Linebacker Chris Worley rode through the Ohio Stadium maelstrom on the shoulders of Matthew Burell, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound offensive lineman big enough to provide his teammate a beautiful view.
The aftermath of the Ohio State Buckeyes’ 39-38 victory over Penn State on Saturday mirrored similar scenes following season-ending victories against Michigan. Fans flooded the field. The Buckeyes made their way through the madness to the locker room, though at some point it looked as if Worley might surf Burrell’s shoulders all the way to High Street.
The ride wore Worley out. In the postgame press conference, he said he was exhausted.
“I was like the last one (off the field),” Worley said. “It was kind of hard to get back. I just wanted to get to sleep.”
For three quarters, No. 6 Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) left most of the crowd of 109,302 feeling the same way. No. 2 Penn State (7-1, 4-1) built a 21-3 in the second quarter and led 35-20 going into the fourth quarter. Then everything changed.
Here are five highlights from an instant classic at the Horseshoe:
1. Winning catch: Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett threw four touchdown passes — three in the fourth quarter — and played a near perfect game. He completed 33 of 39 passes for 328 yards. He also rushed for 95 yards on 17 carries.
The final touchdown went to tight end Marcus Baugh, who was one of several receivers to drop passes earlier in the game. His 16-yard catch gave the Buckeyes a 39-38 lead with 1:48 to go. They trailed for the first 58 minutes.
“It was a good ball, great position,” Baugh said. “Just had to catch it and make up big for when I dropped the first one.”
2. Final stand: Trailing by one, Penn State got the ball at the Ohio State 41-yard line with 1:45 left in the game. Quarterback Trace McSorley completed 17 of 29 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 49 yards on 13 carries, but he went nowhere on the final drive.
A sack by Ohio State defensive end Jalyn Holmes for a loss of five yards was the key play.
“They had a couple big plays that just kept giving them life,” Worley said. “When you have a good team and you keep giving them life like that, they’re going to capitalize on it. We knew that, so we tried our best to keep on that and given any chance, we took care of business.”
3. Opening kickoff: Penn State’s star, running back Saquon Barkley, returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. That set the tone in the first half. It was the latest miscue for Ohio State’s kickoff unit, which has struggled most of the season.
The Buckeyes spent the rest of the game kicking away from Barkley, who returned only one more kick.
“Our kickoff coverage, I’m not even going to take questions on that,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We’re just going to have to make serious changes on personnel and everything else. That was a comedy — comical.”
4. Defensive success: While Barkley also had a 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, giving the Nittany Lions their biggest lead, 21-3, he had little other success. He finished with 13 rushes for 49 yards and four catches for 23 yards.
“Our defense was all over him,” Meyer said. “One of the biggest things that makes him such a great player is the ability to catch the ball. I was as worried about that because we’re a man-coverage team. All of a sudden you get stuck with a linebacker playing man-to-man, like you saw against our rivals. We had the bye week to prepare for them, too. But we still have incredible respect for him as a player.”
5. Big picture: With Michigan State’s 39-31 triple-overtime loss to Northwestern, Ohio State sits alone atop the Big Ten East Division with four games to play. This victory keeps their hopes of advancing to the Big Ten championship alive and gives them a resume-boosting victory for the first College Football Playoff rankings, which will be released Tuesday.
The victory was so improbable, Meyer opened his postgame press conference by saying, “Wow. What just happened.”
This was the largest deficit overcome by a Meyer-coached team, surpassing the 15-point comeback (21-6) against Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.
“As always, we never want to take anything for granted,” Meyer said, “and that’s all the way from the skull session to wonderful crowd and incredible band. That stadium helped us when we needed them the most. That was one of the best fourth quarters I’ve ever witnessed in my coaching career.”