Ohio State football is now in command of the Big Ten East following a 39-38 comeback victory over the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions. This is revenge for the No. 3 Buckeyes after their 24-21 upset loss in Happy Valley last season.
The visitors jumped out to a quick lead after Penn State’s star running back Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. The Nittany Lions added another first-quarter TD to take a 14-0 lead.
Ohio State battled back, but found themselves down by at least 10 points at three different junctures of the game. Penn State still led with over 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett gave Ohio State the lead for good with a 16-yard TD pass to Marcus Baugh. This helped the Buckeyes outscore the Nittany Lions 19-3 in the last stanza.
“You got to give Ohio State, the crowd, the environment, the stadium, Coach (Urban) Meyer, his team credit,” said Penn State coach James Franklin. “They’re obviously a very, very good football team, (and) it’s a tough place to come and get a win.”
“In no way shape or form should anyone have their head down,” tight end Mike Gesicki said following the game. “Obviously, we didn’t have the outcome we wanted, but playing on the road in this kind of atmosphere, to come up that short, we can fix the mistakes, we’ll bounce back.”
Biggest Comeback by an Urban Meyer Team
Barrett is one of the biggest reasons why the Buckeyes never gave up in this game. He was 33-for-39 passing with 328 yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State’s defense also did an excellent job of containing Barkley’s rushing prowess.
One more key factor in their victory included a blocked punt with 11:39 left in the fourth. This is fitting because it was a blocked punt that turned the tide of last year’s contest between these two teams.
“The margin of error is very small when you play these types of games,” said Franklin. “I thought the blocked punt was a huge play in the game.”
The Buckeye’s improving secondary locked down Nittany Lions receivers and helped the team be more aggressive against Penn State QB Trent McSorley. They sacked McSorely twice and stuffed the team’s read-option on the edges.
“They did a good job,” said McSorley. “Especially with that opportunity we had to ice it. They made the plays and we didn’t.”
“They did some different stuff,” said Barkley after scoring two touchdowns on 172 all-purpose yards. “They blitzed us a lot more than they usually did, they stopped the run – we just gotta find a way to run the ball.”
Barkley, one of the leading Heisman candidates, tallied 80 yards from scrimmage. But 36 of these yards came on his lone rushing touchdown.
Ohio State Controls Destiny in CFP Race
Things looked gloomy for Ohio State following the early season lost to Oklahoma. However, they’ve put themselves back in control of their College Football Playoff destiny by winning this big showdown.
The Nittany Lions essentially dominated this game for the first three quarters. But this is when Barrett came to life, going 13-for-13 and delivering two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps this game wouldn’t have come down to the wire if not for a controversial third-quarter call. McSorley threw a pass into the end zone, where Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward and Penn State receiver DeAndre Thompkins battled for the ball.
Officials reviewed the play for 5 minutes before determining that the players had joint possession, resulting in a Penn State touchdown. The call gave the Nittany Lions a 15-point lead and seemingly deflated the Buckeyes’ chances.
“What happened, the offensive receiver had full possession of the ball, brought the ball down and completed the process of a catch,” said referee John O’Neill. “He then rolled over and at that point, the Ohio State defender came on him. By rule, joint possession belongs to the offense.”
O’Neill added, “The Penn State receiver had the ball first. He brought the ball down, completed the process of a catch, rolled over at which point the Ohio State defender came down on him.”
Facing even longer odds with 22 minutes left, Ohio State was still able to come back and win the game.
This victory by no means puts Ohio State in the CFP. They still play some good teams down the stretch, including Michigan State (6-2), Iowa (5-3), and Michigan (6-2).
Ohio State will also have to play undefeated Wisconsin (8-0) if the latter wins the Big Ten West. But on paper, No. 2 Penn State is the toughest test that the Buckeyes will face in their conference.
Provided they win out, Ohio State will face the Big Ten West winner in the conference championship with a CFP spot on the line.
Barrett Vaults into Heisman Contention
Barkley was leading the Heisman race up until this point. But as mentioned before, he struggled most of this game, finishing with 44 rushing yards on 21 carries. Outside of 36-yard touchdown run, he had 8 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Barkley’s struggles were especially noticeable in the fourth quarter, when he couldn’t pick up yardage to run out the clock.
Meanwhile, Barrett shined where Barkley faltered by passing for four touchdowns. This gives Barrett 24 touchdown passes against just one interception on the season. And it makes the Oklahoma game where he struggled so badly seem like a distant memory.
As for Barkley, he’s not totally out of the Heisman race. After all, he did turn in 172 all-purpose yards, and the opening kickoff touchdown. But Ohio State held him well under his average of 211 yards per game.
In the end, Barkley only had to shining moments, including the 97-yard kickoff return and the 36-yard rushing touchdown, where he shed a tackle from lineman Tyquan Lewis.
There’s still a lot of football left to be played, and there are other legitimate Heisman candidates. But right now, it seems like Barrett has a slight lead in the race.