Penn State Football

Penn State football ‘squanders’ opportunity with fourth-quarter mistakes

This is how James Franklin, Saquon Barkley and other Penn State players feel after tough loss to Ohio State

Head coach James Franklin said Penn State “didn’t finish” Ohio State in Saturday’s 39-38 loss. Running back Saquon Barkley emphasized that the Nittany Lions' season is not over. Quarterback Trace McSorley described the mood in the locker room. Saf
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Head coach James Franklin said Penn State “didn’t finish” Ohio State in Saturday’s 39-38 loss. Running back Saquon Barkley emphasized that the Nittany Lions' season is not over. Quarterback Trace McSorley described the mood in the locker room. Saf

As screams and cheers echoed from the field below — thousands of black-clad Ohio State fans making their voices heard — members of the Ohio State coaching staff hollered as they entered “Elevator 1” in the Ohio Stadium box.

“What a battle!” “Way to fight through adversity!”

Seconds later, Penn State assistant coaches Ricky Rahne, Tim Banks and more piled on “Elevator 2.” Not a word was said. Not one. They were somber and shell-shocked after a fourth-quarter collapse turned into a 39-38 loss to Ohio State.

“We didn’t finish,” head coach James Franklin said. “We had an opportunity. I thought we played good, but obviously not good enough.”

Penn State led 35-20 entering the fourth quarter, and the Nittany Lions were in a prime position to go up even more.

On a poor exchange with freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett fumbled. Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller picked it up, and the Nittany Lions were sitting at Ohio State’s 42-yard line. Even with 13 minutes to go, it felt as if Penn State could secure a win on that drive. A touchdown would’ve put them up 22.

But a three-and-out followed by a blocked punt was Penn State’s worst nightmare.

“We had an opportunity to snatch the momentum out of the stadium,” quarterback Trace McSorley said. “They had a turnover and we got the ball in great field position. We went three-and-out, and they blocked the punt. That kind of series really was an opportunity for us that we squandered away. Them blocking the punt brought everything back in. That’s when the momentum started to shift.”

Everyone could feel it, too. Two plays later, Barrett found Johnnie Dixon for a 38-yard touchdown pass. The Buckeyes cut Penn State’s lead to 35-27.

All wasn’t lost. At least, not yet. Senior placekicker Tyler Davis converted a 24-yard field goal with 5:42 to go in regulation to bump Penn State’s lead to two scores. Barrett responded, though, with a five-play, 76-yard drive that ended in another touchdown pass to Dixon.

38-33 Nittany Lions, 4:20 left.

Penn State took over, and here’s where it really became interesting. The Nittany Lions’ four-minute offense had failed them in the past (i.e. Rose Bowl) — and it did yet again.

“If we go out there and get a few first downs, the game is over,” senior tight end Mike Gesicki said. “We weren’t able to do that.”

Saquon Barkley was stopped for a loss of seven, a loss of two and an inconsequential five-yard gain. The Nittany Lions used 67 seconds and went backward.

“We’re not able to consistently run the ball at the end of games to finish the game with a four-minute mentality,” Franklin said.

Naturally, Barrett led the Buckeyes on a five-play, 58-yard touchdown drive that took up all of 78 seconds. The quarterback’s 16-yard pass to Marcus Baugh completed an unbelievable comeback for the Buckeyes — and a how-did-this-happen finish for Penn State.

Considering how the game ended — with an atrocious fourth quarter in which momentum snowballed for the Buckeyes — Gesicki admitted that it’ll be tough to stomach.

Penn State put together a superb first half, did what was necessary in the third quarter and fell flat on its face in the fourth.

“Winning minimizes the problem, and losing maximizes it,” senior safety Marcus Allen said. “No one wants to lose and find out the problems for real, but we were going to have to see it someday.”

Added junior linebacker Manny Bowen: “We went out there, played a good half, a decent third quarter and in the fourth quarter, we came off the gas. A learned lesson would be we have to keep on it. We have to finish these games.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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