Ohio State clinched the outright Big Ten East division championship with a 28-17 win over Penn State on Saturday.
That felt almost like an after thought, though, given the way the game played out and what is next for the second-ranked Buckeyes (11-0), who will conclude the regular season at Michigan next week then travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 7.
Here are six takeaways from the game:
1. At multiple junctures in the first 25 minutes, Ohio State looked like it would run away with the game.
The Buckeyes led 21-0 after Justin Fields’ 24-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Hill with 11:31 left in the third quarter, and the game was arguably not even that close.
Ohio State held a 340-64 advantage in total yards at that point with only a Fields fumble at the goal line standing between them and a four-touchdown lead.
Penn State was unable to move the ball with any regularity on the ground or through the air, but the Nittany Lions (9-2) still managed to hang around.
2. Turnovers played a major role in the game.
Fields’ fumble wasn’t detected live, but a touchdown turned into a turnover after further review.
That was just the beginning.
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins lost a fumble on the first play from scrimmage after Penn State drove 75 yards for its first touchdown of the game, and the Nittany Lions needed only two plays to turn that into another seven points.
Fields lost another fumble on the third play of the next drive, and Penn State added three more points with a 42-yard field goal from Jake Pinegar with 4:22 left in the third quarter to draw within 21-17.
The visitors won the turnover battle 3-1, but their lone giveaway was crippling.
Penn State trailed 28-17 but was driving with under six minutes left when Will Levis threw the ball into a crowd and Ohio State linebacker Justin Hilliard came away with it at the Ohio State 20, ending the Nittany Lions’ last scoring opportunity.
3. Ryan Day finally knows how his team would react to real adversity.
That’s a positive way to spin the way the Buckeyes spun their wheels in the third quarter.
The head coach has been asked about that nearly every week, both after blowouts that were anticipated and games that ended up being more lopsided than expected.
“You have to be willing to take punches and you have to not flinch when it happens, that was a great example,” Day said. “That was the first time we really were taking shots there, 14 straight points, and I’m not proud of that because we literally gave it to them. We handed them the ball — and we’re going to get that fixed — but then to see the response of everybody involved, see the guys make some big plays, the big catch by (Chris) Olave on offense. And to see the defense impose their will, it was unbelievable to see their response.”
Fields hooked up with Olave from 28 yards out in the fourth quarter to provide the final margin, a contested catch he appeared to take away from two Penn State defenders in the end zone.
“To win a game like that that was not clean shows the toughness that we have, because you walk out of that game thinking, oh, we probably could have won a lot bigger than that, but Penn State’s a great team,” Day said. “They did a really good job. But at the end of the day we’ve got to take care of the ball. And I said it to one of the coaches, maybe it’s been a little too easy at times. This was hard today. We learned some lessons and hopefully we can go from there.”
4. Fields had another big day despite the miscues.
Fields, the sophomore quarterback, finished with 188 yards passing and 68 yards rushing. He completed 16 of 22 passes and ran a career-high 21 times.
He took some hard hits along the way and even stayed on the ground for a few minutes after the last of three times he was sacked, but Day said he was fine afterward.
“He’s good. He’s good,” Day said. “He’s a warrior. I’m telling you, he’s tough. He ran the ball today. He extended plays on third down. Heart of a lion. I love that kid. He’s tough.
Day also explained calling a drop back pass and putting his prized quarterback in harm’s way on a fourth-and-5 with less than three minutes left.
“It was a chance to shoot the ball in the end zone,” Day said. “They came on a blitz. They did a really good job with it. We didn’t pick it up. I would have liked Justin to throw it away, not take the hit. He was trying to make the play. Those are things that happen; you make the decisions do and the best you can.”
5. Dobbins was also great again.
The junior running back ran for 157 yards on 36 carries as Day leaned on the running game, especially at the beginning and then in the second half.
Dobbins finished the day 1,446 yards rushing this season and 15 touchdowns. On his second carry of the day, the junior from Texas passed Eddie George on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list and will head to Michigan next week with 3,902 career yards, 59 behind No. 2 Ezekiel Elliott.
6. Chase Young made his presence felt.
The star defensive end hurried Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford three times on the first drive and was a general menace all afternoon.
In his first game back from an NCAA-mandated two-game suspension for accepting a personal loan he later repaid, Young finished with nine tackles against the Nittany Lions. Four were for loss and three were sacks, leaving him with a school-record 16.5 on the season.
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