Penn State Football

‘They were just making plays’: Penn State defense struggles against J.T. Barrett, Buckeyes

Penn State safety Marcus Allen said his defense needed to find its “mojo” to stop Ohio State — but the normally confident unit didn’t have an answer for the first time all season.

The Nittany Lions defense couldn’t slow the Buckeyes offense in their 39-38 loss at Ohio Stadium on Saturday night. Penn State went into the game with the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense — allowing 9.6 points per game — but Ohio State shredded the Nittany Lions for 529 total yards and three passing touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

After the game, Penn State’s defensive players didn’t make excuses and talked about making corrections. They credited Ohio State and heaped praise on Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett. And they noted they simply didn’t make enough plays.

“They were just making plays, man. That was probably one of the best offenses we’ve played,” linebacker Koa Farmer said. “I think that’s a credit to them and their offensive coordinator and their coach. That was a great football team. We missed plays they should have earned.”

The Nittany Lions was coming off a dominant effort against Michigan, when they held the Wolverines scoreless in three quarters. But the Nittany Lions hadn’t faced an offense like Ohio State in their first seven games, as the Buckeyes boasted the nation’s second-ranked scoring offense at 47.3 points per game. Barrett was the driving force for Ohio State once again Saturday night, completing 33 of 39 passes for 328 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Penn State’s defense didn’t generate much pressure on Barrett, who made the secondary pay to improve his season totals to 25 touchdowns and one interception.

“You got a veteran quarterback who’s being protected extremely well and they got really good skill players, so to me, tonight, that was the biggest difference,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We’re usually able to get to quarterbacks, either through just pass rush or through blitz. We weren’t able to do that tonight.”

Without that pressure — the Nittany Lions had one quarterback hurry and two sacks — the Penn State defense couldn’t get off the field in the second half. Barrett’s receivers took advantage.

Johnnie Dixon was left wide open over the middle of the field for an easy 38-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter to pull his team within 35-27. Dixon later created separation in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass, and Marcus Baugh got behind the defense to pull in what proved to be the game-winning score.

As Franklin said, Barrett stood in the pocket with confidence during each drive as the Buckeyes closed the gap, putting more pressure on the secondary.

“The average play in college football usually ends up like six seconds,” Allen said. “A DB covering somebody for over six seconds, that would be pretty hard to do, but that’s something that we’re going to have to do.”

That will be a focus for the group on Sunday, Allen said, but the safety didn’t place the blame for the loss on the defensive line for its inability to get to Barrett. Penn State safety Troy Apke said the Nittany Lions secondary knew they’d have to win one-on-one battles as they game went on.

But the Buckeyes receivers came out on top in those matchups — like when Dixon beat Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye for one of his touchdowns in the corner of the end zone. Still, Apke and Farmer wouldn’t say the defense was tired at the end of the game.

“They just made more plays than we did,” Apke added.

And after his unit and team was outplayed Saturday night, with the sting of the loss still fresh, Allen said the Nittany Lions have a lot more to work on moving forward.

“We work so hard. That’s what’s hurting me the most. We work so hard to prepare like no other,” Allen said. “It just hurts because I know for a fact our offense, defense, coaching staff, we put so much into this, and I know for a fact we prepare our butt off — so we’re just going to have to put in some more work.”

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