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Ohio State’s dominant defensive line and ever-improving secondary was too much for Penn State

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The Buckeyes created enough negative plays to shut down Saquon Barkley and company when it mattered.

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

The Buckeyes prevailed Saturday afternoon in one of the wildest matchups you’ll ever watch. J.T. Barrett was nearly perfect in leading the offense back from an 18-point deficit, while the defense held the Nittany Lions to just 10 second-half points. Some defensive notes from the back-and-forth affair:

  • The No. 1 goal for the defense was obvious: stop, or at least contain, Heisman-frontrunner Saquon Barkley. A game-opening kick-return touchdown wasn’t exactly what the Buckeyes had in mind, but Barkley only managed 44 yards on 21 carries with 36 of those yards coming on his lone offensive touchdown. By limiting Barkley to just 0.4 yards per carry on 20 of his 21 carries, Ohio State kept Penn State from killing the clock and putting this game out of reach.
  • The Buckeyes tied a season high with 13 (!!!) tackles for a loss Saturday. Penn State’s seven third-down conversions in 15 tries was less than ideal, but the Buckeyes’ ability to consistently force negative plays helped shut down drives before they could get started.
  • Other than a terrible questionable overturned Denzel Ward interception that resulted in a 37-yard touchdown, the Silver Bullets only allowed one pass over 20 yards. Even that was a contested 22-yard fade to stud tight end 6’6” Mike Gesicki. The Buckeyes secondary was a massive red flag to start the year, but the corners and safeties have grown up and held Trace McSorley to his second-worst game of the season through the air.

The Nittany Lions turned two massive kick returns and an early Ohio State fumble into 21 points. Their other two offensive touchdowns each came after Buckeye interceptions were overturned. Let’s go over some of the standout performances that helped Ohio State rise to the top of the Big Ten.

Ohio State’s defensive backs made their presence felt in the run game

While the Buckeye corners struggled to slow down Indiana and Oklahoma’s passing attacks, they’ve remained solid tacklers against the run all season. Denzel Ward is an assassin, and Kendall Sheffield packs a punch at 6’0”, 185 pounds. Jordan Fuller has emerged as the Buckeyes latest stud safety, and Damon Webb has continued to rebound in his second full season as a starter. Still, the defense hadn’t faced anyone near Barkley’s caliber, and missed tackles on the perimeter are the easiest way to give up massive plays.

Ohio State’s linebackers did a great job flowing sideline-to-sideline all game, but it was the defensive backs who forced numerous big plays in the third quarter that helped keep the Nittany Lions rushing game grounded:

Barkley may have looked ridiculous bouncing back from holes and attempting to reverse field all game — but that’s what happens when big-time players have no room to run and they’re used to making bonkers plays on a weekly basis. The Buckeye defensive backs were patient and anticipated the ball coming back their way all game. Their ability to finish tackles and put the Nittany Lions in third-and-longs was crucial during the third quarter.

One-shining moment for the Buckeyes special teams

The Buckeyes were absolutely brutal on special teams for most of the game. While Ohio State is yet to allow a punt return yard this season, the kickoff unit continued to be an issue by allowing 97- and 59-yard returns Saturday. Still, much like Penn State from a season ago, the Buckeyes were able to swing the momentum of the game with a huge blocked punt courtesy of Ward:

Leaving the fastest Buckeye on the team unblocked was a peculiar decision, but Ward did a great job ultimately blocking the kick, and Dante Booker managed to snag the ball to give Ohio State new life following Barrett’s potentially back-breaking fumble.

Ohio State’s knockout punch is their defensive line

The Buckeyes defensive line regularly swarmed both Barkley and McSorley in the backfield, holding the Nittany Lions to just 2.6 yards per carry on the day. Jalyn Holmes and Dre’Mont Jones each recorded a sack, while Sam Hubbard and Robert Landers each picked up multiple tackles for a loss. Nick Bosa didn’t stand out on the stat sheet, but Urban Meyer was quick to point out the coaches credited him with seven quarterback hurries.

The defensive line made a mirage of big plays on the team’s final two drives, defeating any potential for a Nittany Lions’ comeback:

The Buckeyes goal on defense has been to combine a ferocious pass rush with tight-man coverage on the backend and ridiculously athletic linebackers everywhere in-between. Still, the defensive line is the unit most capable part of the team at completely taking over a game, and they managed to do so with the Buckeyes’ season on the line.


The Buckeyes biggest win of the season (so far) will be followed by a token potential-trap game in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes. Iowa has only topped Ohio State once in the last 25 years, and the Buckeyes will need to bring their A-game come 3:30 p.m. Saturday to keep their perfect Big Ten record alive.

The final: 39-38, Ohio State

Defensive player of the game: Jordan Fuller (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 TFL)

Defensive play of the game: The Buckeyes defensive line finishing the game the rushmen way.

Next Victim: Iowa. Keep it classy, Columbus.