COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State faced its toughest game on the road of the season with a Top 15 matchup at Penn State on Saturday. The Buckeyes at times looked outplayed and worn down — but the fourth quarter was another story for Ohio State.
Ohio State struggled to get its offense established, especially in the run game following Miyan Williams’ departure with an upper body injury in the second quarter. Quarterback C.J. Stroud completed only one touchdown in the 44-31 win at Beaver Stadium. The game was full of mistakes and missed opportunities. But it was the defense led by defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau who led the fourth quarter turnaround for the Buckeyes.
Penn State took the lead in the third quarter when the Nittany Lions missed two field goals in a row, but an Ohio State penalty gave Penn State new life and it converted on a touchdown on fourth down. Linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, arguably one of the best linebackers in the country had the freshman for a tackle for loss, but the freshman running back Kaytron Allen punched it in for a touchdown 21-16.
Suddenly Ohio State found its momentum. Ohio State responded with a 41-yard touchdown from running back TreVeyon Henderson with a critical block by tight end Cade Stove to take the lead once again 23-21.
After a number of critical plays early on including a pass break up and an interception, Tuimoloau created the play that changed the game for the Buckeyes. Tuimoloau came away with a turnover on a strip sack that Ohio State then converted to a 24-yard touchdown from Stover who danced past defenders for a 30-21 Ohio State lead.
“The defense played well and created some turnovers. J.T. Tuimoloau has been working really hard at this and he really stepped up,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said following the win. “You’re seeing what he’s capable of. It was a coming out party for him. It was well deserved and we’re happy for him. He has been working really hard at this, so it’s great to see all of his hard work pay off.”
Tuimoloau finished the game with six tackles, two sacks, two interceptions with one being a pick six, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, and one pass break up.
The gutsy fourth quarter gave Ohio State the surge it needed to get past Penn State’s high-powered offense that kept up with Ohio State. But when Ohio State needed him the most in the fourth quarter, Tuimoloau showed up big.
For Day, Tuimoloau’s efforts are just beginning to get recognition. He has worked hard behind the scenes to show up on a stage this big, and perform for his team.
“He’s been working at it, and no one wants it more than he does,’ Day said. “At this stage for him to play the way he did means a lot to him and I think his teammates are vey proud.”
“It’s all kind of a blur the way it happened but to intercept balls like that as a defensive end and to get a defensive end, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that,” Day said. “That’s big time.”