By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – He was the bright light on the Dark Night at Ohio Stadium.
Though running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 153 yards on 27 carries dominated Ohio State’s offensive statistics, it was back-up quarterback J.T. Barrett who lit a fire in the Buckeyes’ offense in a 38-10 win over Penn State on Saturday night.
No. 1 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) dressed in all black uniforms and much of the crowd of 108,423 was in black in keeping with the Dark Night theme.
But for most of the first quarter it looked like Ohio State’s offense had taken the Dark Night label to mean that it was time to crawl under the covers and take a nap.
The Buckeyes had just 18 yards on their first 11 plays and found themselves down 3-0 after one quarter on a 33-yard field goal by Penn State’s Joey Julius.
Once the game moved to the second quarter, though, Ohio State’s offense woke up and Penn State found itself looking up at a 21-3 halftime deficit.
That offensive awakening coincided with Barrett’s first appearance at quarterback for Ohio State. And OSU’s offense continued to run smoothly when Barrett was at the controls the rest of the game.
That leads to the inevitable question: Will Barrett now reclaim the starting quarterback job he had the first 12 games of last season before being injured in the Michigan game?
“Zeke and the offensive line took over that game and J.T. came in and did a great job. He provides a dual threat,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
“I’m going to evaluate and let you know on Monday and go from there,” he said about the quarterback question.
Penn State coach James Franklin said, “Barrett makes a difference for them. There is no doubt about it.
“Braxton Miller is a special athlete with the ball in his hands and their people up front and their tailback played very well. Give those guys credit. Good football team,” he said.
Barrett was at quarterback for four of Ohio State’s five touchdowns and had a direct role in all four of them.
He rushed for 102 yards on 11 carries and scored on runs of 13 yards and 5 yards and was 4 of 4 for 30 yards and two touchdowns on a 6-yard pass to Michael Thomas and a 5-yard throw to Braxton Miller.
Starter Cardale Jones was 9 of 15 for 84 yards and no touchdowns.
Elliott rushed for more than 100 yards for the twelfth game in a row and the win was the twentieth in a row for Ohio State.
Ohio State had 429 yards total offense against a defense that gave up an average of 275 yards a game in its first six games. The Buckeyes scored all six times they were inside the Nittany Lions’ 20-yard line, with five touchdowns and a field goal.
Penn State (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) was led by freshman running back Saquon Barkley with 194 yards on 26 carries. He was a force on offense throughout the game for the Nittany Lions and also took advantage of the absence of OSU senior linebacker Joshua Perry, who left the game after the second play of the game with a sprained ankle.
Barrett came in on the first play of the second quarter with the ball at Penn State’s 31-yard line. Three plays later, he was in the end zone on a 5-yard run to give Ohio State a 7-3 lead.
After Penn State went three and out on its next possession and punter Chris Gulla shanked a 32-yard punt, OSU started its next drive at the Nittany Lions’ 45-yard line.
Five plays later, Ezekiel Elliott’s 10-yard run made it 14-3.
Ohio State scored on a third consecutive possession on a 6-play, 66-yard drive that ended with Barrett running 13 yards for a 21-3 lead.
Penn State started the second half with a 3-play, 78-yard scoring drive that started with a 56-yard pass from Hackenberg to Chris Godwin. After a 14-yard run by Barkley, Hackenberg connected with DaeSean Hamilton for an 8-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 21-10 only 61 seconds into the second half.
Jack Willoughby’s 39-yard field goal, his longest of the season, gave OSU a 24-10 lead with 12:54 left in the game. Barrett’s two touchdown passes in the final 6 ½ minutes of the game completed the scoring.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.