A game that looked at first as if it were headed for a blow out wound up a nail-biter in Columbus, as the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes were able to survive a furious comeback by the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions for a 28-17 victory on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Plagued by its own mistakes, OSU was able to overcome three fumbles thanks to some incredible production on the defensive side of the ball and a steady diet of ground-and-pound on offense.
In the sporting world, they say that big time players make big time plays in big time games. That could not have been more true for Ohio State, who when it mattered most got some huge efforts by the guys that have been the stars throughout this season. While the Buckeyes’ first top-10 win of the year was certainly a full-team affair, these players made their presence felt for Ryan Day and the rest of the coaching staff in a game that came down to the wire.
Chase Young, DE: A triumphant return to the field also means a triumphant return to the LGHL Stock Market, as the junior edge rusher has earned blue chip status in every game he has appeared in this season. Young made it known early that he was more than ready to put his suspension in the past and get right back to business, with Urban Meyer saying he told the Fox crew to “bring their popcorn because he was about to put on a show,” before the game.
Put on a show he did, as the best player in college football poured in nine tackles, with four for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Young was a huge factor all afternoon, and when he wasn’t causing havoc himself — which was rare — he was opening up opportunities for others as Penn State was forced to double him if they wanted any chance at avoiding sacks. He was especially huge down the stretch, as Young provided quick, overbearing pressure and stopped the Nittany Lions comeback effort in its tracks.
J.K. Dobbins, RB: The other guy that wears No. 2 for Ohio State had himself a pretty nice day as well, as the junior running back was the heart and soul of the Buckeye offense for the majority of the day. Penn State came into the day with the fourth-ranked rushing defense in the country, and Ryan Day looked to attack that right out of the gate as they were able to execute the power run game with great success.
Dobbins was a work horse, racking up a season-high 36 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns as he showed people why he could have been in the Heisman race had he been playing in the second half of games all year. He did have one big mistake, a fumble in the middle of the third quarter — just his second of the season — but it was not enough to overshadow a monster day for Ohio State’s lead back. Whenever the Buckeyes needed offense, Dobbins was there.
Justin Fields, QB: I had debated upgrading Fields to blue chip status, but while he certainly had a good day against Penn State, it was nothing near his best game of the season. It was more than enough to get the job done, however, as Fields was money with his throws all afternoon and picked the right spots to take off and get the yards with his own legs as well. Even if the face of some adversity, the sophomore QB was able to remain calm and keep playing his game to the very end.
Any team in the nation would've certainly taken the effort OSU received from Fields on Saturday, finishing completing 16-of-22 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns with another 68 yards rushing. When he was on he was on, but he did make a few critical mistakes, including two fumbles — one on the goal line — and also took a bad sack that nearly resulted in his own injury near the end of the game. Fields has been nothing short of spectacular for Ohio State in his first season as a starter, but these are still areas that can be worked on moving forward.
Chris Olave, WR: Man, how good has Chris Olave been this season? The sophomore wide receiver would have also easily dipped into blue chip status himself had the game plan given him a chance to do so. Instead, he was limited to just two catches on the afternoon as Ohio State remained intent on pounding the rock on the ground and spreading the ball around to multiple receivers instead of keying in on the talented second-year receiver.
Even still, Olave was able to make a huge impact with his two catches for 44 yards, as one of these receptions was an incredible 28-yard TD catch between two Penn State defenders. Olave was able to position himself in front of the Nittany Lions DBs, battling through contact to the ground to maintain possession and haul in the touchdown in a crucial spot in the fourth quarter. The sophomore wideout has proven time and time again that he is likely the best receiving option the Buckeyes have this season among an overall talented group, and it will be hard to take him off the field as the stretch run continues.
Shaun Wade, CB: Coming into the game, secondary coach Jeff Hafley was intent on making his redshirt sophomore cornerback forget about the long touchdown he allowed last season to Penn State’s KJ Hamler. Ohio State matched up a few different guys with the speedy receiver on Saturday afternoon, but for the most part it was Shaun Wade’s job, and he was able to execute all game long.
Hamler was held to just three receptions for 45 yards, his second-lowest total yardage in a game this season. Overall, Wade finished with four tackles and one pass breakup, coming on Penn State’s last play of the game when he was able to knock down a throw on fourth down intended for Hamler. The stats aren't gaudy, but Wade played lockdown coverage throughout the contest as the Nittany Lions rarely even attempted to throw the ball his way.
Fumbles, fumbles, fumbles. Ohio State looked as though they were on the brink of running away with the game early on, threatening on the goal line with a chance to make it 21-0 quickly. It appeared as though Fields did punch it in for a score, but after further review the ball came loose just before he crossed the line, and it would become the first of three fumbles for the Buckeyes on Saturday.
Had it not been for OSU coughing the ball up repeatedly, Penn State is likely unable to claw its way back into the game like it did. At the end of the day, 10 of the Nittany Lions’ 17 points came off Ohio State turnovers. They were able to overcome their mistakes this time, but as the competition gets increasingly tougher moving forward, the Buckeyes will have to put a real focus on ball security if they want to compete for a national title.
(Buy) A top-10 win: Regardless of how the game looked at times or what the final score looked like, this was a big boost to Ohio State’s resumé. The offensive execution, while certainly not bad by any stretch, was probably one of the lesser performances of the season, and even still the Buckeyes were able to beat the No. 8 team in the nation by double-digits. It wasn’t the usual 40-point beatdown, but it was still an impressive win over a highly-ranked opponent to move to 11-0 on the season and secure a spot in the Big Ten Championship game.
(Sell) The score reflecting the game: Along that same note, those who watched this game in its entirety know that the 28-17 final was not indicative of how much Ohio State dominated for the majority of the afternoon. Fumbles aside, the Buckeyes out-gained the Nittany Lions by almost double, totaling 417 yards to PSU’s 227. The good guys put up a whopping 229 rushing yards on a team that was averaging allowing less than 80 yards per game on the ground this season. Had OSU not shot themselves in the foot with turnovers and poorly-timed flags, this game could have easily been a runaway.
(Buy) Young’s Heisman candidacy: It was already an incredibly uphill battle for the junior to get his name in the Heisman race as a purely defensive player — something that has never been done before. On top of that, Young has now missed two games this season with his suspension. However, even still, the edge rusher has been so completely and utterly dominant that his chance at bringing home the hardware is still very much alive. Even with missed time, Young’s three sacks against PSU broke the single-season sack record at Ohio State, giving him 16.5 on the year. He is very clearly the best player in college football this season, and as such should be awarded the trophy that is supposed to honor that standing.