STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — For the final act in a spectacular performance, J.T. Tuimoloau kept a blocker from cutting his legs, reached up and grabbed a pass intended for a receiver a few yards behind him and casually cruised into the end zone to seal an Ohio State victory.
The interception was the second of the day for the Buckeyes’ defensive end — yes, defensive end — to go along with two sacks, a fumble caused and recovered, and a tipped pass that a teammate came down with for another takeaway.
“This is kind of his coming out party today,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, underselling the sophomore’s breakout game.
Tuimoloau’s strip sack and pick-6 in the fourth quarter helped the No. 2 Buckeyes erase a deficit and pull away from No. 13 Penn State 44-31 on Saturday.
The former five-star recruit from Seattle said the last time he intercepted a pass was as a sophomore in high school and he never remembered getting two in one game.
“I mean, it hasn’t hit yet,” Tuimoloau said about having an all-time great game on such a big stage. “I just take it as a great team win right now.”
The 6-foot-4, 270 pounder’s first interception of his career came in the first quarter on a play in which he dropped into coverage and broke quickly on a sideline throw to a running back.
“Brother’s an athlete, you can’t teach that,” said fellow defensive end, Zach Harrison, who had the interception on Tuimoloau’s tipped pass.
Tuimoloau said the tipped pass to Harrison was his favorite of the game-changing plays he made.
Day said Tuimoloau has been playing well this season, getting pressure despite not putting up big stats. He had only one sack coming into the game.
“He been right there,” Day said. “He’s almost been like the unsung hero of the defense.”
On this day, Tuimoloau outshined all the Buckeyes stars.
C.J. Stroud passed for 354 yards and the Buckeyes (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) ran their winning streak in the rivalry to six in a row — none by more than 13 points.
As has often been the case when these teams get together lately, the Buckeyes were a double-digit favorite and the Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-2) played them tough.
In this case, though, Penn State didn’t just hang around. The Nittany Lions went up 21-16 with 9:26 remaining in the fourth quarter on a tough 1-yard touchdown run by Kaytron Allen on fourth down.
Ohio State then went on a 28-3 run, with Tuimoloau providing the key plays after the Buckeyes went up 23-21.
Tuimoloau recovered the fumble after swiping the ball from Sean Clifford with 8:26 left in the fourth quarter. One play later, Stroud connected with Cade Stover, who rumbled through the Penn State defense for a 24-yard touchdown to make it 30-21.
“Turn of events, a momentum swing and they converted on it,” said Clifford, who threw for 371 yards.
Clifford, the sixth-year quarterback whose up and down play has had some Nittany Lions fans clamoring to see more of five-star freshman Drew Allar, threw three touchdown passes to become Penn State’s career leader with 78, passing Trace McSorley. He also committed four turnovers.
The final one went for Tuimoloau’s 14-yard interception return touchdown to make it 44-24 with 2:42 left.
“We knew we were going to have to play four quarters today,” Day said.
TreVeyon Henderson scored twice in Ohio State’s fourth-quarter outburst, including a 41-yard run 35 seconds after Penn State took the lead. He added a 7-yard touchdown run with 2:52 left to make it 37-24.
“The game starts and ends with the turnovers,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “They’re explosive on the offensive side of the ball, they’re explosive on the defensive side of the ball. We played our tails off, just made too many mistakes.”
Ohio State: A few days before the first College Football Playoff rankings are released, the Buckeyes faced their toughest test of the season so far — by far — and passed. Only a major upset over the next three weeks will keep the Buckeyes from rolling into the Michigan finale unbeaten.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions limped out of the Big House after allowing more than 400 yards rushing, but their athletic defense seemed to be a better match-up for the Buckeyes. At least for a while. Penn State heads into the final month of the season still hoping for a 10-win season, but with a Big Ten title out of reach.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are on the road again at Northwestern.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions start the closing stretch at Indiana.
No. 2 Ohio St resilient on road, shows complete skillset
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State’s win over No. 16 Penn State added to the body of evidence that this could be the most complete Buckeyes team in years.
It also showed the No. 2 Buckeyes can find ways to win on the road, even when their usually prolific offense is slow to get going.
Sputtering early against the best team it has faced this season — the Buckeyes’ No. 2 scoring offense in the country trailing 21-16 with about nine minutes left — they turned to former five-star recruit J.T. Tuimoloauand turned in a 28-point fourth-quarter comeback.
Before that, they’d managed just 37 yards on the ground and relied on three field goals from Noah Ruggles.
“A lot of things in the first half we wish we had done better — there’s no question,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “But that’s playing football. That’s competing. … It doesn’t come easy.”
The defense kept up the pressure when the Buckeyes’ offense finally got unstuck, starting with TreVeyon Henderson breaking away for a 41-yard touchdown with 8:51 left in the game for a 23-1 Ohio State lead.
That’s when Tuimoloau — who had already tipped a pass that turned into a Zach Harrison pick, and intercepted a pass that led to an Ohio State touchdown — strip-sacked Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and made the recovery on the Nittany Lions’ 24-yard line.
One the next play, C.J. Stroud found tight end Cade Stover wide open over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown and a 30-21 lead.
Penn State had time to come back but was stopped three yards of a first down on a third-and-9 on the Buckeyes’ 33 to force Jake Pinegar field goal. The Buckeyes got the ball back with 5:49 left, still clinging to a six-point lead.
Stroud’s completions of 16 yards and 12 yards to Marvin Harrison Jr. and a 42-yarder to Emeka Egbuka set up a 7-yard Henderson run around the left end to extend the lead to 37-24 with 2:47 left.
Then it was Tuimoloau time again. On the first play of the Penn State drive, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound second-year lineman stuck his arms in the air and picked off Clifford’s pass at the 15, trotting in for an easy TD to make it a three-score game.
“Buckeye football,” Stroud said. “I mean, we know it gets tough in the fourth quarter. I think we’re a fourth quarter type of team. At least we try to be.”
Clifford threw a touchdown pass to Kaytron Allen with 1:12 left, but it was too little too late.
Penn State outpaced the Buckeyes in total yards (482-452), passing yards (371-354) and rushing yards (111-98) and first downs (24-21).
“He went crazy this game,” Harrison said of Tuimoloau. “It only takes of us to go crazy, and we can dominate the game and the game is wrecked. Any of us have the capability to do that.”
Ohio State will be heavily favored in games against Northwestern, Indiana and Maryland before their meeting with No. 4 Michigan in Columbus on Nov. 26.