TreVeyon Henderson ran for 152 yards and a touchdown and No. 5 Ohio State made just enough long plays and short field goals to hold off No. 20 Penn State 33-24 on Saturday night.
Facing their first real challenge in a month and half, the Buckeyes (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) finally finished off the Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-3) on Noah Ruggles’ fourth field goal, a 26-yarder with 2:41 left to make it a nine-point lead.
Coming off an ugly nine-overtime loss at home to Illinois, Penn State looked a lot like the team that had climbed into the top five before losing to Iowa in a game where quarterback Sean Clifford got hurt.
The senior looked sharp and healthy, going 35 for 52 for 361 yards and a touchdown after a tentative performance last week. Still, the Nittany Lions lost their third straight to fall out of contention in the Big Ten East.
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Meanwhile, Ohio State, which had hardly been tested since losing to Oregon in Week 2, looked a like the team that struggled to get off the field on third down and finish drives against the Ducks.
The highest-scoring team in the country was held out of the end zone for the first 26 minutes before two explosive plays in the span of about a minute and a half gave Ohio State the lead.
C.J. Stroud floated a deep ball that Chris Olave ran down for a 38-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes their first lead, 10-7 with 3:48 left in the first half.
Stroud finished with 305 yards passing.
Penn State responded by moving quickly into Ohio State territory, but Clifford was sandwiched by ends Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison and the ball came loose. Jerron Cage scooped it up and sprinted untouched 57 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-7.
The 305-pound Cage was feted by teammates on the sideline with water and waving hands and towels to cool him off as he caught his breath.
Penn State tied it in the third quarter, taking the opening possession 75 yards and capping it with a 2-yard TD run on direct snap to star receiver Jahan Dotson.
Henderson, after a false start on the goal line that forced Ohio State to settle for a short field goal on its previous possession, ripped off a 68-yard run that setup a 1-yard scoring plunge by the freshman to make it 27-17 with 3:35 left in the third.
Penn State came right back with another long TD drive, finished off with Keyvone Lee’s 1-yard run to make it 27-24 heading into the fourth quarter.
Cam Brown’s interception of Clifford in Penn State territory set up a 25-yard field goal by Ruggles to make it 30-24 with 4:03 left.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions were almost unrecognizable from last week’s performance against Illinois when they could not stop a one-dimensional team from running all over them and could neither sustain drives nor convert a 2-point play on six of seven attempts.
Ohio State: A month of pummeling overmatched opponents had the Buckeyes looking as if they might be emerging as the clear favorites in the Big Ten East after some early struggles, especially on defense. The conference still runs through Columbus, but the Buckeyes looked far from invincible against a team with more comparable talent.
Penn State is in danger of being unranked for the first time this season while Ohio State is probably holding steady at best when the AP poll comes out Sunday.
The first College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions look to snap their skid at Maryland.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes go to Nebraska next week.