Rapid Reaction: Ohio State finishes strong to silence Penn State in a 44-31 victory
CJ Stroud keeps proving he can carry Ohio State.
He did so again Saturday in a monumental test against Penn State, and he did so despite being held without a touchdown pass until midway through the 4th quarter.
Stroud carved up the Lions outside of the red zone, which eventually set up a 41-yard touchdown run by TreVeyon Henderson in the fourth quarter that sent the No. 2 Buckeyes to an eventual 44-31 victory.
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After Penn State sent its Striped Out home crowd into a frenzy by taking a 21-16 lead, the Buckeyes responded with 2 scores in 34 seconds to knock the noise back several decibels.
Henderson’s run followed 2 Stroud completions and capped a 3-play, 75-yard drive.
Two plays later, the defensive star of the game, defensive end JT Tuimoloau, stripped Sean Clifford and recovered the ball. On the next play, Stroud finally broke his TD pass drought, hitting tight end Cade Stover for 24 yards.
Just like that, Penn State’s 5-point lead became a 9-point deficit.
What had the makings of a major upset that would shake up the Big Ten East and the College Football Playoff races looked like it wasn’t to be, although the Nittany Lions were not done.
Penn State moved the ball and rallied within 6 points at 30-24 with a long field goal from shaky kicker Jake Pinegar, who bizarrely had set up his team’s previous touchdown by missing 2 FG attempts.
Ohio State (8-0, 5-0) sealed the deal with a 2nd Henderson TD run with 2:52 remaining. Stroud made big-time throws to keep the drive alive, and Henderson finished from 7 yards out.
At that point, Stroud was 26-of-33 for 354 yards, with favorite target Marvin Harrison Jr. at 10 catches for 185 yards. Both looked like NFL stars in the making.
Speaking of stars in the making, the 6-4, 270-pound Tuimoloau snared a 2nd interception and took it to the house to end any remaining drama. In the 1st quarter, the agile big man batted one Clifford pass to set up a Zach Harrison interception, then later jumped a short route by Kaytron Allen and showed amazingly good hands to keep the ball off the ground for a pick. At the time, Ohio State didn’t make the most of the positive field position, getting a touchdown off 1 of the turnovers but missing a long field goal on the other.
The loss marks the last major hurrah for Penn State 6th-year quarterback Sean Clifford, who did lead the Lions to a late touchdown and finished 32-of-47 for 371 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also threw 3 picks.
Penn State (6-2, 3-2) now must try to regroup and win out for a 10-win regular season. After battling the Buckeyes like they did, the Lions should be favored in their final 4 games.
Ohio State will be playing for bigger stakes, and shouldn’t face a serious challenge until hosting Michigan on the final weekend of the regular season.
Up next for Ohio State
One week after traveling to face a huge crowd and a ranked league foe, the Buckeyes hit the road in the opposite direction for a sleepy morning kickoff at B1G doormat Northwestern (1-6, 1-3 entering its game Saturday at Iowa). Noise won’t be a factor in that one.
Up next for Penn State
The Nittany Lions also take a step down in opponent’s class next Saturday when they travel to face B1G East cellar dweller Indiana (3-5, 1-4), which will come off a bye riding a 5-game losing streak.