College Football & Soccer Analyst
COLUMBUS, Ohio — And for the seventh year in a row, Ohio State beat Penn State. This time by a score of 20-12 on Big Noon Saturday.
Though they didn’t look like the elite teams of the past, the Buckeyes are still No. 3 in the country after this critical victory and are sitting pretty in the Big Ten driver’s seat right next to No. 2 Michigan. Ohio State shouldn’t have a problem beating up on the rest of its opponents all the way until it faces the Wolverines on Nov. 25, its next and most important test.
While this win wasn’t the most convincing, OSU has a pretty stellar résumé that the College Football Playoff selection committee must like: The Buckeyes are 7-0 with wins over Notre Dame (on the road) and Penn State (at home).
This was supposed to be a huge opportunity for Penn State. Entering the matchup, the Nittany Lions had lost six straight and nine of the last 10 to the Buckeyes. The national chatter among NFL scouts was that this was James Franklin’s most talented roster. And what better time to take advantage of a divisional rival than when it is dealing with so many injuries? Ohio State didn’t have starting running back TreVeyon Henderson, wide receiver Emeka Egbuka or cornerback Denzel Burke, but still pulled off the win.
But when you go 2-of-19 on third and fourth down, have no red zone chances until the final minute, force zero turnovers, and fail to run the ball well (24 attempts for 74 yards) with a young and inexperienced quarterback (Drew Allar went 10-of 28 for 118 yards), this is what can happen.
[Big Noon Live: Ohio State batters Penn State in defensive fight]
Here are quick takeaways from Saturday’s game:
No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions vs. No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes Highlights
Player of the game
The difference in this game was simple: Ohio State had Marvin Harrison Jr. and Penn State did not.
The star WR and future first-round NFL talent had 11 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown, and made plays in critical moments for Ohio State. There was the jaw-dropping 12-yard catch on third-and-10 in the second quarter that set up the first touchdown. And later, he had an 18-yard grab to score the final touchdown that essentially put the game away.
Everyone keeps waiting for Ohio State to get going and look like previous dominant teams. Even if the Buckeyes aren’t that team this year, Harrison is arguably the best player in college football and at least he was able to show off a little bit this Saturday.
Kyle McCord links up with Marvin Harrison Jr. for an 18-yard TD
Play of the game
This wasn’t quite deja vu for Penn State, but it was close. A year ago, Ohio State defensive end JT Tuimoloau had a strip-sack and a pick-six in the fourth quarter to help the Buckeyes pull away.
This year, he had a sack and broke up a pass on fourth down to help seal the win … in the fourth quarter. Tuimoloau is a force to be reckoned with — and that doesn’t help when the opposing offense isn’t capable of making necessary plays to win.
[Big Noon Kickoff: Best signs from Ohio State vs. Penn State]
Turning point of the game
The biggest momentum swing for both sides came early in the second quarter when Ohio State went from nearly giving up a touchdown to scoring one in a matter of seconds.
With 9:20 on the clock, Penn State linebacker Curtis Jacobs sacked Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord for a 14-yard loss and proceeded to scoop up the fumble and return it 60 yards to the house.
But as Jacobs and his teammates celebrated in the end zone near their own fans, the TD was called back due to a defensive holding penalty. Three plays later, on third-and-10, McCord found Harrison Jr. on a slant for this ridiculous catch. It may not have been the smartest idea by McCord, but Harrison is the best WR in the country and can make that kind of play.
After two more pivotal penalties by Penn State to aid the 13-play, 61-yard drive, running back Miyan Williams found the end zone on a 2-yard rush to give the Buckeyes a 10-3 edge.
What’s next for Ohio State?
Now it’s all about staying unbeaten until The Game on Nov. 25. At this point — with resilient wins over two top-10 opponents in Notre Dame and Penn State — there’s no question that Ohio State is battle-tested, even if Saturday’s victory wasn’t pretty.
Next, the Buckeyes have back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Rutgers, then face Michigan State and Minnesota at home before traveling to the Big House. That regular-season finale is looking more and more like it will be for all the marbles.
‘Our defense played unbelievable’ – Marvin Harrison Jr., Ryan Day on Ohio State’s win
What’s next for Penn State?
Even though it may feel like it right now, this loss is not the end of the road. Sure, the path to a Big Ten title and the CFP may be blurry, but there’s actually a pathway for Penn State to still achieve its goals.
Beat Michigan in Happy Valley on Nov. 11 and hope that Ohio State loses The Game.
If those things happen — and if Penn State improves — this loss is more like an asterisk on the season (even if it is the seventh-straight loss to the Buckeyes). The Nittany Lions play Indiana and Maryland the next two weeks before hosting the Wolverines, who should still be undefeated at that point. Pull off a remarkable upset at home (it has to make plays on third down to do that) in what is sure to be a hostile environment, and this team could still technically make it to the Big Ten championship and CFP.
Then at the end of the year, the Nittany Lions could be a one-loss team heading into the CFP’s Selection Sunday.
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter at @LakenLitman.
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