UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Despite a 461 total yard performance by quarterback Trace McSorley, Penn State couldn’t get past Ohio State Saturday night, falling 27-26 at Beaver Stadium.
Starting on their own 25 yard line with 2:03 left on the clock, Penn State had the best case scenario for a game-winning drive, the ball and McSorley at quarterback.
On the first play of the drive McSorley found tight end Pat Freiermuth for a 27-yard reception to put the Nittany Lions into Ohio State territory. McSorley would be sacked on the subsequent play setting up a 2nd-and-14.
On second down, McSorley dropped back to pass looking for wide receiver Brandon Polk down the sideline, but his former high school teammate couldn’t reel it in resulting in an incompletion.
McSorley once again dropped to pass on 3rd-and-14 and took off for a gain of nine yards, putting the Penn State offense at the Ohio State 43 yard line.
After calling a timeout, Penn State once again lined up only for Ohio State to call a time out.
“We lined up the fist time and they called a timeout after they saw a formation that we came out in,” McSorley said after the game. “We came out and tried to get them to jump a little bit, see if we could get them to move.”
McSorley took the snap and handed the ball to Miles Sanders, who couldn’t get back to the line of scrimmage being tackled for a loss of two yards.
“We saw their front, how they came out and our look,” Sanders recalled. “When we see that we try and split it right through the middle. They did a great job switching whatever they were doing and had (defensive end) Chase (Young) coming through the middle.”
McSorley, though, agreed with the play call in that situation.
“I mean fourth-and-five, I knew what Coach (Ricky) Rahne saw, I saw the same thing,” McSorley said. “The play was there to be made and we just didn’t make it. They did a good job, they ran a twist, got into the the backfield quickly.”
The lack of execution hasn’t quite cost Penn State up to this point of the season, but it was exposed against the Buckeyes especially on that game-deciding play.
“We weren’t able to pick up that twice and they were able to hit Miles right when he got the handoff and get him down,” McSorley said. “I know that it is a deciding factor in the play and I agreed with what Coach Rahne saw, we just didn’t make a play.”
Head coach James Franklin on the other hand wasn’t pleased with the play call, although hindsight is 20-20.
“We obviously didn’t make the right call in that situation, that’s on me, nobody else, that’s on me. We didn’t make the right call in that situation.” Franklin said.
THE GAME BALLS
My top three performers:
1. Trace McSorley
Penn State quarterback
McSorley was 16-for-32 for 286 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 175 yards on 25 carries good for a total of 461 yards or 93.7 percent of the yardage output Penn State had Saturday night.
2. Dwayne Haskins
Ohio State quarterback
Haskins was 22-of-39 for 270 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Two of those touchdowns came with under seven minutes left to play in the game.
3. KJ Hamler
Penn State wide receiver
Hamler hauled in four McSorley passes for 138 yards and a touchdown before exiting the game due to injury in the fourth quarter.
Ohio State entered Saturday night’s game as the No. 2 scoring offense in the country averaging 54.5 points per game. The Penn State defense held them to 27 which all things considered, is not a terrible outcome.
The defense held the Buckeyes to a total of 93 yards and a touchdown in the first half and largely kept Dwayne Haskins uncomfortable. It was the start the Nittany Lions needed and they kept it rolling into the second half other than the first drive of the half for Ohio State.
After the third quarter, it was all down hill.
“Did we take a step as a defense against an elite program? I think yeah our defense for three quarters played really good, really well,” Franklin said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it was good enough. It wasn’t good enough.”
Three of the first six drives for the Nittany Lions resulted in field goal tries after big plays set the Penn State offense up with good field position. Kicker Jake Pinegar was successful on two of those three tries.
The inability to find the end zone ultimately cost the Nittany Lions an opportunity to put points on the board, but also kept Ohio State closer than they should’ve been.
To win against the Buckeyes, those field goals had to be touchdowns. Settling for field goals is far from ideal against anybody especially the No. 4 team in the country.
Penn State needs to do a better job of not getting cute with different packages, but also realizing when something isn’t there not to come back to it. Force-feeding Miles Sanders the ball does no good when Ohio State is neutralizing him at the point of attack.
The play of the game comes from Juwan Johnson, a 31-yard reception which set up the first field goal of the game for Penn State.
Juwan Johnson, sir pic.twitter.com/Lv0MDdgwLf
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 30, 2018
“We had a go, so I tried to take my outside release,” Johnson recalled following the game. “I tried to push back as much as I could and I seen the ball, it was kinda just instinct to put one hand up and just snag it.”
The catch gave the Nittany Lions an early momentum boost and will certainly be one of the top catches of the season by the time it’s all said and done.
With just over four and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, Penn State was faced with a 4th-and-5 from the Ohio State 32 yard line which would’ve been a 59 yard field goal had they attempted it.
The elected to punt it and hope punter Blake Gillikin could pin the Buckeyes deep in their own territory down five at that point in the game. It worked as planned. However, on the first play of the Ohio State drive, Haskins found running back J.K. Dobbins for 35 yards on a screen pass.
“We didn’t go for a fourth down there, pinned them deep, really had a good situation, but then we give up a huge play on first down and swings momentum,” Franklin said. “Yes, after the fact, we probably should’ve went for it.”
The Buckeyes finished of that drive with a Haskin touchdown pass to K.J Hill.
THE OTHER SIDE
Ohio State got their playmakers in space in the second half and it showed with their 20 point output after the intermission. A steady diet of screen plays got the Buckeyes down field and set them up with quality field position late in the game.
“They got their athletes in space, they threw the key screen, they threw the bubble screen in space,” Franklin said. “They threw the screen to the tailback, they were able to get their linemen out front…we didn’t do a great job in space with them”
The Ohio State defense did a great job neutralizing Miles Sanders all night and it showed especially with their stop on 4th-and-5 late in the fourth quarter to clinch the victory. The Buckeyes forced the Nittany Lions to ride McSorley the entire game and force his receivers to make plays down field.
And while they may have given up 492 total yards, Ohio State held Penn State to field goals when they needed it most early in the game and it made a difference in the end.
THE INJURY UPDATE
• KJ Hamler, wide receiver, exited the game in the fourth quarter after a helmet-to-helmet hit while being tackled.
• Tommy Stevens, quarterback, played extensively in the first half after being out the first four weeks of the season due to a foot injury.
No. 9 Penn State gets a week to rest with a by week coming up next weekend. Following the bye, they’ll square off against Michigan State in the annual Stripe Out game Oct. 13.
Visit our Penn State team page for everything from this game.