Ohio State is making a habit of coming back from the dead against Penn State.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter for the second year in a row to stun the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions 27-26 on Saturday night in State College.
Here are five things to know from the game:
1. Another thriller.
Last season, Ohio State trailed 35-20 in the third quarter and 38-27 with five minutes to go before rallying for a 39-38 win over the Nittany Lions in Columbus.
This time Penn State extended its lead to 26-14 with eight minutes left and failed to hang on.
“The defense gets the ball back to the offense even though it’s way down deep in there and then one of the great drives in Ohio State history,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said fo the game-winning 96-yard march that ended with K.J. Hill scoring from 24 yards out on a screen pass from Dwayne Haskins. “The first half was awful a lot of ways. Give credit to our opponent. That’s a hell of a team we just played.”
Ohio State’s last three games at Penn State have all come down to the wire. The Buckeyes prevailed in 31-24 in overtime in 2014 and fell 24-21 two years ago after Penn State ran a blocked field goal back for a touchdown with just over four minutes left.
2. The play that jump-started the comeback came out of nowhere.
Meyer admitted he felt like it might not be Ohio State’s night as the white-clad Penn State fans celebrated Miles Sanders’ 1-yard touchdown run with eight minutes on the clock, but Binjimin Victor gave him — and the rest of the Buckeyes — hope with a 47-yard catch-and-run through the heart of the Penn State defense.
“It’s satisfying just to see guys fight,” Meyer said. “That sideline was not giving up. There was a time now you looked up and I saw those white pom-poms and the whole deal and I thought that was over. Not our sideline. I’m telling you, Bin Victor really changed the whole deal. Changed the whole dynamic of that game. I think the stadium felt it, too. You went in now and it was a one-score game.”
Victor’s score pulled Ohio State within five points with 6:42 left.
“He did a great job,” Haskins said. “On that play I looked back and if we got a certain pressure, which we did get that pressure, we were going to change the play, and I looked back and Coach Day said run it. I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ so he snapped the ball and I saw him coming, I saw Bin and I was like, ‘I’ve gotta make a play,’ and he made a hell of a play for me.”
3. Ohio State found some offense just in time.
Ohio State did not look like the No. 2 scoring offense (54.5 points per game) in the country for most of the night.
Not only did the Buckeyes finish with half their scoring average entering the night and 210 yards short of their usual output (599.0) in the first four games, they needed a 13-point, 173-yard fourth quarter to get there.
“Hats off to the defense because they kept us in the game as bad as the offense was in the first half,” Meyer said. “They’re a very good defense, but we were not blocking them and we had a couple drops. We didn’t get the ball downfield. But halftime adjustments, give coaches credit. They did a good job. We’re an offensive line driven program and they controlled the game after we got going.”
4. Penn State’s final play perplexes.
The Nittany Lions got the ball back with 2:03 left and a real shot to write their own storybook ending.
That dream died when Sanders was dragged down in the backfield on fourth-and-5 by Chase Young with 1:16 on the clock.
The play call — a zone read in which quarterback Trace McSorley chose to give the ball to Sanders rather than keep it — caught many observers by surprise, but not the Ohio State coaches.
“The quarterback is their guy, obviously,” Meyer said of the senior. “He’s a winner. He’s a competitor and he’s a great, great player, so the conversation was that somehow they’re going to get him involved in that play. And so (defensive coordinator Greg Schiano) came up to me and said, ‘We’re going to burn a timeout. Let’s see what they’re in.’ Right before the snap we did and I could hear over the headsets, ‘They’re going to try to get a zone read and get the quarterback the ball.’”
McSorley finished with a Penn State single-game record 461 total yards.
5. Problems persist.
Of course, Ohio State wouldn’t have needed another thrilling comeback if it hadn’t been in such a hole.
A top 10 team like the Nittany Lions did plenty of good things to build their lead, but they got a lot of help from the mistake-prone Buckeyes.
Ten penalties for 105 yards were marked off against the Buckeyes, and several came at inopportune times. A couple of dropped passes also hindered Ohio State’s efforts, including one that ended up as an interception that set up a Penn State field goal.
A facemask penalty also wiped out an Ohio State field goal in the third quarter.
“We’ve got to get that fixed because usually you don’t win a game when you do that,” Meyer said. “But we took care of the ball and protected the quarterback in the second half and our defense tackled that darn quarterback. He was running all over the place.”