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Ohio State claws back, beats No. 2 Penn State in Columbus, 39-38

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What. A. Game.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It was seen as the game of the week in college football: The Penn State Nittany Lions, ranked No. 2, traveling to face the No. 6-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, and it was that and more.

An opening kickoff getting returned for a touchdown by Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley, and a fumble on the Buckeyes’ first offensive series put them behind the eight-ball early, and played a role in the Buckeyes’ early deficit.

Penalties were also a major contributor the Buckeyes’ struggles. Ten penalties for 79 yards—which included multiple false starts—stopped momentum. On top of that, two fumbles contributed to the struggles. Ohio State out-gained Penn State on offense, and it took until the final 1:48 for the Buckeyes to get their first lead at 39-38, and that is where the scoring ended.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett passed for 3 touchdowns—with the first one making him the Big Ten leader in that category. The late-strike to Marcus Baugh over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown with 1:48 left proved to be the difference maker. He ended the game 33-of-39 for 328 yards and four TDs, and rushed for 95 yards. Barrett finished the game completing 16 straight passes, and in the fourth quarter went 13-for-13 for 170 yards and three touchdowns, undoubtedly adding his name to the Heisman discussion.

KJ Hill led all receivers on the field with 12 catches for 102 yards. J.K. Dobbins attributed 88 yards to the cause on the ground.

The Buckeyes outgained the Nittany Lions 529-283 on offense. Penn State QB Trace McSorley went 17-of-29 for 192 yards and two TDs. Heisman trophy candidate Saquon Barkley may have run the opening kick back for a score, but on offense, he was held to 44 yards on 21 carries—but he did manage to get another TD.

Penn State had a chance to get the lead back late, but the Buckeye defense, specifically the defense line, clamped down and completely shut down quarterback Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley in the waning minutes of the game.

Ohio State outscored the No. 2 team in the country, 19-3, in the fourth quarter and now sit atop the Big Ten East. If anything, this game showed the Buckeyes have improved since the Oklahoma loss, and are the team to beat in the Big Ten.

But more importantly, OSU now controls its own destiny in the pursuit of a College Football Playoff spot.

Here’s the in-depth recap of the game:

On the opening kickoff, Barkley caught the ball on the three and cut diagonally to the far sideline. In the process of doing that, he had blockers paving the way; in fact, the way was so well paved, that OSU kicker Sean Nuernberger was the only person to even make an attempt at bringing down the Heisman Trophy candidate. When you have a Heisman contender versus a kicker, it generally doesn’t go well for the kicker. Barkley bolted right past Nuernberger and sprinted the rest of the way for a touchdown.

Fifteen seconds in, Barkley’s 97-yard kickoff return made it 7-0 nothing Penn State.

If you thought that was bad, things were about to get worse for the Buckeyes.

On the third play of their first drive, Barrett threw a screen to Parris Campbell, who picked up a solid 15 yards. However, he didn’t end the play with the ball—he got it stripped away. Penn State scooped up the loose ball and took it to the OSU 23. Five plays after that, and on a third-and-goal from the 13, McSorley through a fade pass to the southwest corner of the endzone to DaeSean Hamilton. Hamilton made the grab while covered, and brought the Nittany Lions to an early 14-0 lead.

Would the second drive go better for the Bucks? (The answer was no.)

Mike Weber lost five yards on a screen that was doomed from the start, Demetrius Knox got called for a false start, Marcus Baugh dropped an open pass, and J.T. Barrett scrambled up the middle for five yards on a third-and-20. Another three-and-out was delivered by the Buckeyes.

Luckily for OSU, PSU’s next drive stalled after six plays, but not before the Nittany Lions converted on a delayed screen on a third-and-10. On the ensuing punt, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Penn State spotted the Buckeyes 15 yards—which would come in handy.

Starting the drive at their own 42, Barrett and co. moved the ball down the field, eventually hitting the redzone. Penalties were once again a problem, as two false starts (on Isaiah Prince and K.J. Hill) stopped the momentum when things seemed to be heating up. Despite all of that, OSU had a third-and-10 from the PSU 13. However, Barrett took a sack, and the Buckeyes settled for three points.

Nuernberger’s field goal cut the deficit to 14-3, and it was the first time this season that anybody scored on Penn State in the first quarter. The Nittany Lions currently hold a 107-3 scoring advantage in the first frame of games.

The Buckeye comeback had some momentum after a three-and-out by PSU on their next drive. When OSU got back on offense, a 21-yard rush by Dobbins had the momentum needle pivoting back toward the Buckeyes’ side. But a sack, and busted screen play put Ohio State in a third and long situation. Austin Mack got six yards back on the third down reception, but the first real gamble was about to happen: Urban Meyer elected to go for it on fourth-and-8 from the PSU 25. This would be the last play of the quarter, and the Barrett would make a completion across the middle to Hill. But as soon as Hill tried to put the brakes on and make a cut move around a defender, he was grabbed by the ankle and pulled down a couple yards short of the first down marker.

After the first quarter, Penn State led 14-3.

The scoring would continue in the second quarter, as both teams traded blows.

Starting on their own 19, McSorley marched the Nittany Lions to the OSU 45 in seven plays. On the seventh, he threw an incompletion to Jonathan Holland, but a Jerome Baker pass interference call gave the visitors a fresh set of downs on the 36. The first play after the PI call, Barkley took the rush up the middle for a few yards, and then bounced to the edge—blowing past the defense with a change in direction—all the way to house. The play was reviewed, as it appeared that Barkley stepped out at the three, but there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the initial TD ruling.

Penn State pushed their lead out to 18 with 11:33 left in the half.

Ohio State needed an answer, and their next drive delivered just that. Weber opened up the drive with five and six yard rushes, respectively. The no-huddle offense was utilized heavily on the drive—and it paid off. Barrett hit a wide-open Mack for 36 yards. A two-yard rush by Weber put the Buckeyes on the 14, which allowed Barrett to break the Big Ten passing TD mark with a pass to Terry McLaurin.

The Buckeyes cut into the Nittany Lions’ lead, making the game 21-10 with 9:14 left in the half.

But, as things looked to be going Ohio State’s way, a short kick on special teams was brought 59 yards to the OSU 23 by Koa Farmer. A 14-yard completion by McSorley to Gesicki was called back because Gesicki stepped out of bounds on his own accord and touched the ball first. (That play resulted in a loss of down.)

On the next play, McSorley threw the ball to his (covered) receiver in the northwest corner of the endzone, and was picked off by Damon Webb. But hold the phone, a flag was thrown because Damon Arnette apparently held the receiver. That 15-yard penalty placed the ball on the OSU 6, which was then taken to the endzone by McSorley on the next play.

Penn State reclaimed an 18-point lead with 8:06 left.

The Buckeyes’ no-huddle offense was back on the next drive. Again, Barrett took command of the drive by keeping the ball on options or throwing it on the first seven plays of the drive. On a third-and-five from the PSU 10, Barrett took a chance in the air for a TD to Johnnie Dixon, but the pass fell incomplete. However, Dixon was grabbed in the endzone, and a pass interference call went against Penn State. Next play, Weber punched the ball in from two yards out, cutting the deficit to 28-17.

That would be all the scoring the first half, but the drama didn’t end. OSU punter Drue Chrisman bobbled a punt, but managed to get it off in the waning minutes of the half. Special teams mistakes were aplenty in the game.

Here’s what the team comparison looked like at halftime:

Stat Broadcast

Ohio State got the ball back after halftime—and they looked like a team on a mission. A 10-play drive got all the way down to the PSU 19. A no-call for defensive pass interference on third down forced the Nuernberger field goal from 36 yards out.

Now, if the Buckeyes could just catch a break, things may go their way.

[in Ron Howard narrator voice from Arrested Development: They didn’t catch a break.]

After Meyer declined a penalty that would have put PSU in a 2nd and 20 situation, McSorley converted on a third-and-10 by scrambling for 11 yards. Then on a third-and-three, Barkley picked up four.

But the absolute this-can’t-be-happening play was this one:

Initially, the play was ruled an interception by Denzel Ward. However, after a review, DeAndre Thompkins appeared to get his hand under the ball—making it a touchdown.

That bonkers drive put the Lions up 35-20. The third quarter would end with that score. That was the second OSU interception in the endzone that the officials nullified.

That would not be the end of this game’s wildness. On the first drive of the fourth quarter, a bad pull-back on a read-option by Barrett led to a fumble, and a PSU recovery. Good news, though: Penn State was about to make a goof, too. After a three-and-out, Ward got around the Nittany Lions blockers around the edge, and blocked the punt.

It was shades of last year.

With the ball on the PSU 41 after the block, Barrett atoned for his fumble. On the second play of the drive, the three-time Buckeye captain hit a wide open Dixon over the middle for a 38-yard score.

That made the score 35-27 with 11 minutes left in the game; Ohio State had to make a stop on the next drive.

But, it couldn’t be done, as McSorley converted multiple third down conversions to get the Nittany Lions on the doorstep on the endzone. Three points were pulled from the drive, making it 38-27 visitors with 5:37 left in regulation.

Now gut check time, the Buckeyes had to score—and they did just that. A five-play drive fueled behind bullet throws from Barrett, and a pass interference call on Penn State, led to a score.

Dixon hauled in a 10-yard catch in the corner of the end zone by Barrett. While the six points helped, the two-point conversion—and end-around with Dixon—came up short.

Ohio State was down 38-33, but they forced a three-and-out on Penn State, and pinned them deep in their own territory.

It was the worst of times in the beginning, but it was about to be the best of times. Penn State’s defense crumbled under the pressure, while Barrett and the Buckeyes, it seemed, had all the momentum in the college football universe behind them.

Following the punt and down five, the Buckeyes had to march from their own 42 if they wanted to take the lead.

[Again, in Howard’s narration voice: They did just that]

The hurry-up offense moved down the field utilizing chunk plays, and the exclamation point came when Baugh made the game-leading catch.

With their backs to the wall, McSorley and Barkley had to come up with something.

They didn’t.

Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, Jayln Holmes and the rest of the defense dug their feet into the ground and made the biggest stop of the season. McSorley took a sack, and fired three errant passes on the final drive—one that ended on a four-and-out.

Fox Sports called this the “greatest weekend ever.”

If you are a Buckeye fan, it was just that.

Ohio State improves to 7-1, and takes on Iowa next week in Iowa City.