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Not Quite Enough Defense: Penn State Can’t Hold On For the Win in Columbus

There will be a lot of focus on what went wrong for the Penn State defense. Here’s a look at what went well.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The result of the game is disappointing for the Penn State faithful fans and that is understandable. Let’s remember that crazy things happen in college football. Last season OSU lost to Penn State and made the playoffs, running the table as it appears the Lions must now do to keep hope alive. While we can take some time to lick our wounds, let’s also keep our heads up, there may still be hope for the team to accomplish the ultimate goal of a National Championship. The days of YOLO are now behind us, now we must move forward with the mantra YOLT. You only live twice.

Let’s hope the team rebounds and is given a second chance to get back into a top-four spot later this season. Until Penn State loses for a second time there will remain a chance, at least for the next few weeks, of returning to a playoff position. Rather than focusing on what the team cannot control at this point, its own destiny, we can freeze those thoughts in hopes that they will be reheated later this year. Rather than crying over a loss, think of it as football cryogenics.

Enjoy the remaining games and events that unfold over the next month, this could still be a memorable if not historic season.

What Happened

Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff to the house to give the defense an immediate 7-0 lead to protect.

Ryan Buchholz left the game on the first defensive series with an injury, forcing Penn State to test its depth at defensive end early. Shaka Toney entered the game and didn’t miss a beat.

Manny Bowen and Toney combined on a tackle on the opening series, causing a fumble that Koa Farmer was happy to pick up and carry the other way 25 yards. No. 43 Bowen’s helmet was placed perfectly, right on top of the ball.

On the ensuing drive Penn State scored to take a 14-0 lead when Trace McSorley found DaeSean Hamilton in the end zone. On the next Ohio State possession the Lions forced a three and out, aided by a five-yard penalty before the snap on first down, then a five-yard loss on a tackle for loss on the next play. And just like that, the ball was right back in the hands of the dangerous Penn State offense.

After gaining ten yards and a first down the OSU defense stiffened and forced a punt. An uncharacteristic bad punt from Blake Gillikin coupled with a rare poor play on special teams by Irvin Charles gave the Buckeyes great field position to begin the next drive on their own 42 yard line. Charles was called for a 15-yard penalty after a shaky punt.

Again the drive started with a pre-snap penalty for OSU of five yards. With an 18-yard run on third and short, JT Barrett took the ball to the Penn State 30 yard line. Another pre-snap penalty took the ball back out to the 35. After allowing a few yards Penn State made three consecutive great plays to force an OSU field goal.

Here’s the third down play, which was a complete team defensive effort. Curtis Cothran got credit for the sack, but as you can see there was no place for Barrett to throw. It was a solid pass rush and even better coverage in the secondary.

OSU forced another three and out to get the ball back trailing 14-3. The Lions once again gave up a handful of yards to allow the Buckeyes to get near field goal range. With two consecutive tackles for loss by Shareef Miller, the defense pushed the offense back out of range. On fourth down Penn State swarmed to make the tackle short of the sticks.

On the next drive the offense responded, capping a solid drive with another great run by Saquon Barkley. The tone was now set on both sides of the ball and the defense had to have felt that 18 points midway through the second quarter was getting close to enough of a lead to preserve for the win. Sadly that did not prove to be the case.

The Buckeyes shook off those types of thoughts when they ran right down the field for their first touchdown of the day on the next series. Hoping to keep the game close, down just 21-10, OSU kicked away from Saquon Barkley to try to minimize the damage of a potential return. Instead Koa Farmer took the ball the other way and into immediate field goal range. The exchange elicited a befuddled reaction by Urban Meyer. He looked both shocked and scared. If not kicking it to Barkley doesn’t work then what will?

Just a few plays later PSU scored to take the lead back out to 18. The defense once again had a healthy cushion.

Marcus Allen had a couple of tough tackles as Ohio State made its way deep into Penn State territory on the next series. The punishing tackler made his presence known from his safety spot. It wasn’t enough to keep the Buckeyes in check as they answered once again to cut the lead to 28-17.

Not to be outdone, Trace McSorley led the offense methodically down the field. The drive stalled just outside of field goal range and Blake Gillikin booted the ball inside the 15 yard line. While the offense was not able to put additional points on the board, it was able to pin the opponent deep.

The defense began with a great tackle by Troy Apke for a five-yard loss to set the tone for the series.

Two plays later OSU punted the ball away, ending the final threat of the first half. The Buckeyes got the ball to start the second half and moved down the field. With a 2nd and 6 from the Penn State 12 yard-line, OSU took a false-start penalty. That coupled with some solid defense ended the drive short of the end zone. The damage was limited to a field goal, keeping the lead at 28-20.

McSorley led the offense down the field on a long drive to give the defense time to regroup while still holding a lead. On a play that was originally ruled an interception in the end zone, DeAndre Thompkins caught a touchdown to stretch the lead to 35-20.

On third down of the next drive Penn State forced and recovered a fumble. On the opposite side of the field a holding penalty was called, negating the turnover and giving OSU new life. Two consecutive penalties stalled the Buckeye drive after that, forcing a punt. The defense held its line, preserving the 15 point lead.

The Lions held the ball for a few minutes on the next possession but had to kick the ball away. OSU muffed the punt, which contributed to the field being flipped. PSU faced 2nd and 15 from the 1 yard-line on the drive and OSU took over at their own 24.

Shareef Miller was around the ball all night and this time he happened to be the closest man to a miscue. JT Barrett kept the ball too long, causing a fumble, and Miller jumped on it for the Lions. This gave the Lions the ball and a 15-point lead in the second half, and it appeared to be going their way.

Unfortunately on the next drive OSU forced a three and out and then blocked the Blake Gillikin punt. The Penn State defense was forced to defend a short field. Two plays later OSU scored to cut the lead to 35-27. Johnnie Dixon got behind Jason Cabinda, testing the outer-reaches of the middle linebacker’s pass defense range for the catch.

Penn State’s offense once again answered the call, using runs from Barkley, McSorley, and a great catch on third down by Mike Gesicki to get Tyler Davis into field goal range, which he converted for a 38-27 lead with just 5:42 left in the game.

Ohio State drove down the field, pulling out all the stops on the next possession. The drive was capped with another touchdown to Johnnie Dixon to cut the lead to 38-33. On the play, Penn State’s interception leader Amani Oruwariye was in position to make a play, but was unable to locate the ball.

OSU attempted to cut the lead to three with 4:20 left to play. The Penn State defense stepped up, stopping them short of the line.

When Penn State got the ball back, a three and out followed, forcing a punt from the 11 yard line. Blake Gillikin punted the ball across midfield after having his last punt blocked. It set up the Penn State defense with 58 yards to defend. It wasn’t enough. In less than one minute Ohio State went down the field for a touchdown and a 39-38 lead. The Buckeyes tried another two-point converstion and once again the Lions held.

Penn State’s offense turned the ball over on downs on its final possession, leaving very little room for error with just 1:22 left in the game and two timeouts, trailing by one point. It would need to force OSU to punt and hope to get the ball back with less than a minute to play. JT Barrett ran for a first down to ice the game two plays later.

The Penn State defense played an uneven game, giving up three late scores. It played well in spurts and until the final half of the fourth quarter, it appeared to be enough to get the win.