Ohio State over­comes fum­bles, holds off Penn State

Ohio State sur­vives tough fight, clinches Big Ten East

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGO SPORTS - Teddy Green­stein

COLUM­BUS, Ohio — It looked like a blowout and smelled like a blowout.

And then, shock­ingly and sud­denly, it was not a blowout.

Af­ter No. 2 Ohio State fum­bled twice in the se­cond half, No. 8 Penn State was in po­si­tion to tie the game and send shiv­ers through Big Ten head­quar­ters.

In­stead Ohio State’s de­fense strength­ened down the stretch, and the Buck­eyes won 28-17 to clinch the Big Ten East and re­main in the driver’s seat for a Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off spot.

“Go­ing into the game, we talked (to the play­ers) about this be­ing a heavy­weight match — you’re go­ing to take punches,” coach Ryan Day said. “We had to re­spond, and we did.”

Ohio State hadn’t been truly chal­lenged all sea­son, win­ning ev­ery game by at least 24 points.

“As I said it to one of the coaches, maybe it’s been a lit­tle too easy at times,” Day said. “This was hard today.”

Proof can be found in the rush­ing stats. The Buck­eyes had J.K. Dob­bins carry the ball a ca­reer-high 36 times, gain­ing 157 yards and earn­ing an ice bath. Quar­ter­back Justin Fields had a ca­reer-high 21 rushes. At times he was un­stop­pable on draws. At other times he ex­posed him­self to mas­sive hits.

Fields gave the Ohio Sta­dium crowd of 104,355 a scare late in the fourth quar­ter when he stayed down af­ter get­ting sacked. He then drew cheers when he jogged off with what ap­peared to be a left an­kle in­jury. (Day de­clined to spec­ify, and Fields was un­avail­able af­ter the game.)

“It was scary to see him go down,” line­backer Pete Werner said. “But he was telling the train­ers: ‘Get off me, get off me! I’m fine.’ I love that about him. He’s a tough guy.”

Fields rushed for 68 yards and passed for 188 more, but he prob­a­bly flushed away any faint Heis­man Tro­phy hopes by be­ing loose with the ball. He coughed it up twice, once a split-se­cond be­fore a wouldbe touch­down. Dob­bins fum­bled once.

Strange con­sid­er­ing the Buck­eyes en­tered Saturday av­er­ag­ing fewer than one turnover a game. They hadn’t lost three fum­bles in a game since 2009, at Pur­due.

But it was rainy for parts of the se­cond half, and credit Nit­tany Lions safety La­mont Wade for forc­ing two fum­bles.

Penn State quar­ter­back Sean Clif­ford also lost his grip on a key play. He mis­han­dled a shot­gun snap, and line­backer Ma­lik Har­ri­son hit him, forc­ing Clif­ford to exit the game.

Red­shirt fresh­man Will Le­vis re­placed him and used his 6-3, 229-pound frame to rush for 34 yards and a score. He also com­pleted 10 of 17 passes for 71 yards.

Penn State coach James Franklin said Clif­ford’s in­jury is not se­ri­ous. Clif­ford could have re­turned, but Franklin fa­vored Le­vis for his mo­bil­ity.

The win boosts Ohio State to 11-0 head­ing into its mas­sive an­nual show­down with Michi­gan. Penn State fell to 9-2, 6-2.

“The ‘team up north’ is some­thing we talk about ev­ery sin­gle day,” Day said. “The best way to re­spect a ri­valry is to work it ev­ery day. And we do.”

De­fen­sive end Chase Young, re­turn­ing from a two-game NCAA-im­posed sus­pen­sion, broke the school record for sacks in a sea­son, best­ing Ver­non Ghol­ston’s mark. Young notched three of his team’s five sacks, boost­ing his sea­son to­tal to 16.5.

“If there is a more dom­i­nant player in the coun­try on de­fense than Chase Young,” Ohio State co-de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jeff Hafley said. “Then some­one needs to bring me the tape and I’ll watch ev­ery snap.”

JAY LAPRETE/AP

Ohio State de­fen­sive end Chase Young, right, sacks Penn State quar­ter­back Will Le­vis dur­ing the se­cond half on Saturday in Colum­bus, Ohio.

JAMIE SABAU/GETTY-AFP

Ohio State quar­ter­back Justin Fields fum­bles at the goal line af­ter be­ing hit by Penn State’s La­mont Wade.

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