There have been no games bigger this season in college football than the Ohio State-Penn State matchup on Saturday afternoon. Both teams knew the tremendous implication of the game: win or risk not making the College Football Playoffs. Penn State had made it look easy all season, led by Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley. They were coming off a 42-13 thrashing of the Michigan Wolverines and felt confident that they could take down the Buckeyes for the second straight season. On the other hand, the Buckeyes had nothing but revenge on their mind after Penn State had spoiled OSU’s perfect regular season in 2016 with an upset victory in Happy Valley. Ohio State already lost a game earlier this season to a top-10 Oklahoma team and couldn’t afford to lose a second if they hoped to make the College Football Playoffs.
The game started about as well as you could hope for if you’re a Penn State fan and about as bad as you could fathom if you’re an Ohio State fan. Saquon Barkley returned the opening kick 97 yards for a touchdown. The Buckeyes’ woes didn’t stop there. Parris Campbell fumbled on the next Buckeye drive which was returned deep into Ohio State territory where it took just a few plays for Trace McSorley to find DaeSean Hamilton for a 13-yard touchdown reception. The first quarter ended with the Buckeyes trailing 14-3.
Penalties by the defensive secondary haunted the Buckeyes often in this game. Multiple pass interference penalties set up a dazzling 36-yard scamper by Saquon Barkley. The Buckeyes trailed by 18 at this point. The electric atmosphere of The Horseshoe disappeared and was replaced by a stunned silence. Fans were complaining about everything, including the refs, offensive playcalling, and the terrible special teams play. The crowd was restless and nervous. Barrett cut the deficit to 11 after finding Terry McLaurin on a 14-yard toss. The Buckeyes avoided Barkley on the following kickoff and it didn’t pay off. Koa Farmer took the kick back 59 yards into Ohio State territory and Penn State capitalized quickly. McSorley scrambled around for a 6-yard touchdown and put the Buckeyes down by 18 again, 28-10. Pesky Ohio State never stopped moving the ball in this game and came back with a touchdown before the half on a Mike Weber 2-yard rush to make it 28-17 at half.
The third quarter was much less exciting than the second quarter. Ohio State drove down the field and kicked a field goal to make it a one-possession ballgame. The Ohio State fans were starting to get excited once again but Penn State shut that down by driving down the field quickly. A long lob pass by McSorley seemed to be brought down by both a receiver and a defender and was initially ruled an interception. The play was challenged and ultimately reversed to a 37-yard touchdown by DeAndre Thompkins. Ohio State now trailed 35-20 and it seemed bleak for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes drove down the field led by JT Barrett and immediately struck for a touchdown in the 4th quarter. Johnnie Dixon III got open and caught a 38-yard touchdown. This cut the deficit to 8 and Ohio State was right back in it. Penn State added a field goal to make it 38-27 and Ohio State was down 11 with 4:52 remaining. Penn State had the ball back and went to punt and Ohio State special teams finally made a positive impact on the game. The kick was blocked by Denzel Ward off the edge and the Buckeyes took over in Penn State territory. Barrett continued his torrid game and finished the drive with another touchdown pass to Johnnie Dixon. The 2-point conversion failed and Ohio State trailed 38-33. Ohio State made another defensive stop and got the ball back. Barrett still didn’t miss another pass and finished off yet another drive with a 16-yard pass to Marcus Baugh right over the heads of two defenders. The Buckeyes took the lead but failed the two-point conversion again and Penn State trailed for the first time in the game with 1:48 left. All Penn State needed was a field goal to win the game and they plenty of time to get there. Unfortunately for Penn State, Ohio State came out angry and forced a 3-and-out to get the ball back and end the game in victory formation.
All season long, sports analysts have ripped on Barrett for his inability to show up in big games and lead the Buckeyes to victory. That ended with this game. Barrett went 33-39 for 3238 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interception. He completed 13 passes on 13 attempts in the 4th quarter to help the Buckeyes erase an 18-point deficit and knock off #2 Penn State in a thriller. He has vaulted himself into Heisman consideration and has Ohio State in a great position for the rest of the season. The Buckeyes have jumped into the top 4 in the AP poll and if they win out, they will find themselves in their 3rd CFP in 4 years.