COLUMBUS, Ohio — Penn State took the opening kickoff back for a score. The Nittany Lions had an interception turn into a touchdown after a replay review. They finished with the most points they had ever scored in Ohio Stadium.
It wasn’t enough to beat the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball took over in a breakneck fourth quarter that saw the Buckeyes erase an 11-point deficit in the final five minutes to stun the Nittany Lions 39-38 Saturday at The Horseshoe.
What looked to be a triumphant win for the Lions turned into a crushing loss. Lions coach James Franklin said there was blame to spread around, starting with him. But Penn State’s issues up front stuck out the most, especially compared to the time Ohio State’s offensive line provided J.T. Barrett.
“We’re not protecting well, and we’re not running the ball,” Franklin said. “It’s easy to sit here and say after the fact that we need to be better in that situation, but as the game went on, their offensive line was able to protect their quarterback. And he stood in the pocket, very comfortable.”
To say the least. Barret threw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter — two to Johnnie Dixon and the game-winner to tight end Marcus Baugh with 1:48 to play — to give the No. 6 Buckeyes a win for the ages against the second-ranked Lions.
“I’ve never had a kid play perfect,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said of his quarterback. “But damn, he was pretty close tonight.”
The four-year starter completed his final 16 passes against a worn-down and tired defense — including all 13 attempts in the fourth quarter — to give Meyer the largest comeback win of his head coaching career.
Barrett’s final numbers? Try 33 for 39 passing for 328 yards and four touchdowns on top of a team-best 95 yards on the ground.
“We weren’t able to make him uncomfortable in the pocket at all,” Franklin said.
His only blemish came on a tangled handoff with tailback J.K Dobbins that saw Penn State take over at midfield with a 35-20 lead early in the fourth quarter.
But the Buckeyes’ defense held. The special teams unit blocked a punt. And Ohio State outscored the Lions 19-3 in the fourth to earn a victory that vaults them to the top of the Big Ten East Division.
“The momentum was getting to the point where we had trouble slowing them down,” Franklin said. “When their offensive line is able to protect like that … and your quarterback is able to stand back in the pocket that comfortable, he just got momentum.”
Ohio State’s no-huddle, hurry-up spread attack wore down a Lions defense that had been leading the country in scoring defense coming into the game.
“That’s a great football team,” linebacker Koa Farmer said. “That’s why we focus so much on finishing, finishing, finishing. That’s not what we did today. Period.”
Penn State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) hadn’t allowed more than 19 points in a game — the Buckeyes scored 19 in the fourth quarter on Saturday, exactly enough to win.
It didn’t matter that Penn State had led by as many as 18 points and opened with a quick 14-0 lead thanks to a Saquon Barkley kickoff return and a Trace McSorley pass to DaeSean Hamilton following a Buckeyes fumble.
The Lions led 28-17 at halftime — they had never scored more in Columbus in a full game since joining the Big Ten and had only previously topped 30 points in a game back in 1912.
Penn State even had instant replay overturn what was originally ruled a Buckeyes interception in the end zone — instead saying that DeAndre Thompkins made the catch and had joint possession as he wrestled with Denzel Ward on the ground.
It turned into a 37-yard score to make it 35-20 Lions, which held until the fourth quarter.
Tyler Davis kicked a 24-yard field goal with 5:42 left to give Penn State some breathing room at 38-27 with 5:42 to play.
And Davis was able to start warming up again on the sideline after Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) took the lead. Because the Buckeyes’ — fearful of Barkley — squibbed the ensuing kickoff and the Lions started at their own 40-yard line, needing just one big play to get into field goal range for the win with 1:45 left.
Davis never got the chance. McSorley was sacked on second down and pressure again on third and fourth. His final pass sailed high, and the Buckeyes had claimed their revenge from last year’s loss in Happy Valley.
“More than anything, I’m hurting for the kids in that locker room,” Franklin said. “But we didn’t finish. We had an opportunity. I thought we played good, but obviously not good enough.”
Had they held on to win, the Lions were looking at a potential No. 1 ranking when the first College Football Playoff top 25 would be released on Tuesday.
Instead, they will be in the same position as last season — needing help to reach the Big Ten championship game with Ohio State losing two of its last four games, as Michigan did a year ago.
Though Ohio State reached the Playoff with an 11-1 record after losing to Penn State, the Buckeyes had a road win over Big 12 champ Oklahoma to impress the committee. The Lions’ non-conference slate of Akron, Pitt and Georgia State won’t provide a similar boost.
Not that the Lions are losing hope.
“We beat this team last year and they made it to the playoffs,” Barkley said. “So college football is very unpredictable. Everyone that wants to count us out, go ahead, count us out. It don’t really matter. The only thing that matters is about the 156 people that’s in our locker room.
“…All we’ve got to do is keep believing in each other and do what we’ve gotta do and finish what we’ve gotta finish. The rest will take care of itself.”
No. 6 Ohio State 39, No. 2 Penn State 38
Penn State`14`14`7`3 — 38
Ohio State`3`14`3`19 — 39
PSU — Saquan Barkley 97 kickoff return (Tyler Davis kick), 14:45
PSU — DaeSean Hamilton 13 pass from Trace McSorley (Davis kick), 11:36
OSU — Sean Nuernberger 39 field goal, 4:38
PSU — Barkley 36 run (Davis kick), 11:40
OSU — Terry McLaurin 14 pass from J.T. Barrett (Nuernberger kick), 9:32
PSU — McSorley 6 run (Davis kick), 8:06
OSU — Mike Weber 2 run (Nuernberger kick), 4:56
OSU — Nuernberger 36 field goal, 11:37
PSU — DeAndre Thompkins 37 pass from McSorley (Davis kick), 7:25
OSU — Johnnie Dixon 38 pass from Barrett (Nuernberger kick), 11:05
PSU — Davis 24 field goal, 5:42
OSU — Dixon 10 pass from Barrett (run failed), 4:20
OSU — Marcus Baugh 16 pass from Barrett (run failed), 1:48
Time of Possession`30:53`29:07
RUSHING — PSU, Trace McSorley 13-49, Saquon Barkley 21-44, (Team) 1-(minus 2). OSU, J.T. Barrett 17-95, J.K. Dobbins 13-88, Mike Weber 7-21, (Team) 2-(minus 3).
PASSING — PSU, McSorley 17-29-0-192. OSU, Barrett 33-39-0-328.
RECEIVING — PSU, Mike Gesicki 6-57, Barkley 4-23, Juwan Johnson 3-29, DeAndre Thompkins 2-49, Saeed Blacknall 1-21, DaeSean Hamilton 1-13. OSU, K.J. Hill 12-102, Austin Mack 6-90, Weber 5-9, Johnnie Dixon 3-56, Terry McLaurin 2-34, Marcus Baugh 2-20, C.J. Saunders 1-13, Parris Campbell 1-5, Dobbins 1-(minus 1).
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.
A — 109,302.