Ohio State has now rattled off six straight wins in the 2021 season, and five straight wins in its all-time series against Penn State.
Saturday’s 33-24 win didn’t come without bumps in the road for the Buckeyes though, as Ohio State held just a three-point lead entering the fourth quarter, and had trouble getting the ball in the end zone on offense.
But following the victory, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said he didn’t expect his team to win with style points.
“We didn’t panic, we kept swinging, and that’s what these games are gonna take,” Day said. “Now in the second half of the season, we’re 2-0, that was the goal. The goal was just to win the game. We weren’t trying to get style points in a game against Penn State, that’s not how it works. I mean you gotta just win the game, and we did that.”
With the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season on the horizon, Day said the Buckeyes’ body of work will speak for itself if they can continue knocking off the Big Ten heavy hitters remaining on their regular season schedule.
“I think when you look at college football right now, it’s about surviving and moving on, especially with the teams that we’re playing. And that’s all we can worry about,” Day said. “We’re playing some really good teams here moving forward. Going on the road next week, it’s gonna be a big challenge for us, because you gotta bring it every week, and I think that’s what you’re seeing across the board. The guys who do bring it every week are being rewarded, and we gotta do that. We gotta keep doing it.”
Day said all week leading up to the game that Ohio State anticipated a four-quarter battle against Penn State – which limited the Buckeyes to its fewest yards of total offense all season (466) – and a wire-to-wire confrontation was exactly what it got.
“Proud of our guys for working through a gritty game like this. It’s not untypical of a Penn State game, it’s not what we didn’t expect,” Day said. “I thought it would be very much like it happened. Certainly frustrating, and we’re gonna go back on this film and look at it and learn a lot from it and grow from it and pull our hair out from it, but we kept swinging away.”
Despite finishing with 152 yards and a touchdown, true freshman sensation TreVeyon Henderson had to work hard for every inch he got in the run game Saturday. Henderson had just 20 yards on his first 14 carries, and had six yards in the entire first half.
Still, Henderson said the contest tested his mettle, and that he was glad he had to put up a little more fight than usual.
“It was tough. That defense, that’s a great defense, one of the best defenses we’ve played all year,” Henderson said. “But I needed that though, to prove to myself that I’m tough and I’m capable of doing what I did tonight.”
One Buckeye that did not do much running of the ball, to the dismay of some fans, was quarterback C.J. Stroud. The redshirt freshman was not credited with a rush attempt all game, and at the post-game presser, Stroud responded to critics that have been campaigning for him to run the ball a bit more.
“People always talk about, ‘Run the ball, run the ball.’ I don’t know what it is,” Stroud said. “If it’s there, I’m gonna run. I feel like I do a good job running. But the plays that we call, I’m gonna run them to the best ability. I’m not gonna go and do my own thing, that’s how you lose games.”
Stroud finished with 305 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers on the night, and completed 22 of his 34 pass attempts. However, the California native wishes he had a couple of them back. In particular, Stroud referenced a red zone fourth-down play in which he came up well short on a pass to a wide open Chris Olave in the end zone.
“It was just my fault, just underthrew it,” Stroud said. “At the end of the day, those type of plays happen. There’s other plays in the drive that we could’ve scored on, we just didn’t. It’s all about just keep going, the game of football is never perfect. Of course, do I want that back? Hell yeah. But I’m never gonna get it back.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the second quarter touchdown scored by Buckeye defensive tackle Jerron Cage. The veteran lineman scooped up a Sean Clifford fumble following a sack by Tyreke Smith and jetted 57 yards to the end zone to put Ohio State ahead 17-7 after the extra point.
It was the sixth defensive touchdown of the season for the Buckeyes, and third-year safety Ronnie Hickman said it’s becoming so routine that the Ohio State defenders actually discuss before each game who they think will score in the forthcoming contest.
“It’s huge. Whenever we can steal points, we want to do that,” Hickman said. “The guys, we talk about it before the games. You know, who’s gonna be the one to get it, who’s gonna be the one to score? Jerron Cage was the one to do it today, so we’re super happy and proud for him."
However, no Buckeyes mentioned Cage as a potential touchdown-scorer ahead of Saturday night’s matchup with the Nittany Lions.
“Nah,” Hickman said with a laugh. “No one said his name. But hey, we’re gonna take it.”