Nittany Lions Squander Another Double-digit Lead To Buckeyes

September 30, 2018

STATE COLLEGE — On a night where the storylines were bucked, where the defenses reigned and the high-powered offenses struggled for every inch of green turf at raucous Beaver Stadium, something familiar stood out in another knock-down, drag-out affair between Penn State and Ohio State.

It came down to a wild fourth quarter.

Like always.

Dwayne Haskins led two late touchdown drives, matching the fourth-quarter comeback by JT Barrett that haunted the Nittany Lions at the Horseshoe a season ago, and No. 4 Ohio State escaped the White Out with a hard-fought 27-26 win Saturday night in front of a record crowd of 110,889 in Happy Valley.

The Buckeyes scored the

go-ahead touchdown on a 24-yard pass from Haskins to receiver K.J. Hill with 2:03 to go, leaving the Nittany Lions plenty of time to potentially get into field goal range. But on a fourth-and-5 from the Buckeyes 43, defensive end Chase Young — playing for injured star Nick Bosa — dropped running back Miles Sanders for a loss of two yards to seal the win and make Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley’s historic performance one rendered in a losing cause.

McSorley threw for 286 yards and rushed for 175 more, setting the Nittany Lions’ program record for total offense in a game. He also led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter that handed Penn State a 26-14 edge, and his 27-yard dart to tight end Pat Freiermuth opened that last drive with so much promise for the Nittany Lions.

It ended with another blown double-digit lead, and more questions about whether a trip to the College Football Playoff got washed away in the collapse.

“Obviously, this one hurts,” head coach James Franklin said. “The reality is, we had opportunities, and we didn’t make plays. We didn’t tackle well in the open field. We dropped some balls. We just didn’t make plays.

“I know our players our hurting. I know our assistant coaches are hurting in there. We can’t lose that lead.”

In short, Penn State struggled to make every play available, looking at times sloppy on offense on a night when Franklin said they had to be at their most sharp.

Battling another pass-dropping epidemic, the brilliant punting of Ohio State’s Drue Chrisman and a relentless Buckeyes defensive line, the Nittany Lions still staked themselves to a 13-0 first-half lead.

Four of Penn State’s first five drives ventured into Ohio State territory, but the Nittany Lions settled for just two field goals by freshman kicker Jake Pinegar after them. They didn’t find the end zone, in fact, until they were as far away from it as Ohio State had ever allowed a score.

Facing a third-and-5 from their own 7, quarterback Trace McSorley saw speedy freshman receiver K.J. Hamler make a quick move at the line of scrimmage, get separation on a slant route in front of freshman cornerback Shaun Wade, and delivered a low strike that Hamler scooped on the run.

And he was off.

Hamler darted past a diving Wade, then sprinted the rest of the 93 yards he needed to complete the longest touchdown pass ever allowed by Ohio State, electrifying the White Out crowd and handing Penn State the 13-point edge.

But, they couldn’t keep the momentum going. Running back Miles Sanders fumbled on the first play after Penn State’s defense forced a three-and-out, and on second down, quarterback Dwayne Haskins lofted a screen pass for Dobbins, who followed his blockers for a 26-yard score.

Halftime seemed to settle things down for the Buckeyes.

There were no third-and-longs, no errant throws and, perhaps more importantly for the Buckeyes, no pressure on Haskins, who calmly led a 75-yard drive to paydirt. He went 6 for 7 on the drive, for 50 yards, and running back J.K. Dobbins punched in a score from 4 yards out to hand the Buckeyes a 14-13 lead. The drive was aided by a fourth-down conversion run by Dobbins, who appeared to be stopped short of the sticks before reaching the nose of the ball just far enough to move the sticks.

Their backs to the ball and with momentum firmly in Ohio State’s corner, McSorley went to work.

He rushed for 10 yards on first down on Penn State’s first play of the fourth quarter, then later found Hamler for a 36-yard gain that, with a targeting call that led to the ejection of Buckeyes safety Isaiah Pryor, moved Penn State to the Ohio State 15.

McSorley carried the next play to the 2 before finding tight end Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown that gave them the lead back, 20-13.

Ohio State’s ensuing drive stalled when linebacker Koa Farmer turned Haskins back on a fourth-and-1 run, and Penn State responded with more McSorley brilliance.

He found redshirt freshman Mac Hippenhammer for 21 yards on first down, then scrambled for 19 on a third-and-11 two plays later. On a second-and-8 from the Buckeyes 11, McSorley nearly scored, taking off on a mad dash toward the goal line on which he took a shot to the head and was awarded a touchdown before replay indicated his elbow was down at the 1. Miles Sanders finished the drive on the next play for a 26-14 lead.

But, Ohio State responded much the way it did in Columbus last season, with big plays in the passing game.

Haskins threw a high fastball on first-and-10 that receiver Benjamin Victor leaped, grabbed and turned into an impressive 47-yard touchdown that got the Buckeyes within five.

Penn State drove into Ohio State territory again on its next drive before being forced to punt — an illegal forward pass called against McSorley stunted the drive — and Ohio State went back to the screen game to take the lead.

Pinned at their own 4, Haskins found Dobbins for 26 yards on first down. Later, he found Parris Campbell for 14, before K.J. Hill took a screen 24 yards for the go-ahead score. A 2-point attempt failed when Haskins’ pass sailed high through the end zone, setting up the Nittany Lions, 75 yards from the end zone with 2:03 left.

“They got their athletes in space; they did a really nice job with that,” Franklin said. “You can’t allow those big pass plays late in the game.”

The big plays were all but gone for the Nittany Lions at that point. Their Big Ten title hopes likely went with them.

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