Ohio State Offense Answers the Bell in Crunch Time After Slow Start, Scores Three Straight Touchdowns in Fourth-Quarter Comeback At Penn State

By Griffin Strom on October 29, 2022 at 6:29 pm
TreVeyon Henderson, C.J. Stroud

The Ohio State offense was sleep-walking through the first three quarters on Saturday. When the upset alarm rang loudest, though, the Buckeyes jolted awake – and they didn’t nod off after that.

Ohio State, which possessed the No. 2 scoring offense in the country entering the weekend (49.6 points per game), had mustered only 16 against Penn State with less than 10 minutes to play in Happy Valley. Penn State had just taken a 21-16 lead at home, and the Buckeyes weren’t inspiring much confidence in their ability to retake control.

By that point, Ohio State had scored just one touchdown on nine possessions, C.J. Stroud had yet to pass for a touchdown and the Buckeye ground game had run for all of 37 yards on 19 attempts. Ohio State got Noah Ruggles into field-goal range on plenty of occasions, but with a five-point deficit and time ticking away, three points weren’t going to cut it.

Then, as if Ryan Day snapped his fingers to switch his offense back on, Ohio State scored 14 points on its next four offensive plays, racking up 99 combined yards in just 44 seconds between two drives. Penn State scored twice after that, but so did the Buckeyes, who finished with 28 points in the final frame alone to avoid catastrophe and remain undefeated.

“I'd say it was crazy, but we expect when we play this game here to be that way. You think about our game in '18 here, the game we played in '17 back in our place, it comes down to the fourth quarter,” Day said after the 44-31 win. “We knew that was going to be the case. A lot of things in the first half that we wish that we had done better – there's no question – but that's playing football, and that's competing. … It doesn't come easy. But that being said, very proud of the way the team played, especially in the fourth quarter. I thought C.J. Stroud was unbelievable in the fourth quarter, how he played.”

Ohio State had plenty of time to erase a five-point Penn State lead when it got the ball back with 9:26 to play. But the Buckeyes’ deficiencies in the run game made it feel like Stroud would have to provide the spark through the air. 

Miyan Williams, who had scored the lone touchdown of the game for Ohio State at that point, left the game with injuries at the end of the first quarter after just two carries. TreVeyon Henderson accrued just 23 rushing yards on his first 11 carries, with six attempts going for no gain or a loss. Just one game prior, Ohio State had its second-lowest total of rush yards in a single game since 2011, and it appeared to be on its way to an even lower output against Penn State. 

Thus, Stroud fired a pass to his most reliable weapon all day on the first play of the Buckeyes’ opening possession of the fourth quarter. Marvin Harrison Jr., who finished with a career-high 185 yards on 10 catches, picked up 21 to start things off. Then Stroud hit Emeka Egbuka for a 13-yard gain on the next play.

With Penn State on its heels and expecting the pass, Day dialed up a shotgun handoff to Henderson, who finally found room to bust into the second level. Only, he didn’t stop there, as the sophomore rusher went 41 yards to break the plane and put Ohio State back on top.

Ohio State had some help from its defense after that, as J.T. Tuimoloau forced and recovered a Sean Clifford fumble on the second play of the ensuing Penn State drive to set the Buckeyes back up at the Nittany Lion 24-yard-line. This time, it only took the Buckeyes one play – a whopping nine seconds – to return to the end zone.

Cade Stover threw a block at the line of scrimmage before slipping past the defender to streak into the middle of the field uncovered. Stroud hit the Buckeye tight end at the 18-yard-line, and Stover cut left-to-right to leave three Nittany Lion defenders leaping for his ankles as he shed every would-be-tackler to score.

“J.T.T. was off the charts, and Marvin Harrison. But it was everybody. Cade Stover, what can you say about that run he had? Clutch,” Day said. “And just the way that we played in that fourth quarter was tremendous. I'm proud of our guys.”

While Ohio State had unequivocally turned the tides with the touchdown from Stover, Penn State’s flame was not yet extinguished. A Nittany Lion field goal kept the game well within reach, with the Buckeyes leading by six with 5:49 to play, and Penn State only needed a stop to have a chance to retake the lead.

"Do we want to play perfect? Yeah. Do we want to win by four touchdowns? Yeah. But the expectation coming in here has to be to win, and that's what we did.”– Ryan Day

It couldn’t get one. Stroud and company engineered another clutch drive, taking nearly three minutes of precious time off the clock before punching in another touchdown from Henderson. Before the seven-yard scoring run, Stroud hit Harrison for gains of 12 and 16 yards and connected with Egbuka – who had negative total yardage on his first four catches on the day – for a vital 41-yard pickup deep into Penn State territory.

Henderson's second score put Penn State down 13 with less than three minutes to operate, and an interception return touchdown by Tuimoloau just 15 seconds later put the nail in the coffin.

“I think we're a fourth-quarter type of team, at least we try to be,” Stroud said. “So we worked for that in the offseason, pushing sleds, lifting weights with Coach Mick.”

Through three quarters, the Buckeye offense had just 263 yards of total offense and 16 points. Take away the Tuimoloau touchdown, and Ohio State still got 21 points from its offense in the final quarter and racked up 189 yards. On the ground, the Buckeyes had 24 more yards in the final frame alone than it had at the start of the fourth quarter.

Ohio State had to play catch-up amid its second straight slow start on offense, and it got going even later Saturday than it did against Iowa. But facing its most formidable opponent of the season so far, and on the road at Beaver Stadium no less, the Buckeyes showed the type of resolve necessary to beat the 13th-ranked team in the country during an imperfect performance.

“Some things certainly we want better, but at the end of the day, great to get a win. When we go into these games, the expectation is to win,” Day said. “I know that's not everybody's expectation. That's alright. Do we want to play perfect? Yeah. Do we want to win by four touchdowns? Yeah. But the expectation coming in here has to be to win, and that's what we did.”

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