Stardom isn’t always predictable. For TreVeyon Henderson, it was there in Game 1. For CJ Stroud, it was there in Game 1 of Year 2. For JT Tuimoloau, the Buckeyes’ 44-31 win over Penn State will be the game when he arrived as a star.

Tuimoloau, not only a 5-star recruit but one of the top players nationally in the 2021 recruiting class (No. 4 overall per 247sports.com), had shown flashes before. In a year and a half as a Buckeye, he had 26 tackles and 3.5 sacks. A late arrival in 2021, Tuimoloau has been a rotation player in Columbus for the most part. But that will probably be changing moving forward.

With Ohio State clinging to a 23-21 lead with 8 1/2 minutes to play, PSU QB Sean Clifford dropped to pass. He’d already been sacked once by Tuimoloau. Already had one of his passes deflected by Tuimoloau and picked by teammate Zach Harrison. Had another picked directly by Tuimoloau when he jumped a first-quarter route and showed great hands to keep the ball off the ground.

This time, the 6-4, 270-pound defensive end blew up PSU right tackle Bryce Effner, stripped Clifford and fell on the loose ball.  A play later, Ohio State made it a 2-score lead.

Later in the quarter, Penn State, trying desperately to play catch up, went to a 1st-down pass. Picked off. Tuimoloau again, and when he returned it 16 yards for a back-breaking touchdown, Ohio State had survived its toughest test of the season yet. Thanks in no small part to JT Tuimoloau.

 

The story of the game may not be told by Tuimoloau’s final numbers, impressive as they were: a career-high 6 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, a pass broken up, a fumble forced, a fumble recovered, a touchdown.

The story of the game was the way that Clifford, despite passing for 371 yards, accounted for 4 turnovers — with Tuimoloau having a hand in all of them. Ohio State was outgained in the air (371-354) and on the ground (111-98), yet won by 2 scores. Courtesy of that 4-0 turnover advantage. Courtesy of Tuimoloau.

“The game starts and ends with the turnovers,” Penn State coach James Franklin said after the loss.

“It’s all kind of a blur, the way it happened,” said Buckeyes coach Ryan Day. “But to intercept balls like that as a defensive end and get a defensive score, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before. That’s big time.”

Tuimoloau himself even seemed a little surprised.

“The last time I had a pick was my sophomore year of high school,” he admitted after the game.

The latest emerging Ohio State star patched over some trouble spots for his teammates.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba missed Saturday’s game, leaving Ohio State still a little thin at receiver. Miyan Williams left early with an injury, a recurring story at the RB spot. Ohio State’s offense never really got humming. Clifford hung in for some gutsy throws, and Penn State’s Parker Washington had about as good of a game as is humanly possible (9 catches, 179 yards and a touchdown). Ohio State trailed for about 22 minutes of Saturday’s game, which likely eclipsed the season total in that stat.

But on a week when so many things went wrong, the emergence of Tuimoloau as the team’s next great havoc creator changes the calculus for the Buckeyes moving forward. After all, even mighty Georgia and Tennessee won’t see a ton of players who equal Tuimoloau’s size, speed and raw athleticism.

On a weekend when a lot of things suddenly went wrong for Ohio State, one big thing went very right.