Comeback Bid Falls Short, Nittany Lions Fall to Buckeyes 28-17
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Despite overcoming a 21-point deficit with a 17-point third quarter, the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions came short of upsetting the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes, falling 28-17 in Columbus on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions entered the contest as 19-point underdogs: the largest such margin for Penn State since 2013. With the Nittany Lions facing an undefeated Ohio State team led by Heisman contenders Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins and Chase Young in Columbus, the historic spread seemed rather appropriate.
“You look at [the Buckeyes] statistically, they’re [No.] 1 or 2 or 3 in the country in almost every offensive or defensive category,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “You’ve got to give them credit. They’re well-coached, and they’re talented.”
At first, it seemed like Ohio State was on its way to covering that spread. With the Nittany Lions failing to put any points on the board through the first two quarters, the Buckeyes were able to capitalize with two scoring drives that ended in Dobbins touchdown runs, including their opening drive, which spanned 91 yards across 13 plays in 5 minutes, 4 seconds.
The score would have been 21-0 in the first half if not for a defensive stop near the goal line on Ohio State’s second drive of the game. At the 5:12 mark of the first quarter, Fields leaped for the end zone to put the Buckeyes up by two scores, but junior safety Lamont Wade punched the ball out of Fields’ arms, and senior linebacker Cam Brown landed on the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
This was not Wade’s only shining moment, though. The junior safety proved to be Penn State’s secret weapon on defense all day long, recording 10 tackles, a sack and three forced fumbles throughout the contest.
“[Wade’s] leadership in the locker room has been really good,” Franklin said. “He’s a competitor. He cares so much about Penn State and his teammates. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. We are sure glad we’ve got him.”
Wade’s heroics would open the door for Penn State’s comeback attempt. After allowing an early third-quarter touchdown to J.K. Hill off a 24-yard dime from Fields, Penn State finally got on the scoreboard with a nine-play, 75-yard drive, capitalized by an 18-yard touchdown run from Journey Brown. On the very first play from scrimmage on Ohio State’s ensuing drive, Wade recovered a Dobbins fumble forced by Micah Parsons. Just two plays later, the Nittany Lions found the end zone to bring the game within one possession.
On the next Buckeyes drive, Wade recorded his second forced fumble of the game, setting up a 42-yard field goal off the foot of Jake Pinegar. In the blink of an eye, Penn State had gone from being completely blown out to being within striking distance of pulling off the upset.
It’s important to note that all 17 of Penn State’s points were scored without sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford on the field. Thanks to a fearsome Buckeyes pass rush led by star defensive end Chase Young, Clifford had been battered for the better part of the game. The beatings finally came to a head when midway through the Nittany Lions’ first scoring drive, Clifford exited the game after landing forcefully on his right shoulder.
With Clifford on the sideline, the Nittany Lions sent in freshman quarterback Will Levis, who played admirably in relief. Levis recorded 57 yards through the air and 34 more on the ground, tacking on the 1-yard rushing touchdown that brought the score to 21-14.
“I thought, early on, Will came in and did some good things,” Franklin said. “He gave us a spark and made some plays with his legs. He’s a big, physical runner. He was able to push the pile, break some tackles, and finish some runs.”
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, Levis’ inexperience would be their undoing. Down 11 with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter following a 28-yard touchdown haul from Chris Olave, Penn State found itself in Ohio State territory with the chance to bring the game back within one score. But Levis completely missed an open KJ Hamler on first down, instead firing a pass up the middle that was intercepted by senior linebacker Justin Hilliard. It was Penn State’s only turnover of the game, but it proved to be the final turning point, as it stopped any momentum that Penn State had.
While the Nittany Lions were able to keep the Buckeyes from adding any more points to the scoreboard, the Ohio State defense held strong and forced two turnovers on downs late in the fourth quarter, sealing the Buckeyes’ 28-17 victory.
“We played disciplined football, but we weren’t able to be explosive enough,” Franklin said. “[Ohio State] had explosive plays, and we did not. That’s really the gist of it.”
The loss ends any hopes that Penn State had of playing for a Big Ten or national title, while the win allows Ohio State to clinch the Big Ten East division for the third year in a row and tighten its grasp on a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Nittany Lions will play their final regular season game at Beaver Stadium on Nov. 30 against Rutgers.
DJ Bauer is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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