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Penn State fails to recover from early 14-0 hole, loses to No. 3 Ohio State, 38-25

The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and the Penn State offense had no answers until too late. The Lions' Sean Clifford threw three TD passes to Jahan Dotson.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford  carries against Ohio State during the second quarter,
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford carries against Ohio State during the second quarter,Read moreBarry Reeger / AP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State felt going into Saturday night’s game against No. 3 Ohio State that it had to find a way to control the running of quarterback Justin Fields, something the Nittany Lions did not do last season.

This time, however, Fields hurt the No. 18 Lions with his arm, directing the Buckeyes to a 14-0 lead with the game a little more than 6 minutes old, and kept the heat on the entire game, passing for 318 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-25 victory at an eerily quiet Beaver Stadium.

Off to its first 0-2 start in the Big Ten since 2010, Penn State sputtered on offense for the first three quarters and its defense was unable to get off the field against the relentless Buckeyes. Ohio State held a 526-325 advantage in total yards.

“Defensively we really couldn’t get them off schedule,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “They were in manageable down and distance situations pretty much the entire game. With a quarterback like that and their offensive personnel, not getting them off schedule, it’s going to be challenging.”

Fields, who rushed for 68 yards on 21 carries last season, completed 28 of 34 passes and threw for two touchdowns each to Chris Olave and Jeremy Ruckert.

The bright spot for the Lions was three touchdown catches by Jahan Dotson, including a one-handed grab on a 21-yard scoring strike from Sean Clifford. Dotson finished with eight receptions for 144 yards.

Clifford, who had 29 yards passing in the first half, finished with 281 yards on 18 completions in 30 attempts but was intercepted once and sacked five times.

“Jahan obviously had a great game and did a lot of good things, made some plays,” Clifford said. “Ohio State as a team can match you up man to man because they have athletes across the board. That’s their mentality. I told the guys to win the man routes and get open. The first half just wasn’t up to the standard.”

The Buckeyes set the tone on the very first play of the game, with a stunning run off a jet sweep by wide receiver Garrett Wilson going for 62 yards to the Penn State 13. Master Teague then ran twice, going in for the touchdown from four yards out just 77 seconds into the game.

Fields threw a 26-yard TD pass to Olave about five minutes later on Ohio State’s next drive, which began at the Penn State 45 after the Nittany Lions failed on a fourth-and-2 play when Clifford threw an incomplete pass under a heavy rush.

The Lions got on the scoreboard later in the quarter on Jake Pinegar’s 31-yard field goal, but Ohio State picked up another TD with 2:23 left in the first half on Fields' 10-yard pass to Ruckert.

A strange sequence of events led to Penn State’s Jordan Stout kicking a 50-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, cutting the Ohio State lead to 21-6. Fields had taken a knee on fourth down at the Ohio State 33, apparently running out the clock as both teams went to their locker rooms. But officials ruled that Fields' knee touched with 1 second left, giving Penn State one more snap.

The Lions received the second-half kickoff and fashioned their best drive of the night, with Clifford completing all five of his passes for 75 yards, starting out with completions of 18 yards to Pat Freiermuth and 20 yards to freshman Parker Washington. Clifford’s final strike was a 14-yard pass to Dotson on a slant for the touchdown, cutting the deficit to 21-13.

The Buckeyes responded, however, converting a pair of third downs to move into Penn State territory at the 49. Fields then found Olave dashing down the left sideline behind cornerback Marquis Wilson, and Olave made a finger-tip catch before falling into the end zone, restoring the visitors' 15-point advantage.

A 22-yard field goal by Dominic DiMaccio extended the Buckeyes' lead to 31-13 after three quarters, but the Lions scored the next touchdown thanks to back-to-back highlight-reel catches by Dotson. After a 37-yard completion where he appeared to tip the ball to himself, Dotson made a one-handed catch of a 21-yard touchdown pass from Clifford. The two-point conversion failed and Penn State trailed 31-19 just 30 seconds into the period.

Again, the Buckeyes had the answer, going on a 12-play march that took more than five minutes with Fields handling a big rush to find Wilson for 26 yards on third down. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Fields faked a run and threw a pass in the end zone to a wide-open Ruckert for the score, giving Ohio State a 38-19 lead.

Clifford drove the Lions downfield on a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard scoring pass to Dotson, making it 38-25 with 6:27 to play after a missed two-point conversion. But an interception by Marcus Hooker – the only turnover of the night by either team – stopped another drive.