,” Porter Jr. said postgame. “I just know when there’s plays to be made, we’ve just got to make those plays.”

The Stover score marked two touchdowns in just 34 seconds for Ohio State.

Penn State played great complementary football last week against Minnesota. This week, both sides of the ball collapsed in on each other when the stakes were at their highest. The strip sack set Ohio State up at Penn State’s 24-yard line and Manny Diaz’s defense couldn’t make tackles when it needed to.

“For as many short fields they had, our defense played really well,” Franklin said.

4. SINGLETON, Nicholas rush up the middle for a gain of 6 yards to the OSU27.

At this point, Penn State knew it needed two scores and at least one stop to retake the lead. Near the six-minute mark, the Nittany Lions marched into what was presumably field-goal range and were faced with 3rd and 9.

Instead of trying to move the chains and take a big chunk out of its nine-point deficit, Penn State opted to run the ball. Singleton took it up the gut for six yards, Jake Pinegar came on for the field goal, and he drilled it.

There was nothing inherently bad about this play call at the time. A field goal and touchdown would have been enough, while two touchdowns would safeguard against a potential Ohio State field goal.

But, this decision was at odds with Franklin’s previous mentality about fourth-down play calling. He opted to keep the offense on the field instead of settling for a field goal on multiple occasions.

“It felt like we were going to have to score touchdowns to win the game,” the head coach said.

Run, pass, field goal, touchdown — it was all contingent on the defense getting a stop the next possession.

5. STROUD, C.J. pass to the left complete for 42 yards to EGBUKA, Emeka caught at the PSU7 and advanced to the PSU2

“Mo Bamba” played for what felt like the 100th time. Penn State’s defense forced 3rd and 10 and nearly got off the field before Marvin Harrison Jr. made an impressive play to move the sticks.

It felt like the big stop Penn State needed was coming. Stroud was faced with 2nd and 7, and the Beaver Stadium crowd was doing its best to keep the Buckeyes off schedule. But, a stop didn’t come. What happened instead may have been a dagger.

These are the types of plays you expect the Heisman front-runner to make. Emeka Egbuka just barely beat Johnny Dixon, and he made the corner pay for every inch of his mistake.

“It happens,” King said about the play postgame. “That’s just the beauty of a good quarterback who can put it in the right spot even with great defense being played.”

“They’re good wide receivers and to beat them you’ve just got to be physical in all four quarters,” Porter Jr. added.

6. HENDERSON, TreVeyon rush to the left for a gain of 7 yards to the PSU0, TOUCHDOWN OSU, clock 02:52

A counter run confused nearly everyone on Manny Diaz’s defense and Henderson walked in for the score. Even a field goal would basically put the game away at this point, so Penn State opted to throw the kitchen sink and hope for a turnover.

“It felt like they just started clicking on offense,” Porter Jr. said. They got a little bit of momentum on their side and just started rolling. And once they start rolling, it’s kind of hard to slow them down.”

Suddenly, it was a two-possession game again. But this time, Penn State didn’t even have three minutes of clock to work with. It didn’t matter, anyway.

7. CLIFFORD, Sean pass to the right intercepted by TUIMOLOAU, J.T. at the PSU14. Tuimoloau return for 14 yards, TOUCHDOWN OSU, clock 02:42

This was the icing on the cake of Clifford’s turnover-ridden performance. Tuimoloau topped off a career day that ended up being devastating for the Nittany Lions.

Down 13 points, Penn State set up a screen for Parker Washington — who had arguably been the game’s biggest playmaker — on first down. It backfired immediately.

“The game starts and ends with the turnovers,” Franklin said.

That’s four touchdowns in six minutes.

8. Kneel down by STROUD, C.J. at PSU25 , clock 00:00

Victory formation. Despite how closely things felt throughout, the 44-31 loss was tied for Penn State’s largest margin of defeat against the Buckeyes since it last beat them in 2016.

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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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