In case you missed it earlier this week, Ohio State blogger Eleven Warriors asked me to talk a bit about the Penn State Nittany Lions. His question was simple: How can Ohio State beat Penn State? A typical question from a Buckeye fan. They don't really care about your team. They just want you to tell them how great they are. But it was fun to play along and Jason was a good sport to answer a few questions from BSD.
BSD: Ohio State struggled to score points against Wisconsin and Purdue with Terrelle Pryor taking the snaps. Then all the sudden they drop 45 points on Michigan State. Was this a fluke or did Tressel finally hit on something and we should expect this kind of output from now on?
11W: The 45 on Sparty was just the result of several things coming together. The offense played a good game, but I'm not sure the bulk of the scoring was the result of any real tweaking on offense. The points were really just a product of several things. Pryor hit that big run on the 2nd play of the game and then Beanie hit a reverse field run and that opened up things inside and in the passing game. The defense also played it's finest game of the year, coming away with five takeaways and the bulk of them lead to points.
There were some new wrinkles, like a new starter at right guard and Pryor throwing to the fullback and tight ends out of the read option, but overall, the gameplan was very similar to what you saw against the other Big Ten teams we've played already.
BSD: When Tressel made the decision to bench Boeckman it sounded like there was some division on the team over who the quarterback should be. But they say winning cures everything, and since then the Buckeyes have won three straight. Do you think the team is fully behind Pryor and Tressel or do you think some of that division still remains?
11W: I think you hit it on the head alluding to winning taking care of some of that, but some players still don't appear to be sold. After the offense struggled against Purdue two weekends ago, tight end Jake Ballard came out in favor of the two quarterback system. There were rumors of other players not quite on board with Pryor running the show -- Todd is, by all accounts, a guy that is extremely well-liked on the team (he's handled his benching as a senior captain with a ton of class).
Another tight end, Rory Nicol, called the linemen out in meeting for playing like girls against the Boilermakers and then the Buckeyes go out, hang 45 and Pryor ices another road win. All of a sudden, not a peep on the team. The rumblings may come back, especially if he struggles Saturday night, but for now, there's calm.
BSD: Convince me that I should be worried about Pryor’s ability to throw the ball.
I can't. He's not going to consistently thread balls into tight coverage or perfectly lead his receivers, or even be on the same page as his receivers. What you should be worried about, however, is his ability to execute the the play that every mobile quarterback presents outside the pocket. You know the ones. Your linebacker is running with a tight end and Pryor takes off towards the line of scrimmage, so the backer has to make the play on the run and then, at the last minute, he pulls up and hits the wide open tight end. And its distant cousin: the broken play-receiver going deep play that sucks all of the wind out of a defense.
As a pure passer, he's not going to beat you (yet). But imagine a star running back who touches the ball on every play and can throw it a little. Nothing to worry about, really.
BSD: Penn State is arguably the best offense Ohio State has faced all year. The other candidate, Southern Cal, torched the Buckeyes for 35 points. How do you think the Buckeyes will try to defend against the Penn State offense?
11W: You guys are going to hate hearing this, but I think Southern Cal is in another class offensively than Penn Sate. It's USC and then everybody else when it comes to gameplans on that side of the ball. BYU has the diversity, but not the athletes (and just for good measure, USC's OC is a former BYU QB). LSU has near the athletes, but not the playbook. Offensive football is woven into the fabric of Californians. I know, I know... Oregon State. But that's just how USC rolls. After Penn State waxed them, they did not deem that a big enough game to get up for.
Saying that, I think Penn State is clearly the 2nd-best offense the Buckeyes will see this year. With so many weapons, even a defense with the talent that Ohio State has is not going to be able to stop everybody on every play. One thing the Buckeyes will definitely do is take the ball first if they win the toss. Tressel has done that every game since starting Pryor and is banking on points on that first drive (which is happening at about a 60% rate). Anything to help put a little pressure on the Penn State offense.
From there, I'd imagine OSU will run a lot of man coverage as they have finally seen the light with regards to coverage philosophies. I'd suspect they'll probably run with a nickel more often than they did last week (while it was close), but not that much more. Royster and Clark both present dilemmas on the ground and they will need three linebackers on the field to contain them. As good as the PSU line is, I'm worried Ohio State won't get the type of pressure I'd like to see, so they'll have to rely on solid tackling and hoping for some turnovers.
BSD: Let’s say God came down from heaven in the middle of the night while you were fast asleep in your Troy Smith jammies with the trap door in the back for “easy access” and gave you the following offer. You can either lose this Saturday and go on to beat LSU in the Capital One bowl, or you can win this Saturday and go on to suffer another humiliating loss in the BCS Championship game. Those are your only two options. You must decide now or God will have the NCAA retroactively reverse the pass interference call and take away the 2002 National Championship. Which would you chose?
First of all, they're Krenzel pajamas. But if I had to make that choice, it's a no-brainer. Bring on LSU (or Florida, or Georgia -- anyone from the SEC). If the Buckeyes do lose Saturday, I'll be cheering for an unbeaten season from you guys and a crystal football for the conference.