For the second week in a row, things were ugly for the Buckeye running game as, for the second week in a row, they failed to run for at least 100 yards.
On the other hand, Ohio State's defense was stellar once again, keeping the game in hand while the offense figured things out and ultimately poured on the points late.
Let's break it down.
TL;DR: JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM
Ohio State scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, which is nothing to shake a stick at, and there were some standout performances along the way.
C.J. Stroud had another good but not exceptional day, at least if you look at his day solely through the lens of "was this a Heisman-worthy performance," while J.T. Tuimoloau looked worthy of national acclaim, having a hand in the team's four turnovers, including a scoop six to seal the game for the Buckeyes. The one they call "Route Man Marv" wasn't too bad, either, and neither was Ronnie Hickman.
HOW IT WENT DOWN
If you're a fan of seeing a team pound the rock down opposing defenses' throats for 60 minutes, Ohio State has probably given you an ulcer these past two weeks. Against the vaunted Iowa defense, they ran for a terrifyingly low 66 yards; against Penn State's equally functional unit, they managed only 98.
It certainly isn't the kind of balanced output Ohio State has long preached, and one would suspect that it's given the boys in Maize and Blue plenty to giggle about as they lick their chops in anticipation of the teams' season-ending battle.
Stroud completed 79% of his 33 pass attempts for 354 yards and one touchdown, with Marvin Harrison Jr., once again going wild, hauling in 10 catches on 12 targets for 185 yards.
Cade Stover, who looked a little rough as a blocker early, came on strong in the passing game, hauling in all six of his targets for 78 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown midway through the fourth that extended Ohio State's lead to nine points.
Ryan Day said after the game that he didn't have any immediate answers about what's plaguing the run game, but he surely missed Miyan Williams in the contest after half of his one-two punch went out early with an injury. Henderson turned it on late with two scores in the fourth, but 41 of his 78 yards came on one of those touchdowns, grossly inflating his 4.9 yards per carry average.
One issue for Ohio State to ponder is its third-down conversion percentage. Against Penn State, the Buckeyes only managed to convert four of 12 third-down attempts.
- Marvin Harrison Jr.: Here we are again, talking about the best wide receiver in the country.
- Cade Stover: This didn't feel like Stover's day early, but as with the rest of the team, he turned it on when it mattered.
With its win today, Ohio State has now scored 40+ points in seven straight games. That's the longest streak by any Big Ten team since 1936, per @ESPNStatsInfo.— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) October 29, 2022
Also, JT Tuimoloau is 1 of 3 players over the last 15 seasons with 2 sacks, FF, FR, INT & a TD in one game.
The old saying is that defense wins championships; it remains to be seen if that will be the case for this Ohio State team, but suffice it to say that defense has been winning ballgames for the Buckeyes, or at the very least, keeping them in position to win ballgames.
Heading to Happy Valley, the Buckeyes had the No. 2 offense in the country according to SP+, and the No. 5 defense (Penn State has the No. 9 defense, FWIW... and in case you're wondering, SP+ predicted a 13.8-point Buckeye victory on a neutral field, which illustrates why it's a metric the Debriefing likes quite a lot).
Ryan Day said after the game that J.T. Tuimoloau had been one of this team's unsung heroes through the first half of the season. After his all-time heroics versus Penn State, he'll no longer be unsung.
FBS players this century with 2 INT, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the same game:— Jason Starrett (@starrettjason) October 29, 2022
J.T. Tuimoloau today vs. Penn State
Add to that his six total tackles, three of which were for a loss, and two sacks, and there's no question who the Ohio State player of the game was this week. He and Zach Harrison were an absolute force up front, keeping Penn State from establishing any offensive rhythm.
Although Penn State ultimately accumulated 482 yards of total offense, the takeaways, sacks, and tackles for loss made the difference in the game.
- J.T. Tuimoloau: Four turnovers in a game is legendary.
- Tyleik Williams: He didn't have J.T.'s stat line, but he was a monster in the middle, with five total tackles, a TFL, and a sack to his credit.
- Tommy Eichenberg: Paced the team with 15 total tackles, including 10 that were credited as solo tackles. Though he'd probably trade all 15 of those takedowns to have made that one stop at the goal line to save Penn State from scoring in the fourth quarter.
DID THE DEFENSE SUCK 30% LESS THAN LAST SEASON?
At this point in the season, you know the deal: The Debriefing doesn't believe Ohio State's revamped defense needs to be among the Top 5 in the country to win titles. With Ohio State's offense, Jim Knowles doesn't need to turn the Silver Bullets into the '85 Bears, they just need to suck 30% less than they did last season.
The benchmark for comparison is that last season's defense coughed up an average of 372.9 yards and 22.8 points per game. Abysmal. We continue to track if the defense is meeting that goal each week and we'll circle up at the end of the season to see if "The 30% Hypothesis" holds water.
Ohio State allowed 482 yards of total offense, which is in no way better than the average they allowed last season, nor is allowing them to score 31 points. BUT, given that the team has recorded 10 turnovers in two games? Hey, that sure seems like a defense that is much, much better than it was last season.
VERDICT: A resounding YES. This defense is actually one of the top five in the country, according to SP+, not to mention the turnover stat.
Eight games into the season, we're also taking stock of the unit's total body of work, not just the game-to-game variations. As noted, last year, the Buckeye defense allowed 372.9 yards and 22.8 points per game; through eight games this season, they've allowed just 270.1 yards and 16.9 points per game.
That is an astounding year-over-year improvement. Penn State bent the curve with 31 points scored, the most Ohio State has allowed this season, but that doesn't diminish the importance of the defense's performance to the fact that the Buckeyes remain undefeated.
JIM TRESSEL'S LEAST FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE GAME
Coach Tressel got out of bed feeling energized Saturday morning. Still buzzing from his visit to South Bend to spend time with former players Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis, Tressel spent part of the morning reaching out to other branches of his coaching tree, including Luke Fickell, now the winningest coach in University of Cincinnati history.
After writing another chapter of his upcoming book on the tremendous fly-fishing destinations in North America, he went for a jog, washed the car, inventoried his winter socks, and sat down just in time for the opening kick from Happy Valley.
He was quite impressed with Ohio State's defense after seeing it record two interceptions early in the contest and wasn't overly worried when Noah Ruggles missed a 53-yard field goal attempt. "Shake it off. Nobody makes 'em all, son," he thought to himself.
As the first half drew to a close, he felt confident Ohio State would take the lead into the locker room on a Ruggle chipshot from the eight with six seconds on the clock. He just shook his head when it became clear that Day intended to go for it instead.
When a pair of Penn State defenders raced into the backfield, essentially unblocked, he hung his head. As Gus Johnson shouted Johnny Dixon's name for the sack, Tressel looked over to Lady Ellen as his face raced through the stages of grief.
"Stone the crows, will they never learn to take the points when they're right there in front of them?" he said. Ellen wisely offered to make a pot of tea and suggested he practice tying some Blue-winged Olives or maybe a Parachute Adams to take his mind off things.
Life affords no higher pleasure than that of surmounting difficulties. - Samuel Johnson#QuietTime— Jim Tressel (@JimTressel5) October 28, 2022
IT WAS OVER WHEN
...TreVeyon Henderson punched it in from seven yards out to put Ohio State up 37-24 with just under three minutes left to play. The Buckeye defense was playing well enough – they would add a defensive score on the very next Penn State play, in fact – that two scores in as many minutes weren't going to happen for the Nittany Lions.
Ohio State survived and advanced and looks ahead to a string of battered Big Ten opponents before hosting "That Team Up North" for all the marbles.
UP NEXT: Ohio State travels to the suburbs of the Windy City to face the Northwestern Wildcats, a team that Iowa just defeated by 20 points. I say again, a team that Iowa just defeated by 20 points. So whatever demons Ryan Day decides to exorcise this week, it's likely to be a long afternoon for the 1-7 Wildcats. Kickoff is again at noon on ABC.
- #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