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Stats And Storylines: The Defense Gave The Lions A Shot To Win

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The game was closer than many predicted after a great defensive effort by Penn State.

Penn State v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Penn State lost 28-17 to a tough Ohio State team playing at home. Had it not been for Brent Pry’s defense, the game would have been more like 56-17.

The Buckeyes had only been held under 40 points twice this year, but in each of those games they won by 24 and 31. This was the closest game of the year for Ohio State and it will likely be the only one that they fail to score 30 points. With the effort of the defense, it gave the Lions just enough of a chance.

Less than a quarter into the game it looked like Penn State was about to get run out of the building. With a touchdown on their first drive and two stops of the Lions’ offense, Ohio State was within inches of taking an early 14 point lead.

That’s when Brent Pry’s defense stepped up for the first time. Lamont Wade dove as Justin Fields dove for the end zone. As is often the case in football, the low man won. Wade made direct contact with Fields’ left wrist, knocking the ball loose.

Cam Brown was there to get a second hit on Fields and then to recover the ball. Just like that, instead of facing a quick two touchdown deficit, it was first and ten for the offense, down just one score.

Fields could be seen favoring his wrist for the rest of the game. It was Lamont Wade’s first big play of the game but it would not be his last.

The Buckeyes scored a second touchdown midway through the second quarter but by then the crowd had settled down slightly. The impact wasn’t as severe as it would have been had it come on the second possession.

After Ohio State ended the half with possession of the ball in Penn State territory, the Buckeyes scored the first time they touched the ball in the second half. Ricky Rahne’s offense answered back, cutting the 21 point deficit to 14.

The next time OSU touched the ball, Micah Parsons forced a fumble by J.K. Dobbins. Lamont Wade was in the area and fought off Dobbins and another Buckeye for the ball, recovering the fumble just 12 yards from the end zone.

Will Levis entered for the injured Sean Clifford and two plays later he ran for a touchdown, cutting the lead to just 7 points.

The next time the Penn State defense took the field momentum was on the Lions’ side, if not the score. Micah Parsons recovered the football after Lamont Wade forced another fumble. It’s hard to see Wade’s body behind Fields’ but Wade never gave up on the play, much like his earlier forced fumble at the goal line. Wade continued to rip at the ball all the way to the ground, and it came out at the very last second.

The Lions drove 11 yards with the ball, getting in position for a Jake Pinegar 42 yard field goal to cut the lead to 4. Penn State’s defense forced a punt but then momentum halted for the Lions when they were forced to punt the ball back.

After the game looked like it was going to get out of hand early, with Justin Fields in mid-air early in the first quarter, ready to cross the line, it went to the fourth quarter with just four points separating the teams.

Chris Olave made a great catch over John Reid and Jaquan Brisker for the final touchdown of the game. On the play Olave went up high for the catch but when he brought the ball back down, both Reid and Brisker were able to get their hands on it before the catch was completed. To Olave’s credit, it was his strong hands more than his agility and jumping ability that allowed him to haul in the deciding score.

Down 11 with 13:03 on the clock, there was still time for a comeback. Will Levis led the team down the field against a fierce pass rush, trying to get in scoring position. On a critical third down, Levis held the ball long enough to wait for KJ Hamler to come free. As you can see, Chase Young got to Levis before he got rid of the ball, smacking him on the right side.

Not only did Levis show an extremely strong throwing arm on the day, he showed that his arm is just plain strong, whether throwing or shrugging off one of the best defenders in the country. Levis delivered the throw after being hit, having the strength to load up with almost no windup or legs to help him.

Another nice thing about the play was Levis’ eyes on Hamler. He watched as Hamler made his cut, got hit just as he would have liked to release the ball, but he still got it out on time. Levis knew Chase Young was coming from the right side, knew he was single-teamed, and never once did Levis flinch. Levis didn’t even turn to acknowledge the hit. What we saw was the opposite of a quarterback getting happy feet in the pocket. Levis can run the ball with power, but he is not the type to pull the ball down early on a pass play and take off when pressure is in the backfield.

Will Fries was frequently asked to block Chase Young with no help, something that many, including the television broadcasters, thought was a mistake. While Young surely impacted the game, the tactic of leaving Fries alone with him did not blow up in the Lions’ faces. Young has the ability to take over a game while being double-teamed. He had 3 sacks but Penn State was able to run their offense well enough to stay in the game.

The Buckeyes threatened to end the game with a score but their offense faltered just inside of field goal range. Instead of kicking, and giving the Lions a chance to block it and set up a short field, OSU went for it on fourth down.

Lamont Wade made another game-changing play, getting to Fields for the sack while forcing another fumble. With the loss of yards on the play it was a drive of -8 yards for Ohio State.

The sack was another example of Lamont Wade giving maximum effort through the whistle. Had Fields not been able to recover the fumble, Cam Brown was nearby for what could have been a memorable scoop and score.

The stop by the defense gave Penn State the ball with 2 minutes left, trailing by 11. The offense went backwards for four plays and the game was over when the Buckeyes got the ball back.

The comeback fell short but no one can blame the team’s effort, it gave all it had and left it on the field.

Notable Stats

  • Lamont Wade was all over the field, forcing three fumbles and recovering one. He had 8 solo tackles while drawing some tough assignments in coverage. While Wade has been a productive player since his freshman season, it would be fair to say that this was the junior’s breakout game. He stepped up at critical moments and showed that he could be a leader on the defense next season.
  • Penn State held Justin Fields to 68 yards rushing on 21 attempts. He accounted for 254 yards combined on the day, which for many players would be a solid afternoon. For Fields, it was below his typical production level. It was the second-lowest total through their air, 188 yards, on the season.
  • Justin Shorter had 3 catches for 28 yards. They weren’t gaudy statistics but it was a very intense game for a player that hasn’t had much production in his short career. Shorter had only recorded multiple catches against Idaho (3) and Pitt (2) so it was a good time for him to step up, contributing a much-needed second option at wide receiver. Other than Hamler and Shorter, only one other catch went to a wideout, a six yarder to Jahan Dotson.
  • KJ Hamler finished with 3 catches for 45 yards. There wasn’t much room for him to work but his two first down catches came at critical moments. His presence in the game allowed the rest of the offense to work.
  • While the offensive numbers were not stellar, Ohio State has a great defense and was playing at home, it was a tough task for Ricky Rahne’s squad. The offensive line gave up plenty of sacks and had an uneven day, but it played well enough to give the team a chance to win.