Key Play: Fourth Quarter Interception Halts Penn State Comeback

By John Morgan on November 26, 2019 at 10:30 am
Nov 23, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Justin Hilliard (47) celebrates with safety Jordan Fuller (4)after his key fourth quarter interception against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

When Penn State went down 21-0, things looked bleak. Thanks to a frantic, fumble-fueled comeback, the Nittany Lions were able to cut the lead to 21-17 led by backup quarterback Will Levis. After keeping the Lions out of the end zone and forcing a field goal early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State jumped back on top 28-17 with a coverage bust that allowed a shaky throw from Justin Fields to turn into a brilliant Chris Olave catch for a touchdown. Penn State had one more chance to keep the game close after that.

The drive started out promising as Levis connected with KJ Hamler for a 22-yard gain. After five straight runs, Penn State had a first down at the Ohio State 27-yard line. Penn State needed to score as it mounted one of its few sustainable drives, but on first down, Levis tried to force a pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth that was intercepted by Ohio State linebacker Justin Hilliard.

On the play, Journey Brown lined up to Levis' left with Jahan Dotson to the right and KJ Hamler to the left in a bunched set. Freiermuth lined up on the left side of the line with Nick Bowers to the right in the two-tight end set.


On the snap, Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette was playing well off of Hamler and Dotson had a been given a good cushion from Jeff Okudah. Hamler and Dotson both broke off in quick out routes as Freiermuth headed to the middle of the field. The play call appeared to be a run-pass-option where Freiermuth was the primary option should Levis decide to throw the ball.


Levis decided to keep the ball and attempt the pass, and with both Tyler Friday (#54) and Chase Young (#2) quickly closing in, he wasted no time and threw a quick pass to Freiermuth in a congested area of the field. Had Levis had a moment longer, he may have been able to see that both Dotson and Hamler were wide open, but for a backup quarterback facing this pass rush, it's hard to fault him too much for only feeling he had time to look at his first read.


Freiremuth fought for the ball, but Hillard was able to secure the ball in traffic, ending the Nittany Lions drive. It was as close as they would get to scoring again in the game, as the teams would trade possessions once more, but neither would score again.


It's a pass that is hard to pin on a quarterback with limited experience. Freiermuth had been reliable all game and as the Buckeyes had started to key on the run, the call was fine. Levis would have obviously been better served just keeping the ball and taking off rather than trying to force a pass that wasn't there, but that's a tough spot for a backup to be in. On a day where points and yards weren't easy to come by, the Nittany Lions had no margin for error at that point in the game. It's one you know Levis would like back, but it was he who helped Penn State get back in the game in the first place, and it's a play he'll learn from.