COLUMBUS – The difference between playing less than your best and winning and playing less than your best and losing is that you can still smile after the wins.
Here’s Ryan Day after Ohio State’s 33-24 win over Penn State on Saturday night: “I can’t sit here and tell you I enjoyed the whole game.”
Here’s more from Day: “We’re going to go back and watch this film and learn from it, grow from it, pull our hair out from it.”
And here’s quarterback C.J. Stroud on leaving what looked like a sure thing touchdown pass to Chris Olave several feet short: “I just underthrew it. Do I want that back? Hell, yeah. But I’m never going to get it back, so I let it go.”
No. 5 Ohio State moved to 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten with the win. No. 20 Penn State dropped to 5-3 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes came into the game leading the nation in scoring and total offense but were up against a sterner test in Penn State’s defense than they were when they played Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana in their four previous games.
Ohio State had 466 yards of total offense. Stroud threw for 305 yards and a touchdown and TreVeyon Henderson rushed for 152 yards on a career-high 28 carries.
But the offense overall and its leaders started slowly, including Henderson gaining only six yards in the first half, and was inconsistent.
While Stroud and Henderson eventually turned their slow starts around, OSU’s offense had trouble finishing drives with touchdowns most of the game. It was only 5 of 14 on third down conversions and got only one touchdown in six trips to the red zone.
The Buckeyes’ points came on two offensive touchdowns, four field goals by Noah Ruggles and a defensive touchdown.
“I was proud of our guys for working through a gritty game like this. We kept swinging away. We didn’t panic. We weren’t trying to get style points. That’s not how you do it against Penn State,” Day said.
Stroud said, “We just kept fighting. Football is not a perfect sport. You’re not going to run the ball well every game, you’re not going to throw the ball well every game.”
For most of the first half it looked like Ohio State might need more than 20 minutes at halftime to make the adjustments to fix what went wrong in the first two quarters.
The Buckeyes’ first five series ended with a fumble, a field goal and three punts. And the defense was struggling to contain Penn State.
Things got a little better in the final 3:48 of the first half. But not a lot better.
A 38-yard touchdown pass from Stroud to Olave with 3:48 left in the first half gave OSU its first lead of the night at 10-7.
That lead grew to 17-7 when defensive tackle Jerron Cage picked up a fumble by Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown with 2:24 left in the first half.
Penn State kicker Jordan Stout’s 47-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half made it 17-10.
Ohio State’s pushed its lead to 27-17 late in the third quarter but that advantage was down to three points at 27-24 in the fourth quarter.
An interception by Cam Brown with 11 minutes left in the game set up Ruggles’ third field goal of the day which put OSU up 30-24. Then he added his fourth field goal of the night with 2:41 to play.
Clifford was 35 of 52 for 361 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked four times and intercepted once.
Day said a lot of the credit for the win should go to OSU’s defense.
“It was good to see our defense play like it did. We did some good things on offense but defense won this game in my opinion. If our defense can play like they did tonight we’ve got a chance to be really good,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau