It wasn't a Picasso but No. 2 Ohio State passed its first real road test of the season in come-from-behind fashion, overcoming a 21-16 fourth quarter deficit to run away from No. 13 Penn State, 44-31, yesterday afternoon in a vociferous Beaver Stadium.
Defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau turned in a performance for the ages including a pick six to ice the game while quarterback C.J. Stroud's connections with top receiving target Marvin Harrison Jr. accounted fo more than half of Ohio State's passing yards.
The win improved Ohio State to 8-0 on the season and its next two contests, at least, should provide ample opportunity to work on finding answers for an ailing ground game, special teams gaffes and a gaping hole at one cornerback spot.
Before we dig into next week's roadie against a bad Northwestern team, here are Five Things from Ohio State's rally in Happy Valley.
DRIVE THE LANE LIKE I WAS COLERIDGE BERNARD
Okay, that header's a reach but Ill Communication is on in the background and while C.J. Stroud wasn't perfect yesterday, he was pretty damn good in the first true hostile environment since Ann Arbor last year, especially when Ohio State needed him most.
Stroud finished the day completing 26 of 33 throws for 354 yards and a touchdown. Even with one drop, his 79% completion rate on the road against a decent defense stands out.
With Ohio State trailing at the half, Stroud connected on 11-of-14 passes across the final two quarters for 175 yards including a 24-yard touchdown toss to Cade Stover giving the Buckeyes a 30-21 lead with 8:17 left in regulation.
The Stover connection was bookended by 75-yard touchdown drives as Stroud led the Buckeyes to the end zone on three straight fourth quarter possessions, turning a 21-16 Penn State lead into a 37-24 OSU cushion in a span of seven minutes.
On the road where turnovers are magnified, Stroud didn't throw an interception or lose a fumble for the first time since week three against Toledo and he also tucked and ran three times for 17 yards.
The end of the first half was a train wreck but that wasn't all on him. He definitely needed to slide his protection pre-snap and double-pumping with only six seconds on the clock is a huge no-no but Ohio State's three delay of game penalties don't fall solely at Stroud's feet. Overall, it was clutch performance from the guy Ohio State counts on the most.
Defensive end Zach Harrison has been on fire the last few weeks, including another strong showing yesterday but his fellow defensive end, J.T. Tuimoloau, stole the show against the Nittany Lions, completely devastating any chances James Franklin's squad had at pulling an upset.
Tuimoloau generated an inarguable top-five performance by a Buckeye defender, certainly a top-five effort from an OSU defensive lineman as he went off for six tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions including a pick six, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Holy hell that's a lot of commas but hey, that's a lot of production.
It felt like Tuimoloau was close to taking another big step forward - he'd been in the backfield a ton lately - particularly on the pass rush. That said, entering yesterday's game, he had nine tackles, just one sack and a useful though unspectacular four tackles for loss in 187 snaps, which was the most among OSU's defensive ends and second-most among all Buckeye defensive linemen so far this season.
His quarterback pressure to force a fumble and then recover it set up Stroud's touchdown pass to Stover on the next play to make it 30-21 good guys and his interception two possessions later gave OSU a 44-24 lead with less than three minutes to play.
For his part, Harrison contributed four stops and a quarterback hurry, plus an interception off a Tuimoloau pass breakup on Penn State's opening drive.
With Tuimoloau and Harrison doing work, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford never could get comfortable in the pocket as he three three picks and lost a fumble.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN
I'm pretty sure Marvin Harrison Jr. is not from this planet.
Already drawing praise as the best receiver in college football, Harrison logged career highs with 10 receptions (on 12 targets) for 185 yards against an athletic Nittany Lions secondary.
Harrison was lethal on third down as Stroud hit him four times in five tries for 74 yards, moving the chains on all four completions. The first, a 37-yard strike on 3rd-and-10 set up an OSU field goal on the game's first possession. The last, a 12-yard hookup via a slant route on 3rd-and-10, paved the way for TreVeyon Henderson's 7-yard touchdown run making it 37-24 Buckeyes with 2:52 left in regulation.
The fact Harrison was continuously able to gain separation was impressive as Penn State essentially knew where the ball was going considering fellow wideout Emeka Egbuka struggled to get open down the field (6 rec, 53 yds) save one important 42-yard vertical strike while Julian Fleming finished with a modest two catches for 27 yards.
With his big day, Harrison inched past Egbuka for the team lead in receptions with 48 and he's now just five yards behind him with 783. Even though Harrison didn't find the end zone versus Penn State, his 10 receiving touchdowns are still three clear of Egbuka.
After Iowa completely took away Ohio State's run game last weekend, the hope was the Buckeyes would find some room to run against a less stout Penn State front.
The Buckeyes did fare better but there was hardly reason to be ecstatic as the run game finished with 98 rushing yards on 4.6 per carry.
Penn State completely took away the run in the first half holding Ohio State to 30 yards on 2.1 per attempt. That average only increased to 3.6 per carry when sack-adjusted. Frankly, the right side of the line looked overmatched at times. Matthew Jones struggled to consistently win one-on-one matchups and I'm not sure Dawand Jones played to his standard either. Throw in Cade Stover's own troubles as a blocker yesterday and it was tough sledding.
To their credit, the Buckeyes did look a little better after halftime, running for 68 yards on 5.7 per pop as TreVeyon Henderson carried it eight times for 59 yards over the final two quarters with two touchdowns. Of course, 41 of Henderson's yards came on one perfectly executed touchdown run giving OSU a 23-21 lead with 8:51 to play. Not to take that snap away however outside of Henderson's long scoring jaunt, Ohio State rushed for 57 yards on 25 carries, or 2.3 per attempt.
Ohio State is averaging 2.9 yards per carry over the last two contests as Iowa and Penn State held the Buckeyes to 164 yards on 56 carries.
Hey that's great it was enough to beat these two programs but against Michigan and/or a college football playoff semifinalist, that's probably not going to cut it.
And even with some of the difficulties winning one-on-one matchups, the playcalling is also a contributing factor. Being stubborn, and therefore predictable, isn't paying off.
WE SEE YOU, RONNIE
Safety Tanner McCalister snagged some headlines last weekend after his two interception performance against Iowa gave him a team-high three on the season and of course fellow safety Lathan Ransom is having the best season of all the guys in the secondary.
That said, yesterday in Happy Valley, McCalister didn't appear to have his best day and Ransom saw a KeAndre Lambert-Smith touchdown catch cross in front of him.
For his part, safety Ronnie Hickman seemed dialed in from the jump posting six tackles and three pass breakups while forcing a fumble that of course Penn State recovered near the goal line. In run support, three of his six stops held Penn State rushers to just 1-yard gains.
As good as McCalister and Ransom have been over the course of the season, Hickman, like last year, is proving an indispensable defender and leader. Nobody in Ohio State's secondary has played more snaps this season and only Tommy Eichenberg has logged more on that side of the ball.
With Ohio State's currently gigantic issue at one cornerback spot, having three effective safeties is even more important.
- #2 Ohio State 44, # 13 Penn State 31
- • Buckeyes Survive Scare in Happy Valley
- • Offense Answers Bell in Crunch Time
- • An All-Time Great Performance
- • Tuimoloau is a Turnover Machine
- • Ohio State Postgame • Photos • Notebook • Quotebook • Debriefing
- • Penn State Postgame • Social Reax • 3 Key Stats • Five Things