Ohio State’s J.T. Tuimoloau reveals motivation behind historic performance


“Let the game come to you.”

From all text messages Ohio State Defensive end JT Tuimoloau received this past weekend, the one from his mother who stayed with him when he took the field against Penn State.

“She texts me before she goes to play,” Tuimoloau told FOX Sports college football analyst Matt Leinart. “I went out there and that text is what made it a great performance for me.”

Ohio State’s JT Tuimoloau sums up the game of his life against Penn State

Ohio State's JT Tuimoloau sums up the game of his life against Penn State

Matt Leinart talks with Ohio State DL JT Tuimoloau about his incredible performance against Penn State.

“Great” might be an understatement when describing Tuimoloau’s outing in the Buckeyes’ 44-31 win over then-No. 13 Nittany Lions.

The sophomore defensive end finished the game with six tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and scored a touchdown in the win. He became the first FBS player this century to record two interceptions, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the same contest.

FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt called Tuimoloau’s outing “as good a performance as I’ve ever seen.” FOX Sports’ Emmanuel I believe called the introduction of former Nebraska great Ndamukung Suh against Texas in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game: “[That] that was the best college football game I’ve ever seen by a quarterback … I’ve seen a better game today.”

The performance also had a buzz on social media, with reactions from a long list of professional athletes including LeBron James, Paolo Banchero and former Buckeye standout Chris Olave.

When asked what it meant to receive such high praise from so many people, Tuimoloau was quick to reference the very person to whom he attributed his excellent play.

“I called my mom right after the game, and I had a moment where I looked back at all the things my parents sacrificed for me and my family to get to this point,” Tuimoloau said. “That played a huge role.”

While Tuimoloau was quick to credit his family for his recent success, he also noted Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who is in his first season at Ohio State. Knowles served as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State from 2018-21 before joining the Buckeyes’ staff last December.

“He’s always bringing the mentality of playing without playing and playing fast,” Tuimoloau said of Knowles. “Having him here allows us to play free and go there. He wants us to always be alert and always ready.”

Ohio State extends the lead with JT Tuimoloau pick-6

Ohio State extends the lead with JT Tuimoloau pick-6

The Buckeyes took a 44-24 lead over the Nittany Lions after JT Tuimoloau intercepted Sean Clifford and took it to the house.

Since Knowles’ arrival in Columbus, the Buckeyes have improved dramatically on the defensive side of the ball, holding opponents to 270 yards per game, which ranks sixth among FBS teams. Ohio State allowed over 370 yards per contest just a year ago.

Now Tuimoloau will look to build on last weekend’s performance as the Buckeyes try to take care of themselves Saturday against Northwestern and move one step closer to securing a spot in both the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff.

If Tuimoloau is able to continue his torrid pace, it will be hard for Buckeye fans not to start putting the former top recruit in the same conversation as recent OSU standouts like Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Chase Young.

“Those three guys … are Ohio State bigs,” Tuimoloau said. “Just being behind these guys is a real honor.”

So are all congratulatory text messages, especially those from mom.

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