STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis probably spoke what a lot of people were thinking when he went on Twitter to express just how stunned he was by an Ohio State comeback for the ages that produced two touchdowns and a huge defensive stop in the final 6:52 of the game to beat Penn State 27-26 on Saturday night.
“I have no idea how Ohio State won this football game. Still trying to figure it out,” Laurinaitis tweeted minutes after OSU’s comeback win.
Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) took a big step toward winning the Big Ten East Division and maybe more with that win.
“That sideline was not giving up,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said about the Buckeyes’ attitude during their comeback in a match-up of two Top Ten teams.
It was another fourth quarter miracle for Ohio State against Penn State. Last year OSU came back from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Nittany Lions 39-38 in Ohio Stadium.
Those back to back one-point losses made Saturday night’s outcome even harder to take for Penn State (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten).
Penn State coach James Franklin, perhaps searching for some way to use this stunning loss as motivation for his team, said it showed his team was not yet at Ohio State’s level, that it was “great” and Ohio State was “elite.”
“We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to grow from this. And we’re going to find a way to make that next step as a program,” Franklin said.
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw two touchdown passes in the final 6:42 of the game and the defense stopped Penn State on a key fourth down play with just over a minute to play.
It was very similar to last year’s win over Penn State with OSU going to the air very successfully in the final quarter.
The Buckeyes struggled to move the football consistently for most of the game and the defense didn’t have an answer for Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, who almost single-handedly led his team to victory.
Penn State (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) went up 26-14 with eight minutes to play on a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Miles Sanders.
Ohio State responded with a three-play drive that ended with a 47-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to Binjimen Victor with 6:42 left in the game to cut the lead to 26-21.
A Penn State punt pinned OSU on its own 4-yard line with 4:35 left in the game, but the Buckeyes didn’t stay pinned for long. The offense responded again with an 8-play, 96-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to K.J. Hill with 2:03 left in the game.
Penn State got the ball into Ohio State territory on its first play after that touchdown, but defensive end Chase Young made two big plays as the Buckeyes held on.
Young had a sack of McSorley to mute Penn State’s momentum. And then, in what was a very curious play call by Penn State, he dropped Sanders for a loss when he carried the ball on a fourth down and five yards to go play.
After that, all Ohio State had to do was take a knee and let the clock run out.
Meyer said Victor’s touchdown catch “changed everything.”
“He changed the whole dynamic of the game,” Meyer said. He called the 96-yard drive for the winning touchdown “one of the great drives in Ohio State history.”
“The first half was awful in a lot of ways. But give credit to our opponent. That’s a hell of a team we just played. Hats off to the defense. They kept us in the game as bad as the offense was in the first half.
“The coaches did a good job with the halftime adjustments. We’re an offensive line driven team and they controlled the game after we got going.”
After a slow start and some less than stellar protection early, Haskins completed 22 of 39 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. J.K. Dobbins rushed for 57 yards on 17 carries. Parris Campbell caught 7 passes for 60 yards and K.J. Hill had 6 catches for 59 yards.
McSorley completed 16 of 32 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 175 yards on 25 carries.
An almost complete absence of offense was the defining characteristic of the first half for Ohio State until a Penn State turnover set up OSU’s only score in the first 30 minutes.
Ohio State’s first eight possessions ended with seven punts and an interception.
But a fumble by Sanders on the first play after the seventh punt set Ohio State up at the Nittany Lions’ 25-yard line with 2:32 left in the first half.
Two plays later Haskins dropped a screen pass into Dobbins’ hands and he sprinted 26 yards to the end zone for a touchdown that cut Penn State’s lead to 13-7.
Penn State had built a 13-0 lead on two field goals by Jake Pinegar and a 93-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to K.J. Hamler, who outran two Ohio State defensive backs to the end zone with 5:59 left in the first half.
The Buckeyes were fortunate that Penn State could put only 13 points on the scoreboard in the first half when three of its drives ended in field goal attempts (two successful, one miss) instead of touchdowns.
When Ohio State drove 75 yards on 13 plays on its first possession of the second half to go ahead 14-13 on a 4-yard touchdown run by Dobbins it appeared the Buckeyes might be about to take control of the game, but they couldn’t turn that score into momentum.
Penn State took the lead at 20-14 on a 2-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to tight end Pat Freiermuth with 12:22 left in the fourth quarter at the end of a 6-play, 73-yard drive.
The Nittany Lions made it 26-14 on Sanders’ 1-yard touchdown run with eight minutes to play. But then Ohio State’s offense and defense responded with the right answers at the right time, something Penn State was unable to do.