COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 5 Ohio State struggled at times but prevailed over No. 20 Penn State winning 33-24. The Buckeyes won their sixth game in a row thanks to a solid all-around performance by the defense, including a few game-changing plays and a mistake-free night by quarterback C.J. Stroud.
Here’s more on those 3 takeaways, plus a bonus one, from OSU’s win:
#1 Defense won the game
“Defense won the game in my opinion,” coach Ryan Day said. “If the defense can play like they did tonight, we’ve got a chance to be really good.”
Ohio State forced three turnovers, including a 57-yard scoop and score from 305-pound tackle Jerron Cage after Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith combined for a strip sack on Sean Clifford.
“I hit the quarterback and I just saw Jerron pick it up and I stood there kind of shocked for a minute,” Harrison said. “I was like ‘What? Is he really fitting to score? And then he scored and I ran to the sideline and gave him some love.”
Ohio State forced a momentum-changing fumble on Penn State’s first play on offense, which came immediately after tight end Jeremy Ruckert fumbled near midfield on OSU’s first drive.
The defense regained momentum again early in the fourth quarter after Stroud missed a wide-open Chris Olave on 4th and 3 from the Penn State 13-yard line on what should’ve been a touchdown to put OSU up by 10. But four plays later, Sean Clifford underthrew his target and defensive back Cam Brown played the ball instead of the receiver and caught the easy interception, returning it to the PSU 31-yard line. That play resulted in OSU’s third field goal of the game to give the Buckeyes a 30-24 lead.
#2 Defense won the game (again)
The Buckeyes played so well on defense it’s worth bringing up again, this time for a different reason.
Ohio State only allowed 33 yards rushing, making it three games in a row it’s given up 60 yards or less on the ground. The Nittany Lions couldn’t move OSU’s defensive front and the Buckeyes had a field day pressuring Clifford to the tune of four sacks and five quarterback hurries to go along with eight tackles for a loss.
Sean Clifford threw for 361 yards but only had one passing touchdown. The pass defense bent, giving up 127 yards to standout receiver Jahan Dotson, but it never really broke and that made all the difference.
#3 C.J. Stroud didn’t make a mental mistake
Stroud underthrew a pass that would’ve been a touchdown. That’s a physical error, which he owned after the game. But the redshirt freshman didn’t turn the ball over, and even one turnover against the Nittany Lions could’ve spelled disaster for the Buckeyes who couldn’t score in the red zone (we’ll get to that next).
Stroud went 15-for-24 for 170 yards and one touchdown in the first half and added another 135 yards and seven completions in the second half for a total of 305 yards.
He’s played better this season, and some of his passes were erratic, but managing the game and not committing a mental mistake kept Ohio State’s head above water in this backyard-brawl style game.
“We just kept fighting I mean that’s what it’s about,” Stroud said. “Football is not a perfect sport. You’re not going to run the ball well every game, you’re not going to throw the ball that well every game, it’s just about fighting.”
Bonus: Red zone, dead zone
Ohio State was virtually lifeless in the red zone. The Buckeyes went 1-for-6 inside the 20-yard line, settling for four field goals of 35 yards or less. Give Noah Ruggles credit for making all of those attempts to give OSU 12 points in a nine-point game. But the Buckeyes need to evaluate why they struggled so much in the short field.
“We’re going to go back on this film and look at it, and learn a lot from it and grow from it and pull our hair out from it but we kept swinging away,” Day said. “Just across the board I thought we were gritty.”
Part of that had to do with an inability to run the ball effectively in short yardage situations because they couldn’t get much of a push from the offensive line. Penn State has some high-caliber defensive players but that’s not an excuse for OSU’s failure to turn drives into touchdowns. It’s a safe bet to believe offensive guru Ryan Day will get the problem figured out next week when OSU travels to Lincoln to face Nebraska next Saturday at noon.