COLUMBUS, Ohio — Penn State backup quarterback Will Levis entered Saturday’s contest against Ohio State with 71 yards rushing on 16 career attempts.
The redshirt freshman nearly doubled his production in two quarters of work against the Buckeyes after starter Sean Clifford left the game following an injury.
Levis’ 61 yards rushing and one touchdown, however, weren’t enough to power Penn State to a comeback as Ohio State earned a 28-17 win to clinch the Big Ten East division crown.
“You kind of always think about that — you don’t know what play it’s going to be,” Levis said. “When Sean went down, I knew it was my time to go.”
Levis was 6-of-11 passing for 57 yards.
Penn State’s offense meandered through the first half, earning just 64 total yards and being held scoreless through the opening 30 minutes for the first time this season. All five of the Nittany Lions' first-half drives resulted in punts.
Ohio State drove 91 yards on 13 plays during its opening scoring drive. All 91 yards were earned on the ground. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins accounted for 148 of the Buckeyes’ first-half ground yards as they led 14-0 at halftime.
The Nittany Lions’ defense changed the trajectory of the game in the second half.
Trailing 21-0 in the third quarter, Penn State forced a turnover after Micah Parsons caused a fumble that Lamont Wade recovered to set up first-and-10 for Penn State at Ohio State’s 12-yard line.
Levis capped the two-play scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to start brewing momentum.
Penn State forced yet another Ohio State turnover on the Buckeyes’ ensuing possession. This time, Wade forced the fumble and Parsons recovered it.
Nittany Lions kicker Jake Pinegar knocked in a 42-yard field goal on the team’s next possession to trim the deficit to 21-17 with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter.
“Defensively, I thought we made some corrections,” Franklin said. “The biggest difference in the game was the quarterback’s legs in the running game. We were able to get him to third-and-long, and he would take off for a run — some fourth-down conversions, as well.”
Levis and Penn State mounted one more attempt at a comeback early in the fourth quarter down by 11 points at the Ohio State 27, but Levis was intercepted by Buckeyes linebacker Justin Hilliard.
“I thought I made the correct read, but it just was an errant throw,” Levis said of the interception.”
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young returned to the starting lineup on Saturday after serving a two-game suspension by the NCAA. Young finished nine tackles and three sacks. He finished the contest as Ohio State's single-season sack leader.
“We had to be aware of where that guy was,” Penn State offensive lineman Mike Miranda said. “Obviously, he made some plays today. We just have to execute better – that’s what it comes down to. He made his plays, and we really didn’t.”
After a week of speculation as to his health status, wide receiver KJ Hamler started against the Buckeyes. He caught three passes for 45 yards. Running back Journey Brown rushed for 61 yards and one touchdown, his seventh of the season.
Dobbins finished with 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Fields was 16-of-22 passing for 188 yards with two touchdowns, and he added another 68 yards rushing.
Penn State returns to Beaver Stadium next Saturday for its regular-season finale against Rutgers. Franklin briefly evaluated Clifford’s health postgame, and said while the first-year starter could have returned to the game, he wouldn’t have been at full strength.
“Sean could have come back in, but he would not have come back at 100 percent, “Franklin said. “Will was playing well, so we decided to stay with him. It would have been one of these deals where we put Sean back in, but you knew you would have been lacking mobility. He’s not 100 percent from a mobility standpoint, anyway, right now, and would have been decreased even more.”