The Silver Bullets recorded two interceptions, held Penn State to just 240 total yards despite two extra periods, and limited the Nittany Lions to just 16 yards on the ground. But when the offense gave the ball back to Penn State clinging to a 17-14 lead with 2:58 left in the fourth quarter the defense had a shot to finish of the Nittany Lions. They didn’t.
“Defensively other than the final drive, very pleased with the effort,” coach Urban Meyer said in his Monday press conference.
Starting at its own 9-yard line Penn State drove 77 yards and set up a game-tying 31-yard field goal, forcing the Buckeyes to gut out the win in OT. Prior to that drive, the Nittany Lions had amassed just 131 yards on offense.
“We had penalties along the way, and we played too soft,” Meyer said. “We gave up a couple of underneaths, and you give Penn State credit; the guy made a couple of tremendous throws.”
Ohio State limited any sort of big play that could lead to a game-winning touchdown, forcing Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg to nickel and dime them down the field. Turned out Hackenberg had plenty of change.
The Nittany Lions needed 17 plays to get their 77 yards. They were helped by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Curtis Grant after a seven-yard completion on second-and-17, but Penn State averaged just over four yards a play on their final march of regulation. Their longest play from scrimmage in the drive was just 11 yards.
“You have a mindset based on the amount of time left in the game,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “Make sure there are not big plays, (and) then we had the quarterback sneaks and those kind of things that extended the drive. A couple missed tackles, a couple missed opportunities. A couple of balls that we would like to have back”
After an incompletion on the first play of the drive, Hackenberg completed a 9-yard pass to DaeSean Hamilton. The Nittany Lions hurried to the line and Hackenberg fell forward to pick up a third-and-1. The Buckeyes again forced a third-and-1 on the next set of downs, and again the Penn State quarterback was able to pick it up. A 5-yard pass converted the Lions third-and-2 situation that followed.
It appeared the Buckeyes were in a good situation to stop Penn State and end the game when lineman Joey Bosa dropped Hackenberg at the 50-yard line for a 7-yard sack, setting up a second-and-17. The Grant penalty followed, giving the Nittany Lions new life and Hackenberg continued to pick up short chunks of yardage to set up the tying field goal.
“First of all that should have never happened, we made some stupid penalties,” Bosa said. “I wasn’t very excited to go into overtime, to be honest. I was dead tired going into it, but you can’t let that get in your head, you just have to go out there as a defense and play every play as hard as you can.”
The defense – and Bosa specifically – came up huge in the second overtime to help Ohio State seal the road win, but players agreed it shouldn’t have gotten to that point.
“It was frustrating. I take a big part of that, I was a little too soft, as (co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash) was telling me,” Safety Vonn Bell said. “I got to clean that up. Really frustrating, you’ve got to make the plays so you won’t even be in that situation.”
The Silver Bullets were firing on all cylinders at times Saturday in State College, and the statistics at the end of the night were promising, but Ohio State struggled to stop the Nittany Lions on the final drive of regulation.
Still, signs of improvement were there, and obviously the last drive could have been worse. By keeping everything in front of them the Buckeyes limited Penn State to a game-tying field goal rather than a game-deciding touchdown.
“I think our kids rose to the occasion, I know that sounds strange because they caught us, but they only caught us,” Coombs said. “We walked out of there with a chance to play and wound up winning in overtime. I think that’s important as well.”