UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – There were several occasions in Saturday night’s game at Beaver Stadium where Penn State appeared to be in control of the contest, and Ohio State could have felt down and out.
In the second quarter, when Penn State went up 13-0 after K.J. Hamler burned the Buckeyes defense for the second 93-yard touchdown allowed by Ohio State in two weeks.
In the fourth quarter, when Dwayne Haskins was stopped on a 4th-and-1 run with Penn State up leading 20-14 with just over 10 minutes to play. When just over two minutes later, the Nittany Lions went up 26-14 after a seven-play, 52-yard touchdown drive, and a win looked even more improbable.
Down 26-21 with just 4:35 to play, when the Buckeyes were pinned back at their 4-yard line, leaving 96 yards to the end zone for a touchdown they absolutely had to score.
But the Buckeyes never folded.
They came back from their 13-0 first-half deficit, with J.K. Dobbins scoring touchdowns late in the first half and on the opening possession of the second half, to take a 14-13 lead in the third quarter.
“The first half was awful in a lot of ways,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “But the halftime adjustments, give coaches credit now, they did a good job.”
They kept the game alive on their second-to-last offensive possession, with Binjimen Victor scoring a 47-yard touchdown to cut Penn State’s lead from two scores to one.
“Ben Victor changed the whole dynamic of that game,” Meyer said. “When he went in now, you’re looking at a one-score game.”
And they won the game on their final offensive possession, driving all 96 yards to the end zone – capping an eight-play drive with K.J. Hill scoring a 24-yard touchdown – to take a 27-26 lead that they would not relinquish for the final two minutes and three seconds of the game.
“Defense gives the ball back to the offense, even though it’s way down deep in there, and then one of the great drives in Ohio State history,” Meyer said.
Ohio State could have doubted its ability to come back and win the game, but it didn’t, and as a result, the Buckeye came back from a multi-score deficit to defeat Penn State for the second year in a row, turning the tables from a loss in Happy Valley two years ago.
“It’s satisfying to see guys just fight,” Meyer said. “That sideline was not giving up.”
The Buckeyes knew they could claw their way back into the game, and find a way to win Saturday, because they had done it before. Just last year, the Buckeyes were down by 15 points to the Nittany Lions entering the fourth quarter at Ohio Stadium before scoring three touchdowns in the final frame to pull out a 39-38 win.
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins said director of sports performance Mickey Marotti reminded them about that on the sideline before their game-winning drive.
“Coach Mick said to us on the last drive, 'Remember last year. We played Penn State at home,'” Haskins said. “That was the memory we had going into the last drive.”
“It’s satisfying to see guys just fight. That sideline was not giving up.”– Urban Meyer on Saturday night's comeback win
Right tackle Isaiah Prince, a senior who struggled mightily against Penn State two years ago but has since emerged as one of the Buckeyes’ top leaders and top players, said he and his other teammates drew on their past experiences in big games to handle the adversity they faced Saturday night.
“We’ve been in situations like this before, so nothing new to us,” Prince said. “We just looked each other in the eye, and just know that we do it for each other.”
Multiple players referenced the Buckeyes’ “brotherhood” as being the ultimate factor that kept them together despite all the hurdles they had to clear in Saturday night’s game.
“Our brotherhood’s so strong,” Hamilton said. “There is no breaking us, really. None of us lost faith about the whole thing, so that’s really what brings us together. We understand one another. We know we can pull out anything.”
Saturday night’s win was only one win in a long season for the Buckeyes, but it was certainly a big win. The winner of the game between Ohio State and Penn State has gone on to win the Big Ten in each of the past two years, and the Nittany Lions could very well be the Buckeyes’ top competition in the division again. In Ohio State’s quest to repeat as conference champions and return to the College Football Playoff, there might not be a tougher test than Saturday’s game in State College.
Of course, the threat of a letdown now looms, considering that the Buckeyes suffered a 55-24 loss at Iowa one week after their comeback win against Penn State last year. But while the Buckeyes were in a celebratory mood, as they should have been, after Saturday’s win, they also understood that they had to turn the page quickly to prepare for next Saturday’s game against Indiana at Ohio Stadium (4 p.m., FOX).
“Happy we won, but we got to keep going,” Dobbins said. “We got more games to play. We just got to keep building. We going to move past this. We won the game, time to move on.”