This was the first trip into a truly hostile environment for this young Ohio State squad, and you could certainly tell. Ohio State was able to ride their interior rush game, and added enough timely defense top grab a 17-0 lead, but a total offensive meltdown in the second half let Penn State claw back into the game, tying it with 9 seconds left on a Sam Ficken 31 yard field goal. Bill Belton plunged into the endzone in the first overtime to give Penn State their first lead of the game, but J.T Barrett led a punishing run game across two overtimes to jumpstart Ohio State's offense just enough to win.
Ezekiel Elliot paced the Buckeye offense early, with 76 yards on 14 carries in the first half alone, already surpassing what Penn State typically gives up in rushing yards for an entire game. J.T Barrett added a 1 yard touchdown pass to Jeff Heuerman, and Vonn Bell added an athletic, if highly questionable after looking at the replay, interception to set up Ohio State's first touchdown.
Penn State's line put up a valiant effort, but didn't have the depth or the ability to provide much of a running game, or to protect Christian Hackenberg, who finished 10-16 for only 67 yards and a pick in the first half. From there, Ohio State's ground mostly to a halt, as Barrett was pressured like he was against Virginia Tech, and the Buckeyes were unable to effectively attack Penn State downfield.
However ineffective Ohio State was moving the ball, Penn State was even worse, scoring their first touchdown on a pick six from Barrett to open the second half, and then adding a 24 yard touchdown pass after Barrett threw his second interception in the 4th quarter to pull the Nittany Lions within 17-14.
After an Ohio State drive stalled near midfield after a questionable wildcat call, Penn State started a drive inside their own one yard line with 8:00 left to go in the game, but the Nittany Lions stalled out after a few first downs and had to punt near the five minute mark, giving Ohio State the ball near midfield. Ohio State went three and out, punted and pinned Penn State inside their own 10 with three minutes to go, forcing the Nittany Lions to drive the length of the field, which they almost did.
3 things we learned
1) Ohio State's special teams are special. Heading into the game, the Buckeyes led the country in field position differential. Today was no different. The Buckeyes had an average field position of their own 39 yard line in the first half, while Penn State averaged a start on their own 20. The Buckeyes also drilled a 49 yard field goal in the first half, although they missed a similar kick later in the game. Being able to constantly flip the field and give yourselves a short field puts a young offense into better positions to succeed. A bad punt return decision by Jalin Marshall hurt that final margin a bit, but two huge punts pinned Penn State inside their own 10 yard line as they attempted drives to take the lead. It wasn't quite enough to prevent overtime, but this unit did everything it needed to do to win the game.
2) Ohio State's defense? Pretty good! Sure, Penn State isn't Baylor. Yes, Penn State's depth has been wrecked by sanctions. But this is still a team with a lot of pride, with a probable NFL-caliber quarterback, and with some solid talent at wideout. Ohio State completely bottled up the Nittany Lion offense, pressuring Hackenberg all game, grabbing two critical interceptions (one setting up the first touchdown), and had Penn State under 100 total yards under Hackenberg threw a 24 yard touchdown with 11 minutes left, and that touchdown drive started in Ohio State territory thanks to a Barrett pick.
3) This is a talented, but still really young team. Ohio State's offense had been running through the last four weeks like an angry Death Star, but against a talented Penn State defense and in front of over 100,000 angry, white-clad fans, the entire unit turned in a Virginia Tech-like performance. The offensive line struggled in pass protection, leading Barrett to make a few questionable decisions. Ohio State's playcalling turned Ted Cruz-level conservative, and when the team actually did try to attack Penn State downfield, Barrett missed the throws, or threw interceptions. Ohio State's defense and special teams played more than well enough to win, but this offense imploded so badly that a bad Penn State team was able to climb back into the game and force OT. That's not good enough to beat Michigan State or be a playoff contending team.