My Favorite Game: #3 No. 13 Ohio State vs. Penn State, October 25th, 2014

In James Franklin’s first season as the head coach at Penn State, there was a lot of buzz coming into the season. That buzz only grew as the Nittany Lions raced out to a 4-0 start, beating UCF in Ireland, Akron, Rutgers, and UMASS.
The defense looked strong to start the season behind players such as Mike Hull, Adrian Amos, and Anthony Zettel. Mixed with those veterans were younger players with major potential such as Marcus Allen and Brandon Bell.
While the defense looked strong, the offense struggled to find their stride under new OC John Donovan and returning QB Christian Hackenberg, averaging only 20 points per game over the first three games, until a 48 point eruption against UMASS.
However after the 4-0 start, Penn State got waxed at home 29-6 by Northwestern and struggled on offense in Ann Arbor, losing 18-13 to the Wolverines. Heading into Ohio State, the momentum from early in the season was completely gone, while Ohio State was starting to play better and better under QB J.T. Barrett, who had replaced former two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller because of Miller’s shoulder injury. Despite losing early on to Virginia Tech at home, Ohio State reeled off four straight 50 point performances heading into Happy Valley.
Many fans expected the game to be a blowout with the two teams trending in completely opposite directions. It certainly looked that way early on as Christian Hackenberg threw an interception on the opening drive deep in Penn State territory. Although video replay was very conclusive showing that Ohio State DB Von Bell dropped the football on the Beaver Stadium grass, the officiating crew upheld the call, setting up a 10 yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott.

The ball touching the ground without any control on the Hackenberg “interception” by Vonn Bell (Buckeye Highlights/YouTube)

Penn State and Ohio State then traded 3 and outs before Penn State mounted a promising drive of 7 plays for 37 yards before punting. The ensuing Ohio State drive went for 14 plays, 59 yards, and over 7 minutes. It ended with Sean Nuernberger connecting on a 49 yard field goal, when yet again it was very conclusive that the play clock had expired and the snap did not happen until after the play clock reached double zeroes.

The clock read 00 even before the snap on this 49 yard field goal (Buckeye Highlights/YouTube)

The Penn State offense struggled to get anything going towards the end of the second quarter and allowed Ohio State to gain very favorable field position inside Penn State territory. Ohio State then made it 17-0 on a one yard pass from Barrett to TE Jeff Heuerman.
Entering halftime, there were no signs Penn State was coming back in this one. One more Ohio State score and this game was pretty much done. With Ohio State getting the ball to start the second half, the Buckeyes had a chance to tack on another score and cruise to victory.
That all changed when J.T. Barrett dropped back to pass on a 3rd and 6. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel dropped back in coverage and intercepted Barrett on a pass intended for Michael Thomas.  Using his speed to get down the sideline, Zettel found the end zone to swing the momentum all the way back in Penn State’s favor. Sitting in the upper deck of the North End Zone, I had one of the best views in the stadium of the play and immediately felt the upper deck shake as Zettel was pushed into the end zone. The crowd was finally back into the game and the comeback was on in the second half!

My view from the North End Zone Upper Deck, the perfect spot to watch Anthony Zettel fall into the end zone to put the Nittany Lions right back in the game

On the ensuing drive for Ohio State, Elliott picked up a first down before the drive fizzled, then Penn State had a 3 and out. On Ohio State’s next drive, they drove down the field, looking to secure the momentum they had in the first half. However, Neurnberger’s 41 yard kick missed wide left, keeping Penn State alive late in the third quarter. Penn State then mounted a quality drive of their own before Hackenberg was intercepted deep in Ohio State territory.
Going into the 4th quarter, the Penn State defense was playing at a very high level, being disruptive in the backfield and displaying tight coverage. The question was, can the offense score 10 points to send this game to overtime or even score enough to take the lead? The Lions had 15 minutes to find out.

A Mike Hull interception set Penn State up in Ohio State territory early on in the 4th quarter. Then, freshman WR Saeed Blacknall showed his first glimpses of big play ability as he hauled in a 24 yard TD catch on a 3rd and 5 fade pass from Hackenberg to make it a 17-14 game.
After trading a series of punts, Penn State got the ball back with just under 3 minutes to go, at their own 9 yard line, and with 3 timeouts left. In 2013, we saw Christian Hackenberg lead the Nittany Lions down the field against Michigan to tie the game in regulation. He had struggled to regain the form he had as a freshman in 2013, but could the sophomore QB, who was considered perhaps the most important recruit during the Sanctions Era, lead the Lions down the field? A 19 play 77 yard drive with three 3rd down conversions led to a Sam Ficken 31 yard field goal to tie the game! Somehow the Penn State defense held the Buckeyes down for the entire second half and allowed the Penn State offense to come back to tie it in the fourth quarter. The Beaver Stadium white out was in a frenzy throwing their pom pom strings on the field heading into overtime.
Penn State got the ball to start overtime and overcame a holding penalty on the first play of the drive to drive all the way down to the one yard line. Bill Belton then took the ball in a wildcat formation on 3rd and goal from the one and found the end zone to make it a 24-17 game. Ohio State was getting the ball but they had not scored for over 30 minutes of game time at this point.
Appearing a bit rattled after the Zettel interception, J.T. Barrett found his poise in the first overtime period as he led the Buckeyes to the end zone to send the game into a second overtime. The Buckeyes scored again with Barrett using his legs to find the end zone for the second time in overtime, making it 31-24 and forcing Penn State to score a touchdown to stay alive.
Penn State got the ball back and managed only four yards on the first three plays of the drive, setting up a 4th and 6 play that could end the game. Hackenberg took the snap and dropped back to pass. However, Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa plunged through the Penn State offensive line and eventually pushed Penn State RB Akeel Lynch into Hackenberg to force the sack to end the game. A very unspectacular finish to a game that was spectacular for 60 minutes and two overtime periods.
Penn State fell to 4-3 and continued their season of ups and downs as they finished the year at 6-6 and won the Pinstripe Bowl, 31-30 over Boston College, their first bowl game since the NCAA sanctions were announced in July 2012. What was less expected was Ohio State becoming National Champions later on that year. The Buckeyes ran the table following their early season loss to Virginia Tech and entered the Big Ten Championship Game ranked 5th in the first ever College Football Playoff Poll. The Buckeyes then dominated Wisconsin behind backup QB Cardale Jones, winning 59-0, and jumped both Baylor and TCU to enter the playoff. They then upset #1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, winning 42-35, then handling #2 Oregon in the title game at AT&T Stadium, 42-20.
There are three things that make this game so memorable to me. First, is the crowd at that game. It was a white out, which is always a great time and for late October, the weather was still really nice, allowing for fans not to have to wear different colored jackets because of cold temperatures or ponchos because of rain. Then, once Zettel forced the interception, the crowd was incredible the rest of the game. They forced false starts and delay of games on the Buckeyes and scared me a bit in the upper deck by shaking the stands, making the ground feel like a trampoline.
Second, looking back, this game was a sign of things to come in this rivalry. Starting in 2016, the battles between Penn State and Ohio State have been incredibly close. Penn State won in 2016, 24-21, Ohio State won in 2017, 39-38, and the Buckeyes won again in 2018, 27-26. This game really rejuvenated this rivalry for the coming years as these two teams competed for Big Ten titles and CFP berths.
Lastly, and honestly my favorite part about this game is the amount of talent on the field for both teams in this game. The amount of All Big Ten performers, players of the year, and future NFL standouts was incredible. Young players emerged in this game such as DaeSean Hamilton, who had 14 catches for 126 yards on his way to becoming the all time leading receiver at Penn State. Saeed Blacknall proved he could make big catches as a freshman, just as he did in the 2016 Ohio State game and 2016 Big Ten Championship. Chris Godwin and Mike Gesicki also found themselves on the field as freshmen.  Brandon Bell made 13 tackles and recorded one sack while true freshman Marcus Allen had 11 tackles on the big stage. Many of Penn State’s future stars really shined in this game, giving fans high expectations in the future for these individuals.
For Ohio State, their roster that many fans questioned following the Braxton Miller injury and Virginia Tech loss, became a juggernaut. Draft picks were up and down their roster and J.T. Barrett became a star and record setting QB before ending his career in 2017.
Here is a list of All-Big Ten players from 2014-2017 who appeared in this game from both Penn State and Ohio State:
                                                                   All Big Ten Performers
Year Player School Position Team Notes
2014 J.T. Barrett Ohio State QB 1st Unanimous (Media)
Pat Elflein Ohio State OG 1st
Joey Bosa Ohio State DE 1st Unanimous (Both), Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year
Mike Hull Penn State LB 1st
Anthony Zettel Penn State DT 1st
Taylor Decker Ohio State OT 2nd
Jeff Heuerman Ohio State TE 2nd
Michael Bennett Ohio State DE 2nd
DaeSean Hamilton Penn State WR 2nd
Sam Ficken Penn State K 2nd
Joshua Perry Ohio State LB 2nd
Doran Grant Ohio State DB 2nd
2015 Ezekiel Elliott Ohio State RB 1st Unanimous, Offensive Player of the Year, RB of the Year
Pat Elflein Ohio State OG 1st
Taylor Decker Ohio State OT 1st Unanimous (Coaches) Offensive Lineman of the Year
Michael Thomas Ohio State WR 3rd
Chris Godwin Penn State WR 2nd
Jacoby Boren Ohio State OC 3rd
Carl Nassib Penn State DE 1st Defensive Player of the Year
Anthony Zettel Penn State DT 3rd
Austin Johnson Penn State DT 2nd
Adolphus Washington Ohio State DT 2nd
Raekwon McMillan Ohio State LB 2nd
Joshua Perry Ohio State LB 1st
Joey Bosa Ohio State DE 1st Defensive Lineman of the Year
Darron Lee Ohio State LB 2nd
Vonn Bell Ohio State DB 1st
Cameron Johnston Ohio State P 2nd
Billy Price Ohio State OG 3rd
2016 J.T. Barrett Ohio State QB 1st QB of the Year
Chris Godwin Penn State WR 3rd
Curtis Samuel Ohio State WR 1st
Pat Elflein Ohio State OC 1st Offensive Lineman of the Year
Billy Price Ohio State OG 1st
Jamarco Jones Ohio State OT 2nd
Mike Gesicki Penn State TE 2nd
Tyquan Lewis Ohio State DE 1st Defensive Lineman of the Year
Raekwon McMillan Ohio State LB 1st
Jason Cabinda Penn State LB 3rd
Cameron Johnston Ohio State P 1st Punter of the Year
Marcus Allen Penn State DB 3rd
2017 J.T. Barrett Ohio State QB 1st
DaeSean Hamilton Penn State WR 2nd
Billy Price Ohio State OC 1st
Mike Gesicki Penn State TE 1st
Tyquan Lewis Ohio State DE 1st
Jason Cabinda Penn State LB 2nd
Marcus Allen Penn State DB 1st
Sean Neurnberger Ohio State K 3rd

Also, since this game, there have been 46 players drafted from both schools combined, with Saquon Barkley from Penn State being the highest pick at 2nd overall. Ohio State has had 10 first rounders since 2014 with Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Eli Apple, and Denzel Ward all going in the top ten. After turning pro, Elliott has been a two time All Pro while Michael Thomas earned a 2018 All Pro selection. This speaks to the high end professional talent both programs have churned out in the last few years and how relevant they have been on the national stage, as well. With all the draft picks these programs have produced in the last few years, with most of them playing in this 2014 match up, it is always very interesting to see the amount of talent that squared off against each other, without many people realizing it at the moment.

 

 

Despite it being a Penn State loss, this game cracks my list because of how close the game was, the influence of the white out crowd, the rebirth of the rivalry, and the amount of college and pro talent on both teams. However, I can’t rank it any higher than #3 because after all, Penn State did lose.

Stay tuned next week as Cory Lestochi talks a bit about his Penn State roots and debuts his third favorite Penn State game that he attended. My second favorite game will debut on Friday, February 15. I hope you enjoyed following along with me while I recalled my third favorite Penn State game I have ever attended!

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