The Buckeyes’ first-year coach, Ryan Day, sang the soundtrack, saying at varying times: “To win a game like that, that was not clean, shows the toughness that we have … I said to one of the coaches, ‘Maybe it’s been a little too easy at times.’ … Absolutely think it will [help], because we haven’t really faced that before … That could’ve cost us our whole season … I think when you win games like [blowouts], you know your team but you don’t see them in that [challenged] environment …”
For a team whose third-quarter scores had been 35-6, 35-0, 51-10, 63-5, 48-7, 27-10, 38-3, 24-7, 52-7 and 49-14, a coach could say of a 28-17 final: “It was just good to get an ugly win like that.”
As herculean defender Chase Young returned from a two-game suspension and amassed three sacks and a hundred fears, giving him a school-record 16.5 sacks this season, the day could have doubled as a metaphor of Chris Olave’s reference to his clinching 28-yard touchdown catch with 13:18 left.
“Had to go up and get it,” the sophomore wide receiver said.
They had to go up and get it, and they did so after Day gathered all the starters during a third-quarter delay for some boxing references about responding to punches, a moment of which star running back J.K. Dobbins said, “We just rallied around each other and told each other, ‘We got this.’ ”
Once they recalibrated themselves early in the fourth quarter, the only remaining fret would be a moment with 2:17 left, when Justin Fields, the quarterback with 33 touchdown passes to one interception this season, and who ran a hard 21 times Saturday, went down with a slight awkwardness with help from Penn State (9-2, No. 8 CFP) star of the game Lamont Wade. Fields stayed down for a few moments, with the whole national football landscape in limbo.
When he got up and jogged off, a partly scattered crowd made a pretty good roar. “He’s good,” Day said later. “Yeah. He’s good.”
Early on, it seemed as if Fields could have responded to the fumble he had knocked from him at the goal line by Wade by saying, “That’s okay; we’ll be back shortly.” By then, Ohio State had a 7-0 lead on an uncluttered path toward a halftime total-yardage margin of 255-64.
Shortly after halftime, that margin reached 330-64 as Ohio State led 21-0 with a touchdown in each quarter: a 13-play, 91-yard song of running plays to start things; an 11-play, 48-yard move in the second with two fourth-down conversions, including Fields for 22 yards through an alley that looked like nearby High Street, and with Dobbins scoring from the 1 behind a mighty right side of the line; and a 10-play, 75-yard drive that started the second half and ended with Fields’s gorgeous 24-yard touchdown pass aimed to the left of the end zone and to K.J. Hill.
Dobbins, the Buckeyes’ 5-foot-10, 217-pound bale of muscle who always looks like hell to tackle, stood well on his way to his eventual 157 yards on a workhorse 36 carries. “I’ll take more,” he said with a beaming smile of such a workload.
Ohio State led by a 21-0 that felt more like a 42-0.
The rest of the day could pass without incident.
Only soon there came one of football’s curious phenomena, that of the second-string quarterback who turns up and gums up all the plans. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, that native Cincinnatian who won a state title in this stadium, had just completed a 12-yard pass to tight end Nick Bowers when Clifford stayed down.
After the redshirt sophomore successor to Trace McSorley needed help leaving the field, his injury unspecified, in came backup Will Levis. “I think he was a little bit stronger running, so they kind of leaned on some quarterback runs,” Day said. Levis, a big lad at 6-3 and 229 pounds, began reading and running around, and Ohio State began fumbling around.
When the Nittany Lions (9-2) completed that same drive of 75 yards on Journey Brown’s 18-yard touchdown run, then Micah Parsons plucked a fumble from Dobbins on a first play of a possession, then soon Wade knocked another fumble from Fields on a third play of another, soon Penn State had a touchdown off a 12-yard drive and a field goal off an 11-yard drive and, whoa, a chance with the deficit down to 21-17.
Then the Nittany Lions even got the ball again, after a stop, at their own 11-yard line, but the first play quelled tension. Levis muffed a snap and faced two of the toughest sights a quarterback can face: a ball on the ground near the goal line and Young emerging into full-on view.
Young didn’t get a sack for corralling Levis — it went as a team sack because of the muff — but he almost squeezed Levis into the end zone as the line of scrimmage became the Penn State 1-yard line. Soon came the first play of the fourth quarter and a troubled line-drive punt from the back of the end zone that seemed to creak and croak along its course, and Ohio State got the privilege of a short field it could cover in five plays, 44 yards.
After Olave’s catch finished that, suspense began leaving. And when Levis directed a good drive but then threw a thudding pass into a muddled crowd that included Justin Hilliard, who intercepted at the Ohio State 20, suspense pretty much departed. “If you can’t get hyped for this,” Young said, “you’re [just] not that type of dude,” on a day when the country’s most consistent team this season pretty much had to get hyped twice.
Culpepper reported from Columbus, Ohio. Bogage reported the in-game updates below from Washington.
November 23, 2019 at 3:26 PM EST
Final: Ohio State 28, Penn State 17
Ohio State’s College Football Playoff hopes are alive and well. After surrendering 17 straight third-quarter points to Penn State, the Buckeyes responded strongly, getting some timely offense and reliable defense down the stretch to hold off the Nittany Lions.
November 23, 2019 at 3:21 PM EST
Lamont Wade strikes again
The defensive back blitzed on fourth and five for Ohio State from the Penn State 27-yard line and got home to Buckeyes’ quarterback Justin Fields. Fields was sacked and fumbled the ball (he recovered it himself), but Wade’s tackle got Fields’s ankle caught in the turf at Ohio Stadium, a potential cause for concern for the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff hopes. (Ohio State 28, Penn State 17, 2:17 4th quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 3:16 PM EST
That should just about do it
Penn State forced Ohio State to punt after that Levis interception, but got caught in a fourth-and-12 spot at its own 32-yard line with about three minutes to play and down, 28-17. Levis looked for K.J. Hamler over the middle, but his pass was batted away, and Ohio State took over on downs. The Buckeyes are in good shape after surviving that third quarter scare. (Ohio State 28, Penn State 17, 3:28 4th quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 2:58 PM EST
Buckeyes restoring order
A youthful mistake for Will Levis, who’s been impressive otherwise in relief of Sean Clifford, cost the Nittany Lions. The sophomore tried to force a ball over the middle to his tight end, and instead, Ohio State linebacker Justin Hilliard plucked it out of the air. The Buckeyes will take over at their own 20-yard line and a chance to put the game away with another score. (Ohio State 28, Penn State 17, 10:16 4th quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 2:50 PM EST
Ohio State strikes back
The Buckeyes answer Penn State’s 17-point run with a 28-yard scoring strike from Justin Fields to Chris Olave. Fields is now 15 of 21 for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Olave, who’s seen less playing time with the return of Austin Mack, has two catches for 44 yards. (Ohio State 28, Penn State 17, 13:18 4th quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 2:43 PM EST
End of third quarter: Ohio State 21, Penn State 17
The Nittany Lions scored 17 unanswered points to end the quarter, but will start the fourth in difficult territory — punting on fourth and 17 from their own 4-yard line.
Backup quarterback Will Levis has replaced starter Sean Clifford, who was injured on a hit midway through the quarter.
November 23, 2019 at 2:31 PM EST
Ohio State’s defense holds
After a turnover that could have proved catastrophic, the Buckeyes’ defense forces a field goal that preserves their lead, 21-17. But all the momentum has tilted toward Penn State, which has seemingly made adjustments on defense to slow down Ohio State’s offense and has forced turnovers on two consecutive drives. (Ohio State 21, Penn State 17, 4:22 3rd quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 2:24 PM EST
Just like that, another Ohio State fumble
Penn State forced another fumble on Ohio State’s next drive, and guess who did it? Lamont Wade. The defensive back already has once forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was fighting for extra yards when Wade came in and pried the ball out, and a replay review showed that while it was a close call, possession would go to the Nittany Lions. Penn State takes over at the Buckeyes’ 35-yard line. (Ohio State 21, Penn State 14, 7:04 3rd quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 2:17 PM EST
Another big break for Penn State
The Nittany Lions are in business again after Micah Parsons forced a J.K. Dobbins fumble and the loose ball was scooped up by Lamont Wade. That set Penn State up at the Buckeyes’ 12-yard line, and two plays later, fill-in quarterback Will Levis ran it in for a 1-yard touchdown. All of a sudden, it’s a one-score game. (Ohio State 21, Penn State 14, 7:54 3rd quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 2:11 PM EST
Touchdown, Penn State
There’s that offense Penn State has been waiting for. Moments after quarterback Sean Clifford went out with an injury, the Nittany Lions put the drive in the belly of running back Journey Brown, who ran through a few tackles for an 18-yard touchdown. The play cut Ohio State’s lead to 14 points. (Ohio State 21, Penn State 7, 8:19 3rd quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 2:05 PM EST
Penn State’s Clifford down, and out
Quarterback Sean Clifford has taken a beating all afternoon, with the latest hit leaving him needing both a minute to get up, and some medical attention. After a bad snap, Clifford scrambled up in the pocket and found tight end Nick Bowers for a first down. But two Ohio State defenders converged on Clifford as he released the ball in an awkward fashion and the QB landed hard on the turf. Sophomore Will Levis is in to spell him for at least a couple plays. (Ohio State 21, Penn State 0, 8:47 3rd quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 1:58 PM EST
Ohio State explodes out of the half
This is the avalanche of offense we’ve come to expect of Ohio State. With all its weapons blazing, the Buckeyes went 75 yards in 10 plays right out of the locker room and Justin Fields threw his first touchdown pass of the afternoon. It was a thing of beauty: a 24-yard fade over the shoulder and into the bread basket of K.J. Hill, who has four catches for 46 yards.
Penn State is in desperate need of some offense soon, or this game could turn into a rout. (Ohio State 21, Penn State 0, 11:31 3rd quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 1:40 PM EST
Halftime: Ohio State 14, Penn State 0
After a dominant first half, it’s hard to decide whether Ohio State’s offense or defense was more impressive. Quarterback Justin Fields was 10 of 14 for 108 yards passing, plus another 59 yards on the ground. Running back J.K. Dobbins has 89 yards on 20 carries and two scores. The Buckeyes should have another touchdown, but Fields fumbled the ball inches from the end zone at the end of the first quarter.
The Buckeyes have outgained the Nittany Lions 254-64, ran 20 more plays in the first half and have 16 first downs to Penn State’s four. Buckeyes star DE Chase Young helped out on a sack and has a tackle for loss.
If not for some timely stops by Penn State’s defense — forcing the red zone fumble by Fields, holding the Buckeyes in good field position at the end of the half — the onslaught of points we’re used to seeing from Ohio State could have materialized already today, too.
November 23, 2019 at 1:21 PM EST
Ohio State went 48 yards in 11 plays to score with two minutes remaining in the first half, and they’ll get the ball back to start the second. Justin Fields converted a fourth and five from the Penn State 26-yard line with a 22-yard scamper to set up first and goal. On fourth down from the 1-yard line, J.K. Dobbins ran over the right guard for his second touchdown of the day. (Ohio State 14, Penn State 0, 2:00 2nd quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 12:46 PM EST
End of first quarter: Ohio State 7, Penn State 0
The Nittany Lions start the second quarter on the move, first and 10 at the Buckeyes’ 39-yard line.
November 23, 2019 at 12:39 PM EST
Penn State catches a break
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was inches from the end zone when Penn State’s LaMont Wade dislodged the ball and Cam Sullivan recovered it for a touchback. The play was initially ruled a touchdown but got reversed upon a replay review.
The turnover negated a six-play drive that looked to put the Buckeyes up two touchdowns in the early going. Instead, Penn State has a chance to even out field position, if not mount a scoring drive of its own. (Ohio State 7, Penn State 0, 1:21 1st quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 12:35 PM EST
Chase Young off to wild start
Ohio State’s star defensive end is back from a two-game NCAA suspension, but has picked up where he left off. With this sack, he’s now the Buckeyes’ single-season record holder.
November 23, 2019 at 12:26 PM EST
Buckeyes on the board fast
Ohio State forced a Penn State punt and waltzed 91 yards for a touchdown. Running back J.K. Dobbins busted through the left side of the Buckeyes' line for the first touchdown of the day.
Penn State entered the game fourth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 76 yards on average all year. The Buckeyes rushed for 91 yards on that drive. (Ohio State 7, Penn State 0, 5:18 1st quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 12:12 PM EST
Nittany Lions feisty to start
There was a bit of chippiness on the field between the two games before kickoff, and Penn State channeled that energy into a big return to star things off. But their opening drive stalled out, leading to the game’s first punt. (Penn State 0, Ohio State 0, 12:12 first quarter)
November 23, 2019 at 12:05 PM EST
How to watch today’s game
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio.
November 23, 2019 at 12:00 PM EST
Penn State, not the Buckeyes would play for a conference title out of the East division (provided it holds off Rutgers next week), potentially against the pesky Golden Gophers or dark horse Wisconsin, which was vanquished last month by both Ohio State and lowly Illinois.
Well, Ohio State — with flashy quarterback Justin Fields and thumping running back J.K. Dobbins and the aforementioned monster of a pass rusher Young — would sit at home with one loss during the conference title game, likely rooting for the Nittany Lions and the mercy of the selection committee.
But all of that is moot if Young, back from a two-game NCAA suspension, and the Buckeyes knock off Penn State on Saturday. In fact, with a statement win (and they are favored by nearly 20 points), the Buckeyes could theoretically jump top-ranked LSU and reclaim the No. 1 playoff ranking.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Lamont Wade’s name was incorrectly listed as Lamont Ward.