STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Ohio State spent more than three quarters Saturday at Penn State writing a narrative of despair.
But with a 28-point explosion in the fourth quarter, the second-ranked Buckeyes replaced tragedy with triumph — or at least pushed their judgement day back a month.
“You still won’t beat Michigan!” one Penn State fan yelled out as Ohio State players were doing post-game interviews under the stands in Beaver Stadium.
A few minutes earlier in the interview room, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said he didn’t want to worry about the negatives from his team’s 44-31 victory over the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions — yet.
“Yeah, I’ll wait until tomorrow to figure out that stuff,” Day said. “We’re going to celebrate on this ride home and have some laughs together on the plane and enjoy it. Then we’ll come back in tomorrow and figure out what we can do better.”
The question was specifically about the foibles of a running game that sputtered for a second straight week.
After being held to 66 yards by Iowa, Ohio State managed 98 at Penn State, but in both cases the passing game more than picked up the slack as quarterback C.J. Stroud and a receiving corps headlined by Marvin Harrison Jr. proved to be too much even for a talented secondary to handle.
Saturday marked the first time since mid-2018 the Buckeyes failed to crack the century mark on the ground in back-to-back games (a win over Minnesota and a loss at Purdue).
The effort in Happy Valley could be more concerning because the Hawkeyes had previously stopped the run better than the Nittany Lions, who notably gave up more than 400 yards on the ground at Michigan two weeks prior.
The fan’s catcall also served as further proof The Game looks like it will be an old-school affair in more way than one.
Michigan’s visit to Ohio State on Nov. 26 is not only shaping up to be one of those winner-take-all contests that elevated the rivalry above all others, but running the ball and stopping the run figure to be major themes.
With November near, the two teams appear to be charging full-steam ahead into another memorable collision at Ohio Stadium that will have all of the college football world watching.
“The way that we hit that long run there with (TreVeyon Henderson) in the fourth quarter, wore ‘em down, was tremendous,” Day said. “You could just feel the energy on the sidelines.”
The numbers were not so tremendous.
Henderson’s 41-yard touchdown jaunt midway through the fourth quarter accounted for more than half his 78 net yards on the day.
Advanced stats were ugly, too, as they showed the Buckeyes had as many “successful” (four yards on first down, half the yards to gain on second down, all the remaining yards to gain on third or fourth down) runs as they did stuffed (no yards or a loss) .
Ohio State’s rushing success rate was 38 percent, far below its season mark of 62.4.
On the flip side, Penn State running backs Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton carried 26 times for 121 yards, and the Nittany Lions’ rushing success rate was 43, above their season mark of 39.4.
With first-year Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ scheme built to stop the pass, questions about the run defense figure to be as prominent as those about the run offense over the next few weeks with games against Northwestern, Indiana and Maryland on tap.
“Some things certainly we want to do better, but at the end of the day, we needed to get a win,” Day said.
While questions remain about how the Buckeyes can reach their ceiling by the end of the season, another aspect of the win at Penn State brought a big smile to Day’s face: Perseverance.
The Nittany Lions rallied from a 10-0 deficit early to go into halftime leading 14-13.
After the Buckeyes took a 16-14 lead late in the third quarter, Penn State put the Buckeyes’ feet to the fire with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that gave the hosts a 21-16 lead and included some potentially demoralizing Ohio State penalties and missed tackles.
Instead of folding, Ohio State set off fireworks on both sides of the ball and won going away.
“It’s huge because nothing comes easy in this environment against Penn State, who does a tremendous job,” Day said, “And there are times where things may become a little bit easy for us. That’s that’s a different experience. And this right here, this is totally different and to respond the way we did and figure out what was going on is great because really the last time that kind of happened a little bit was the Notre Dame game (in week one).
“That was close game that came down to the fourth quarter, so that’s the recipe we’re playing in these match-up games.”
A game at Northwestern is next for Ohio State.
The 1-7 Wildcats are the only Big Ten team with less than three wins at this point in the season, and Pat Fitzgerald’s team has not won since topping Nebraska 31-28 in the season opener.
Ohio State at Northwestern, Noon, ABC, 1410
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