For the final act of a spectacular performance, J.T. Tuimoloau saved a player who cut off his leg, reached out and grabbed a pass for a receiver a few yards behind him, and casually entered the goal area to seal Ohio State’s victory.
The interception was the second of the day for the Buckeyes defensive end – yes, the defensive end – came with two sacks, a forced and rebound hit, and an angled pass that a coin The team went down for another apartment to take away.
“This is kind of his coming out party today,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, underselling the sophomore’s breakout game.
On Saturday, the No. 2 Buckeyes overcame a hole and pulled away from No. 13 Penn State 44-31 thanks to Tuimoloau’s strip-sack and pick-6 in the fourth quarter.
The former Seattle five-star recruit claimed that his last interception came when he was a sophomore in high school and that he doesn’t recall ever having two in a single 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.”
In the first quarter, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound player made his first career interception after diving into coverage and breaking quickly on a sideline pass 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.
The tipped pass to Harrison, according to Tuimoloau, was his favorite of the game-changing plays he produced.
Day claimed that despite not putting up significant stats, Tuimoloau has been doing well this season and is under pressure. Coming into the game, he only had one sack.
“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.
The Buckeyes (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) extended their winning record in the rivalry to six games, none by more than 13 points, as C.J. Stroud passed for 354 yards.
The Buckeyes were a double-digit favorite, as has been typical of late when these teams face off, and the Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-2) gave them a tough time.
But in this instance, Penn State didn’t merely wait around. With 9:26 left in the fourth quarter, Kaytron Allen’s difficult 1-yard touchdown run gave the Nittany Lions a 21-16 lead.
After the Buckeyes went up 23-21, Ohio State then went on a 28-3 run, with Tuimoloau contributing the crucial plays.
With 8:26 remaining in the fourth quarter, Tuimoloau stole the ball from Sean Clifford and recovered the fumble. One play later, Cade Stover, who had been connected to Stroud, broke through the Penn State defense for a 24-yard touchdown, bringing the score to 30-21.
“Turn of events, a momentum swing and they converted on it,” said Clifford, who threw for 371 yards.
With his inconsistent play, sixth-year quarterback Clifford has some Nittany Lions supporters demanding to see more of five-star freshman Drew Allar. Clifford tossed three touchdown passes to pass Trace McSorley and surpass him as the career leader at Penn State with 78 completions. Additionally, he made four errors.
With 2:42 remaining, Tuimoloau scored on a 14-yard interception return touchdown to put the score 44-24.
“We knew we were going to have to play four quarters today,” Day said.
In Ohio State’s fourth-quarter scoring spree, TreVeyon Henderson scored twice, including a 41-yard rush just 35 seconds after Penn State took the lead. With 2:52 remaining, he added a 7-yard touchdown run to make the score 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: The Buckeyes faced and survived their most difficult test of the season just a few days before the initial College Football Playoff rankings were revealed. The Buckeyes will only be prevented from entering the Michigan finale unblemished if a significant upset occurs over the next three weeks.
Penn State: Despite limping out of the Big House after giving up more than 400 yards of rush offense, the Nittany Lions athletic defense appeared to be a better match for the Buckeyes. ideally, for a while. Even though a Big Ten championship is out of reach, Penn State enters the season’s final month still aiming for a 10-win campaign.