For the third straight week, Ohio State (6-5, 3-4 Big Ten) allowed an opponent to jump out to a 10-0 lead. The Buckeyes rallied to beat Indiana the first time that happened before losing last weekend at Purdue in overtime. Penn State never lost its lead, bettering on what Purdue accomplished, only allowing Ohio State to get as close as 17-14 in the second quarter before closing out the victory with a scoreless second half.
"You want to start off fast," senior left tackle Mike Adams said. "and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with that. It's just that everything makes a difference. We were on the not-so-great side of that today."
It did not take Penn State long to take its lead. The Nittany Lions took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in five plays for a touchdown – a 39-yard scoring run by Stephfon Green. After Ohio State was forced to punt on its first drive, PSU went 54 yards on 15 plays en route to a 43-yard field goal by Anthony Fera.
The early sequence put the Buckeyes in a double-digit deficit with 1:59 left in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes answered with an impressive TD drive of their own. They went 77 yards in 10 plays with Braxton Miller rushing for a 24-yard touchdown to end the march. Still, Ohio State could not keep the momentum. Penn State answered with a touchdown of their own, extending the lead to 17-7 with a Green 4-yard scoring burst.
Ohio State would cut the lead to 17-14 with 5:22 left before halftime thanks in large part to a Penn State turnover. Orhian Johnson picked off a Matt McGloin pass at the OSU 48-yard line and returned it 15 yards to the Nittany Lion 37. Five plays later, Ohio State reached the end zone on a 7-yard TD pass from Miller to Jake Stoneburner.
Again, the Buckeyes could not keep the momentum. Penn State closed the first half – and the game's scoring – with a 46-yard Fera field goal as the second quarter clock expired.
The second half featured several more miscues for the Buckeyes, some large and some small. The first mistake came when miscommunication between tailbacks Boom Herron and Jordan Hall resulted in a fumble at the OSU 11. The Buckeyes were in the wildcat formation with Hall taking the snap. It was a read-option play, but Herron and Hall botched what was either supposed to be a handoff to Herron or a keep by Hall. Either way, the ball ended up on the ground, where Penn State's Jordan Hill recovered it. "We didn't communicate very well on that play and they came up with the fumble," Herron said. "I'll have to watch the film and see what actually happened on that play. "We work on it (in practice), but obviously we have to work on it more. That's what we have to do."
Ohio State's defense stood tall after that mistake, forcing a turnover on downs. The Buckeyes stopped five plays – all from the OSU 6 or closer to the goal line – including two at the OSU 1. Storm Klein and Michael Bennett combined to stop a diving Silas Redd short of the goal line on fourth down.
The stand gave Ohio State momentum, but another Buckeye mistake would take that away. Ohio State was quickly driving down the field before sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde lost a fumble at the end of an 11-yard run at the OSU 46. The loose ball was recovered by Nick Sukay, ending the potential Buckeye scoring threat and taking some of the air out of the Ohio Stadium crowd.
"We had them on their heels there," Adams said. "We all planned on driving the ball 99 yards for the score. Turnovers are something that we never want to have. It's one of our goals every week – no turnovers.
"Those things kill drives and momentum. Football is a game of momentum. That was one time where we definitely had the momentum on our side and we needed to keep it. It didn't work out."
Penn State was forced to punt after taking possession, and on OSU's next offensive drive, another miscue hurt the Buckeyes' chances. On a third-and-7 play at the OSU 32 early in the fourth quarter, Miller found Philly Brown running down the right side line with a step ahead of two Penn State defenders. Miller's deep pass was on target, but Brown dropped the ball.
"We really needed that one," Stoneburner said. "If we complete that, we're right there getting ready to score and win this game. We weren't executing very well, and it's the little things like that – if we come away with the ball or get a couple more blocks, who knows how this game turns out?"
The Buckeyes would have two more chances to earn the victory. Unfortunately for OSU, mistakes again played a part in why the drives went for naught. The first possession started at the Buckeye 13 with 7:09 remaining. Ohio State drove as far as the PSU 36, where the Buckeyes faced a fourth-and-5 with time winding down. That's when senior right tackle J.B. Shugarts was whistled for a false start penalty, pushing the Buckeyes back five yards to a fourth-and-10 situation at the 41. On the ensuing play, Miller scrambled and ran right for nine yards, falling just short of the first down.
Ohio State got the ball back with 36 seconds remaining, but the Buckeyes could have had more time than that if head coach Luke Fickell was not forced to use a timeout on defense in the third quarter when the unit was caught with only 10 players on the field. The Buckeyes' final drive lost seven yards and was hurt by a deep pass that freshman Evan Spencer got his hands on but could not hold on to and an intentional grounding penalty on Miller on the first play of the possession.