Not only was the play a turning point for the Buckeyes as a whole, but it also represented a turnaround for the OSU secondary. A pair of safeties, Jermale Hines and Orhian Johnson, combined to stop PSU freshman running back Silas Redd for no gain at the Ohio State 20-yard line.
"He tried to bounce (outside), and he almost stiff-armed me," Hines said. "But I held on for dear life and Orhian came and cleaned me up."
It was arguably the most successful play by a member of the secondary after Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin had completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards with two touchdowns. The stop by Hines and Johnson gave the Buckeyes something to build on at halftime, however.
"The play Jermale and Orhian made on that fourth down was an incredible play," senior cornerback Devon Torrence said. "It gave us momentum."
That momentum carried over into the second half. The Buckeyes changed their coverage packages and forced McGloin to do a complete 180 in terms of performance. The former walk-on completed 13 of 18 passes for 141 yards in the first half, primarily on quick-hitting passes. But after halftime McGloin completed only 2 of 12 passes for 18 yards. He also threw two interceptions, and each was returned for Ohio State touchdowns.
Johnson credited the fourth-down stop, a play that at the time he didn't feel was that crucial, for turning the secondary's fortunes around.
"They hit us with nickel and dime passes, but for us to turn around in the second half and make the kind of plays we did, it makes me feel confident," Johnson said.
Torrence was the primary victim when McGloin completed quick passes in the first half. He got his revenge in the third quarter when he picked off a McGloin pass and returned it 34 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. It came four plays after Ohio State had cut its deficit to 14-10 and gave the Buckeyes a 17-14 lead, one they would not relinquish.
"To see him rebound and show some toughness was nice," Ohio State senior defensive end Cameron Heyward said of Torrence. "Devon's a great player and he definitely stepped up and made a critical play for us."
Torrence and several other Buckeyes gave credit to Tressel's halftime speech following the victory. Each said the coach was emotional – some said he yelled at the team – and challenged the Buckeyes to use the fourth-down stop as momentum.
The first half ended on a down note with several fans among the 105, 466 booing the home team as it left the field. Tressel's speech changed the mood.
"You know when Tress starts yelling, it means business," said Hines, who added that he had never seen Tressel as fired up as he was at halftime. "Everybody in the locker room knew we had to dig down deep inside. We challenged ourselves, and the coaches challenged us. We went out there and played hard."
Added senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore: "He got us excited. When he starts – I wouldn't say yelling – but when he gets emotional because it's so uncharacteristic of him it really gets you pumped up and ready to go."
The results of the fourth-down stop and Tressel's halftime speech speak for themselves. The Ohio State defense held Penn State scoreless, allowed a paltry 60 yards of total offense and did not allow PSU to convert a third-down play in six chances. Meanwhile, Ohio State scored 35 unanswered points, went 4 for 4 on third down and piled up 306 yards.
"We all wanted to go out there and make plays for (Coach Tressel)," Torrence said. "I know I did especially knowing what was going on in the first half. I'm glad I got that one for my coach."
A reporter then asked if anyone he taped Tressel's speech.
"I wish we did," Torrence said. "It would have been the No. 1 video on YouTube."