JT Tuimoloau Ohio State Buckeyes Defensive End

JT Tuimoloau Etches Himself Into Both Ohio State And Penn State Lore

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When the various college football awards and media outlets announce their players of the week in a day or two, you can expect Ohio State sophomore defensive end JT Tuimoloau to be one of the first players mentioned.

In Ohio State’s 44-31 win at Penn State on Saturday, Tuimoloau posted six tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and he also batted another pass into the air that was intercepted by linemate Zach Harrison.

Tuimoloau’s performance was one for the books, which isn’t all that unusual for an Ohio State defensive end as it relates to Penn State. There is quite the history between OSU pass rushers and Nittany Lion offenses.

Everybody remembers Joey Bosa’s walk-off sack against Christian Hackenberg to end the 2014 game in double overtime. And the Sam Hubbard two-for-one tackle for loss three years later. Now Buckeye fans can also add Tuimoloau’s strip sack and pick six.

There is also quite a history of Buckeye defenders returning interceptions in wins against Penn State. You can go back to Chris Gamble’s game-clincher in 2002. Or Malcolm Jenkins (twice). Or Travis Howard. Or Devon Torrence. Or Ryan Shazier. That’s not even all of them.

And now you have to add JT Tuimoloau to the crazy history of pick sixes.

“It’s all kind of a blur the way it happened,” head coach Ryan Day said after the game. “But Intercepting balls like that as a defensive end and go get a defensive score, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. That’s big time. JTT has put so much hard work into this. He’s an unbelievable player, but he’s a better person. And you can see his talent. This is kind of his coming out party today. And he’s been working at it. Nobody wants it more than he does. So in this stage, for him to play the way he did, it means a lot to him and I think his teammates are pretty proud of him.”

The history of Ohio State defenders in the Penn State rivalry is almost legendary at this point. In one wing of the museum, you have the dominating Buckeye defensive ends who end up clinching the game with a miraculous play when Ohio State needs it most. In the other wing, you have the Buckeye defenders who return interceptions against Penn State quarterbacks at the absolute worst time imaginable for the Nittany Lions.

And on Saturday, JT Tuimoloau cut the ribbon on a wing all by himself with a fourth quarter that will never be forgotten.

Tuimoloau opened the fourth quarter with a 9-yard sack of Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford. One drive later — with OSU leading 23-21 — he sacked Clifford again, forcing a fumble that he also recovered at the Penn State 24-yard line. One play later, Buckeye quarterback CJ Stroud found tight end Cade Stover for a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Buckeyes a 30-21 lead.

A few minutes later, leading 37-24 with Penn State needing to score, Clifford threw a quick pass to his right that was intercepted by Tuimoloau and returned 14 yards for a pick six. It gave Ohio State a 44-24 lead with under three minutes to play and effectively ended any last hopes that Penn State had.

Tuimoloau may have dominated the fourth quarter, but he was setting the tone long before those final 15 minutes.

And he’s just getting started.

“I feel like there’s a lot more,” Tuimoloau said of his overall game after the contest. “I think there’s a lot more things I can clean up out there. There’s a lot of little stuff I gotta clean up. So I gotta go to the drawing board and get better.”

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