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No. 13 Penn State Collapses Against No. 2 Ohio State 44-31

No. 13 Penn State football (6-2, Big Ten 3-2) was unable to take care of business against No. 2 Ohio State (8-0, Big Ten 5-0), losing 44-31 in heartbreaking fashion Saturday.

The game faced multiple lead changes, on the backs of Sean Clifford’s 371 passing yards and Parker Washington’s 179 receiving yards. Still, early turnovers, a late strip sack, and a fourth-quarter pick six became too much for the Nittany Lions to overcome.

For a majority of the game, Penn State played the Buckeyes incredibly close (despite opening the weekend as 15-point underdogs), but ultimately a late emergence of Ohio State’s offense shut down any hopes of an upset.

How It Happened

Ohio State took the game’s first possession. After stuffing a screen pass and forcing a deep incompletion, Heisman favorite CJ Stroud completed a deep pass to convert on third down. The Buckeyes made it near the red zone, but at the 23-yard line, two consecutive runs went for no gain and Beaver Stadium forced a delay of game. Ohio State’s third and long failed to convert and the Buckeyes’ kicker Noah Ruggles secured a 3-0 advantage.

Kaytron Allen, in his first collegiate start, popped off an electric six-yard rush to start the Nittany Lions’ first drive. Consecutive passes to Parker Washington gave Penn State 15 yards and a first down. A free defensive lineman batted a pass and Sean Clifford was intercepted, gifting the Buckeyes excellent field position. Another defensive stand led to a long missed field goal, bailing out the offense and returning the ball to Penn State.

Two quick plays by the Nittany Lions gave way to another Clifford interception, this time on a short pass targeting Allen. The Buckeyes finally took full advantage of their field position, turning a start from Penn State’s 41-yard line into a three-play touchdown drive. Ohio State led 10-0 with less than three minutes left in the first quarter.

A quick offensive drive went nowhere for the Nittany Lions, as Barney Amor came out to punt for the first time all game. Ohio State responded with a three-and-out of its own to open the second quarter. Penn State received possession at its own 27-yard line.

Clifford found Washington for a 14-yard catch, but it was called back by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Brenton Strange. Four quick plays kept the Nittany Lions moving, until Clifford found Washington again down the left sideline. Washington spun out of contact and took his catch for a 58-yard touchdown. Jake Pinegar’s extra point attempt succeeded, cutting Ohio State’s lead to 10-7 with 11 minutes left in the half.

Penn State’s defense forced another three-and-out, while Beaver Stadium forced another delay of game penalty on the punt attempt. Ohio State punted from fourth and long, giving the Nittany Lions possession at the 21-yard line.

Other than a modest first-down catch from Washington, Penn State’s offense looked unremarkable. On the drive’s fifth play, Clifford faced heavy pressure and he scrambled outside. Instead of crossing the line of scrimmage though, he found Theo Johnson for an enormous 42-yard gain. Clifford followed that up with a 23-yard touchdown pass to KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The Nittany Lions took its first lead of the game, up 14-10 with less than seven minutes left in the half.

Despite starting the day run-heavy, Ohio State pivoted to the pass. The Buckeyes threw seven times on eight plays (including one nullified by defensive pass interference). Safety Keaton Ellis blew up a screen pass for a five-yard loss and on the subsequent play, Abdul Carter hurried Stroud into a nearly-intercepted throw on third and 15. Ohio State’s Ruggles converted a 37-yard field goal attempt to bring the Buckeyes within one. Penn State led 14-13 with three minutes left in the half.

Penn State was quickly put in a third-down scenario. Its offense set up Clifford for a big run, but Ohio State called a timeout to thwart the run chance. The Nittany Lions converted, but were forced to punt three plays later.

To end the half, Ohio State stretched the field. It mounted a series of four plays above 10 yards, making it all the way to Penn State’s eight-yard line. With no timeouts, Stroud spiked the ball. Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day aggressively dialed up a shot to the end zone on the final play, but Penn State cornerback Johnny Dixon broke into the backfield picking up a strip sack, ending the half.

After fumbling and recovering its own opening kickoff, Penn State was immediately put into a fourth-down situation. James Franklin opted to go for it, despite being on his own 32-yard line. Clifford’s keeper moved the chains and the Nittany Lions kept rolling. The offense took the ball all the way down to the 19-yard line, setting up a red zone fourth and two. A Nick Singleton picked up nothing and the Nittany Lions went 50% on the drive’s fourth down conversions, leaving potential points on the board.

The Buckeyes picked up a first down, but were quickly forced into another third down. Stroud overthrew an open Marvin Harrison Jr. to usher out the punt team. Penn State took over at its own 14, but also had to punt seven plays later.

Three plays consisting of two 16-yard gains and a defensive offsides penalty put Ohio State in scoring distance. Penn State’s defense only allowed eight yards and forced a field goal. Ohio State took a 16-14 lead with 10 seconds left in the third quarter.

A big pass interference call bailed out Penn State’s stalling offense and Clifford’s squad began rolling downfield. Allen picked up 14 on a big rush and Clifford connected with Washington for 26, before being held to a field goal attempt. Pinegar’s kick was stopped due to a false start and then he missed the subsequent attempt, though an Ohio State penalty allowed another opportunity. Instead, Franklin sent his offense back out for the fourth and one. A conversion led to a big pass to Tinsley down to the 1-yard line and two plays later Allen scored. Penn State led 21-16 with nine and a half minutes left in the game.

Immediately, Stroud responded with a 21-yard completion. Then, it was a 13-yard completion. Then, TreVeyon Henderson broke off a 41-yard touchdown run, deflating the Beaver Stadium crowd. An extra point gave Ohio State a 23-21 lead with less than nine minutes remaining.

Two plays into the responding drive, backup right tackle Bryce Effner was blown up and Clifford was stripped from behind. The Buckeyes retook possession and scored on the first play back on a 24-yard touchdown pass. Stroud and Cade Stover’s link gave Ohio State a 30-21 lead.

A 27-yard Allen rush drove Penn State into scoring range, but the team was ultimately forced to kick. Pinegar’s 44-yard field goal sailed through the uprights, putting the score at 30-24 Ohio State with less than six minutes remaining.

Penn State brought the pressure and forced a 3rd-and-10, but even with the major crowd noise, Stroud found his receiver for an 11-yard gain. The clock ticked down, as Penn State failed to halt the Buckeyes momentum. After some back and forth, Stroud completed a long pass to Emeka Egbuka for 42 yards, leading to first and goal. A subsequent delay of game gave the Nittany Lions some hope, but Henderson eventually scored on a 7-yard scamper. Ohio State led 37-24 with under three minutes remaining.

On Penn State’s first play back, Ohio State’s JT Tuimoloau intercepted Clifford’s pass and returned it for a 14-yard touchdown. Ohio State led 44-24 with just under two minutes left in the game.

The offense’s last gasps were ultimately futile, even after a long pass to Lambert-Smith set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to Allen. Penn State trailed 44-31, as the Buckeyes continued to run clock with under two minutes remaining. Ohio State ran the ball, eventually picking up a first down, and ended the game.

Takeaways

  • Manny Diaz’s defense came up huge. Ohio State’s running backs were nearly entirely neutralized. With confusing packages and heavy pressure, CJ Stroud was uncomfortable frequently. It was already huge, but with Sean Clifford’s two early interceptions, the fortitude of Diaz’s defense was the insulation the Nittany Lions needed to stay in it.
  • Sean Clifford threw a pair of interceptions on Penn State’s first two drives, but bounced back. He avoided pressure, changed protections, and ended the day with 371 passing yards and three touchdowns. As the game looked like it was going to get ugly, the sixth-year senior showed his poise and showed up in a big way. Still, it wasn’t enough as a fourth-quarter fumble was effectively the team’s death knell and a fourth-quarter pick six ended any hope.
  • Penn State’s offensive line played lights out for a majority of the game, but midway through the third quarter, the unit started to show cracks. Clifford faced more pressure than before and altered timings. All of a sudden, defenders were finding space in the offensive backfield and it showed up in a consequential way when Clifford was strip sacked and on the game-clinching pick six.
  • Sophomore wide receiver Parker Washington had the game of his life. With 11 catches for 179 yards, Washington converted multiple crucial conversion attempts and scored the Nittany Lions first points with an explosive 58-yard touchdown. It looked like he could not drop anything.
  • Earning his second consecutive start, true freshman linebacker Abdul Carter was a menace to Ohio State’s offensive line. He recorded a lone sack, but also picked up a critical quarterback hurry and totaled four tackles. Carter was a major factor in the Buckeyes’ discomfort for a lot of Saturday’s game.

What’s Next

Penn State will travel to Bloomington for a conference matchup with Indiana Saturday. The game’s kickoff time will be announced Sunday, with television coverage yet to be announced as well.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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