Ohio State vs. Penn State score, takeaways: No. 2 Buckeyes battle back late to remain undefeated atop Big Ten

No. 2 Ohio State unleashed an avalanche of fourth-quarter points on No. 13 Penn State to come away with a 44-31 win in their Big Ten East showdown. The game was much closer than the two-score deficit reveals, though it did feel like it would be a blowout early.

Penn State began the game with back-to-back turnovers, but the same red zone issues that haunted Ohio State last week against Iowa were back on display as the Buckeyes were only able to open a 10-0 lead. Penn State would erase that lead in the second quarter with a 14-13 advantage heading into the locker room; quarterback Sean Clifford recovered from his two early turnovers and tore the Ohio State secondary apart in the second quarter. 

The Buckeyes defense made adjustments at halftime, however, and the open spaces for the Nittany Lions offense suddenly disappeared. Ohio State took the lead back in the third quarter when another drive ended in the red zone, but it was with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter that Penn State's Kaytron Lee scored from 1 yard out on a fourth down to give Penn State a 21-16 lead. 

Then, everything changed.

Ohio State answered quickly with a three-play touchdown drive, capped by TreVeyon Henderson breaking free for a 41-yard rushing score. After a Clifford fumble, Ohio State scored on a 24-yard pass from C.J. Stroud to Cade Stover. A 21-16 Penn State lead became a 30-21 Ohio State lead in 66 seconds of game time.

Things would only get worse. Henderson scored his second touchdown and Buckeyes defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau put the final stamp on things with a pick six to make it 44-24 with 2:42 to play.

Stroud threw for 354 yards but only one touchdown, while Marvin Harrison Jr. caught 10 passes for 185 yards. Clifford finished with 371 yards and three touchdowns, but his three interceptions and lost fumble doomed the Nittany Lions in the end.

Tuimoloau was the unquestioned player of the game, finishing with two interceptions, two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a pass deflection that led to the first interception of the game. He was a one-man wrecking crew for the Buckeyes defense. 

Here are the takeaways from Ohio State's win.

Tuimoloau is what Ohio State's defense was missing

There was a stretch of time when seemingly every NFL Draft had an Ohio State pass rusher going early in the first round. Nick Bosa, Joey Bosa and Chase Young terrorized quarterbacks in the Big Ten before moving on for bigger NFL paydays. That hasn't been the case lately in Columbus.

While the five-star talent has continued to arrive, the production hasn't followed. Chase Young finished the 2019 season with 16.5 sacks. In 2020 and 2021, Ohio State's leaders totaled nine sacks (Jonathan Cooper had 3.5 and Haskell Garrett had 5.5). Sure, the 2020 season was shortened by COVID, but that's a startling lack of production from a team with so much talent.

Enter defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and Tuimoloau. The former five-star recruit is thriving in Knowles' defense and put it all on display today. He deflected the pass on Penn State's opening possession, ending with a Zach Harrison interception. He eliminated the middleman on the next possession, jumping a route on a short hitch to pick off the pass himself. (Yes, that's right, a defensive end jumped a route.) He would finish the game by plucking another Clifford pass out of the air and strolling to the end zone for a pick six.

In between, he had two sacks, a forced fumble and a recovery. It was the most impressive performance I've seen from a defensive player this season.

Ohio State's red zone offense remains an issue

The Buckeyes were proud of their red zone offense before last week's game against Iowa. Through the first six games, the Buckeyes scored 27 touchdowns on 29 red zone possessions, an elite conversion rate. But they hadn't faced a truly outstanding defense in any of those games. Then Iowa came to town, and Ohio State scored four touchdowns in seven red zone possessions. Against Penn State, they scored two in five. That's six for their last 12, and six field goals and 24 points "left" on the board.

The good news for Ohio State is it got away with it. Four Penn State turnovers gave the Buckeyes extra possessions. Last week it was due to Iowa's offense being a crime against humanity.

But what happens if the Buckeyes struggle to finish drives against a good team that doesn't beat itself? You know, a team like Michigan, or any potential opponents in the College Football Playoff? If you fancy yourself a national title contender -- Ohio State most certainly does, and is -- you have to work on your weaknesses, and it's developed one.

This game will haunt Sean Clifford

My thought heading into the game was that Penn State had to run the ball well if it wanted to give itself a legit chance to pull off the upset. The Nittany Lions didn't do a great job running the ball (111 yards on 33 carries for 3.4 per), but they still had a chance to win the game.

Penn State looked like an Air Raid team using the same offense Baylor ran when Robert Griffin III won the Heisman. It spread Ohio State's defense from sideline to sideline with pre-snap alignments and found plenty of gaps in a secondary that remains the weak point of Ohio State's defense. Clifford threw for 371 yards and Parker Washington was a stud with 11 receptions for 179 yards and a touchdown. The Lions were getting chunk plays, too.

But the turnovers killed them. As well as Clifford played, he cost his team dearly with too many mistake. Of his three interceptions, the first one was bad luck, but the second two were firmly on him. His fumble resulted from holding the ball away from his body while the pocket collapsed.

Clifford gave his team a chance to win the game. He also cost his team a win.

What Ohio State has at receiver isn't fair

Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave went to the NFL in the spring. Jaxon Smith-Njigba has missed nearly the entire season (including today) with a nagging hamstring injury. And none of it matters because Ohio State still has Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.

Seriously, the Buckeyes are missing the best receiver in the country (Smith-Njigba), and they just replaced him with the guy who might be the best receiver in the country (Harrison). Oh, and if that's not enough, tight end Cade Stover had a monster day, too, catching six passes for 78 yards and a touchdown while opening up a massive hole for TreVeyon Henderson on his 41-yard touchdown run.

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October 29, 2022, 7:48 PM
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October 29, 2022, 7:47 PM
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October 29, 2022, 7:32 PM
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OMG JT Tuimoloau

He did it again. Pick six. Unbelievable. He just snatched the ball out of the air and walked into the end zone.

October 29, 2022, 7:32 PM
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Emeka Egbuka calls game

CJ Stroud hits Egbuka down the field on a second down for a 42-yard gain to set up a 1st and goal at the Penn State 2. A delay of game moved em back five yards, but it didn't matter. TreVeyon Henderson beat everybody to the corner on the next snap to score from seven yards out and it's 37-24 with 2:52 left. It's a 7-play, 75-yard drive, and now the Nittany Lions need two touchdowns in the final three minutes. It's a tall order.

October 29, 2022, 7:29 PM
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October 29, 2022, 7:28 PM
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October 29, 2022, 7:26 PM
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October 29, 2022, 7:24 PM
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October 29, 2022, 7:21 PM
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Penn State makes it a one-score game

Pinegarhits a 44-yard FG to cap off a 7-play, 48 yard drive. The Nittany Lions are no longer finding the space in the passing game they had for the first half and parts of the third quarter, and they've had difficult adjusting. Now they need their defense to get them the ball back with enough time to score. There's 5:49 left.

October 29, 2022, 7:19 PM
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October 29, 2022, 7:11 PM
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Touchdown Ohio State

The Buckeyes only needed one play following the turnover. Stroud hits Cade Stover for a 24-yard touchdown over the middle, and he was WIDE OPEN. It's 30-21 with 8:17 left, and what felt like a game 30 seconds ago now feels like a foregone conclusion.

October 29, 2022, 7:10 PM
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Disaster for Penn State

JT Tuimoloau does it again. He gets to Sean Clifford, swats the ball out of his hand, and then falls on it. That's a pass deflected, an interception, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He's having a day. Ohio State ball at the PSU 24.

October 29, 2022, 7:09 PM
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October 29, 2022, 7:04 PM
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There's the big play

How do you avoid red zone struggles? Score before reaching the red zone, duh. TreVeyon Henderson follows a block from Cade Stover and goes 41 yards to the house to make it 23-21 Ohio State. The Buckeyes go for two afterward. It's a three-play, 75-yard drive.

October 29, 2022, 7:03 PM
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