Here are your BSD staff predictions for the Ohio State game.
We know the history of this game in Columbus, and it's not pretty for Penn State fans. Or Penn State. Or anyone, really. However, it should be known that Penn State hasn't always brought a great team to the Horseshoe. In fact, in the last four games in Columbus (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006), it's easy to say that Penn State's only had one or two decent teams, in '02 and '06. Ohio State's records in 2002 and 2006? A combined 26-1. In 1998, Penn State had one of those "beat up the wimps, choke against the big boys" seasons (just like 2002). You have to go back to 1996 in order to find a year when Penn State took a great team into Ohio Stadium -- and they lost to an eventual 11-1 Buckeye team, 38-7.
Still, throw history out the window. These players were in elementary school in 1996. What do we have left? A highly skilled, balanced, and disciplined team traveling to take on a run-heavy, pass-if-we-have-to team with a freshman QB who has difficulty throwing downfield. What's not to like about this matchup? Ohio State isn't suddenly a great team because Sparty crapped the bed at home last week. If Penn State can achieve a few modest goals -- keep Pryor inside the tackles whenever possible, don't turn the ball over on offense, stay even in the kicking game, limit Beanie to a reasonable amount of yards -- Penn State is going to win this game. This Ohio State team is not last year's Ohio State team. Same goes for the guys wearing white.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Ohio State 14.
Much is being made of the weather, but I can't say that it should really cause us concern. Many think that a cold wet day will bog down the Spread HD, but I don't buy it. The offense is built on smart quarterbacking, short passes and a diverse set of running plays. The deep ball exists, but the offense hardly relies on consistent 20-40 yard passes to move down field. I mean, does this look like the kind of thing that wouldn't work in the rain? If anything, the weather puts more emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines, two areas in which Penn State has a distinct advantage.
In fact, based on the stats (here's more) and the antidotal evidence, I'm not really sure that we have anything to worry about. Last week Pryor and Wells proved they can combine as a solid rushing attack, but the true freshman QB looks his age when forced to sit in the pocket and pass. For a game that will swing in large part on turnovers, this makes me happy. As long as Scirrotto can show up close to 100%, I expect Bradley to run the soft rush we saw against Illinois and the secondary to pick off a pass or two. If Penn State can avoid the killer error that has plagued the first quarter, I really like Penn State's chances. The offense, as they say, cannot be stopped, only contained.
I'm not actually as confident as I sound, although I really should be. Penn State proved they can keep up on offense when the defense struggles (Illinois), they've performed well in poor conditions (Illinois), they confidently handled a night game in a hostile environment (Wisconsin) and showed they don't panic when things look like they are unraveling (Michigan). Plus there's this: Penn State > Oregon State > USC > Ohio State. I mean, it's science.
Penn State 28, Ohio State 24
When Penn State wins the toss they always elect to defer until the second half. The last few weeks Tressel has elected to recieve the ball, so you can pretty much bet Ohio State will get the ball to start the game. If they drive down the field and score right away I think we're in for a long night. The crowd will be energized and their offense will be loaded with confidence. But if Penn State can stop them and Daryll Clark can lead the offense to a touchdown I think we're looking at a Penn State blowout. Ohio State is going to try to keep this a low scoring game, and we have to try to pile on the points. Whoever gets the early upper hand will have a huge advantage.
On offense Penn State just has to keep doing what they've been doing. Take what the defense gives them and be smart with the ball. Mix the pass and run and keep the Buckeyes off balance.
On defense Penn State has to stay in the 4-3 and don't let Pryor and Wells run wild. No matter how tempting it may be to bring in a nickel back to cover that third wide receiver, put a linebacker on him or line up man-to-man with the safety and make Pryor beat you with his arm.
On paper I should feel good about this game. We have an overpowering offense and a stout defense. Their defense is good but their offense has been inconsistent. But still, I can't get over fact that strange things always seem to happen to us in Columbus. We give up pick sixes. We miss easy field goals. We give up touchdowns on special teams. We have kicks blocked. It's always something. And with Paterno in the booth I have this fear that at the first sign of the offense struggling he could turn the switch and go conservative and try to escape with a 13-10 win. My mama* always told me to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. I just don't have a good feeling about this game.
Prediction: Penn State 17, Ohio State 20
(* - And anyone who says my mom is hot is getting kicked in the Bucknuts)