COLUMBUS — Offense wins games, defense wins championships. But in some cases, good defense wins big time games.
On Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio State’s offense struggled to overcome Penn State’s top defense. So it was the defense that gave the Buckeyes the edge and allowed them to come away with the 33-24 victory.
“It was good to see our defense play like they did,” head coach Ryan Day said following the game. “We did some good things on offense but the defense won this game in my opinion. I thought they played gritty, they played hard, they got two turnovers. If our defense can play like they did tonight we have a chance to be really good.”
Penn State’s defensive line set the tone early on and Ohio State struggled to move the ball, especially on the ground. Ohio State was forced to punt three times in the first half, couldn’t convert on third downs, finishing the game 5-14, and could only convert in the red zone once out of six attempts.
Though the offense got rolling later on, it was the defense that gave quarterback C.J. Stroud and the Buckeye offense opportunities to stay in the game.
“Some games the offense isn’t going to play the greatest and the defense has to pick it up. Some games the defense isn’t going to play the greatest and the offense has to score some points,” defensive end Zach Harrison said following the game. “This was one of those games where the defense had to make a little more plays.”
In one of the most critical plays in the game, senior defensive end Tyreke Smith stripped the ball from Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford who then fumbled. The ball was recovered by fifth-year senior defensive tackle Jerron Cage who took it 57 yards for a Buckeye touchdown.
Smith was effective getting to Clifford and disrupting his pass game all night. Clifford was hurried multiple times by Smith, linebackers Steele Chambers and Cody Simon, and defensive ends Harrison and Javonte Jean-Baptiste.
Defensive back Cameron Brown said Cage’s touchdown was a game-changer for the defense and for the team. His touchdown gave Ohio State the most defensive touchdowns in the country with six on the year.
But Brown also played a significant role in the success of the defense, recording his first career interception. He returned Clifford’s pass for 25-yards after pressure from Smith forced a bad throw from Clifford.
Another critical play came from freshman defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau and Smith on fourth down where they sacked Clifford for a loss of eight yards to turn the ball over to Ohio State.
Safety Ronnie Hickman led all defensive players and had his fourth game with double-digit tackles with 14, surpassing his previous season high of 11. Defensive back Marcus Williamson made six tackles on the night, just one short of his career high.
The Ohio State defense recorded four sacks against Penn State, making it the fourth game this season where Ohio State has had four or more sacks. The defense totaled eight tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, and 69 total tackles.
[Photo via Ohio State Football Twitter]