Ohio State overcomes fumbles, holds off Penn State
Ohio State survives tough fight, clinches Big Ten East
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.”
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, right, sacks Penn State quarterback Will Levis during the second half on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields fumbles at the goal line after being hit by Penn State’s Lamont Wade.