After putting the Illinois Incident behind them, reeling off three straight wins, locking up bowl eligibility (something Texas, Georgia, Notre Dame and Pitt have so far failed to do; and dammit, Illinois, I wanted to put Michigan on that list!) and solidifying Joe Paterno's 400th win, Penn State heads to Columbus to face the last of their formidable 2010 road opponents. Has JoePa's young and inexperienced team improved enough to give the Buckeyes a legitimate fight? Have the tuneups against the 7th, 8th and 11th place Big Ten squads been enough to allow us to believe an upset win is possible? Will we see enough toughness, fight and talent to indicate 2011 battles against Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin could be winnable? See what the BSD staff believes are answers to those questions after the jump. Oh, and kudos to both fanbases for stepping up the general level of commentary this week. Or, at least, for keeping it from sinking too terribly low. Let's keep it respectful, shall we?
Three weeks ago, if you told me Penn State would have a puncher's chance against Ohio State I would have laughed in your face. Penn State has been able to save their season and earn three straight victories, albeit against lesser competition. Matt McGloin gets the start on Saturday in what will be the biggest start of his life (to date). Mac will need to take what the #3 defense in the country gives him and not try to do too much. Penn State will need Evan Royster and Silas Redd to duplicate their Northwestern performances. The real key to the game will be the offensive line. If they can find a way to stop Cameron Hayward from living in the backfield, Penn State might have a chance.
Penn State's defense cannot play like they did in the first half against Northwestern against this Ohio State team. Give OSU a 21-0 lead and they will sit on the ball the rest of the night and Penn State won't have a chance to mount a comeback. Penn State needs to tackle well, plain and simple. Terrelle Pryor, like Denard Robinson and Dan Persa, is going to get his yards on the ground if he so chooses. He is too athletic of a player to not be a factor in this game. Penn State needs to force Pryor to throw the ball, and hopefully in less than ideal down and distances. Pryor's arm punts are slowly becoming more like Philip Rivers' push passes. He made Penn State pay last year with a deep ball so look for him to duplicate that this year. Chaz Powell or Stephon Morris need to be able to hold their own against the OSU WRs. And Morris can't afford another Minnesota game, not against this team.
Prediction: Penn State 10, OSU 24
BSD Mike Says:
Before the season I think we all figured this game was going to be a loss. The Buckeyes are a veteran team, and Penn State is not. So no matter what happens on Saturday I won't be jumping off the cliff. Man for man, the Buckeyes have the advantage in this game. So in the immortal words of Pedro Martinez, "What can you do but tip your hat and call them your daddy?"
But still, there's something about this Penn State team after the past few weeks that makes them hard to pick against. They went from a team that looked like they were just going through the motions trying to not get embarrassed to suddenly playing with confidence and swagger. They've overcome a ton of adversity in the three losses, all of the injuries, and the comeback against Northwestern. Guys like Matt McGloin, Silas Redd, Mike Mauti, and Malcolm Willis worked their way on the field and infused the team with the passion that was so sorely lacking in the early half of the season. Their play has motivated others like Evan Royster and the offensive line to step up their play as well.
I'm probably crazy, but I just have a feeling about this game. Everything and everyone says Penn State can't win. This shouldn't bother McGloin because he's been told from the day he stepped on campus that he can't compete. And yet here he is the starting quarterback for Penn State going into the Horseshoe. The Vegas line doesn't matter to him. The partisan crowd won't bother him. It's just more people questioning his ability. I think he will play well, and his teammates will feed off of that. On the flip side, Ohio State is looking past this game toward their big game against Iowa next week, and Terrelle Pryor has been tweeting how he wishes he could play basketball this winter and texting back and forth with Tom Bradley about who knows what. I wouldn't be one bit surprised if Bradley has been getting in his head telling him how great he is and swelling that massive ego. If I'm Jim Tressel I don't think I'm happy that my star player is talking to my opponent's defensive coordinator the week of the game. I think all of the intangibles are lining up in Penn State's favor for this one.
Ultimately I think Ohio State wins, but I do think Penn State gives them a major scare. My gut wants to go with the good guys, but I just can't.
Prediction: Penn State 17, Ohio State 24
The hardest part about this game is getting a false sense of security of how good Penn State might be. While there isn't any doubt they're playing better ball than they were a few weeks ago, measuring Penn State's performance against a horrid Michigan defense and expecting Matt McGloin to do the same against Ohio State is ill-advised. That being said, this team has an amount of mojo that is just right to pull this win off. Ohio State always lays an egg when they really shouldn't, and assuming a loss at night in Madison seems reasonable, they've still got a bad loss to go. If Penn State wants to win this game they can't play Tresselball. This team's swagger has been built on a underdog giving you a fight mentality. If Penn State can go out and attack Ohio State they have a chance in this game.
Overall, Penn State has a chance, and I expect them to put up a fight, but I can't bring myself to pick the upset. I expect this game to be within a touchdown going into the 4th quarter and Ohio State pulling away.
Prediction: Penn State 17 Ohio State 30
I've always felt that of Penn State's three tough road games, this would be the hardest to win. Considering Penn State lost the first two to Alabama and Iowa by 21 points each, it's hard for me to have much hope heading into this one. Sure, the offense has looked better in recent weeks, but it was putting up big numbers against crappy defenses. How bad? Minnesota is No. 103 in points allowed and Michigan is No. 104. Northwestern is considerably better at No. 42, but not nearly in the same ballpark as Ohio State's No. 3 ranking. O, and did I mention the defense has given up more than 20 points in each of the last three games? If Ohio State gets to 21, it's going to be very tough for the Lions to stay in it.
Tomorrow will also be a referendum on just how good Matt McGloin is. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he finally came out and did his best "McFavre" act and threw a couple of unnecessary picks early on against a talented Buckeye secondary. His mistakes haven't been too noticeable so far thanks to big numbers and exciting events transpiring around him, however, McGloin has thrown into double coverage more than a few times. It hasn't come back to bite him yet, but if very well could in Columbus.
Prediction: Penn State 10 Ohio State 21
Coming into Saturday's game, Penn State is 3-3 all-time against Cameron Heyward and his late father, Ironhead. When Penn State faced Ironhead, who played at Pitt from 1985-87, the Panthers were the Nittany Lions chief rivals. I'd make the argument that Penn State's chief rival now is Cameron Heyward's Buckeye squad.
If Penn State losses by the Vegas line of 18 on Saturday, Cam Heyward will become 3-1 against the Nittany Lions, and the three Ohio State wins during the last four years will have been by an average of 18 points.
But I'm working off the assumption that PSU-OSU is a rivalry; in my mind, to qualify as such, either team has to be able to win any game, regardless of records or rankings. Therefore, I think Penn State is going to keep this one close. I think the defense shows up to play, more or less. But I think the offense is the real attraction of this Penn State team, and after a couple of rough drives against the Buckeye defense at the beginning of the game, McNeckbeard finds his sealegs and starts making some plays. We have the lead a couple times during the game, but not on the final scoreboard.
Prediction: Penn State 23 Ohio State 24
I've been trying to think (one of my favorite phrases) what these predictions mean to me. Early season, without much tape on record, I picked largely on emotion and imaginations of our young talent. Now we're nine games into the season, so there's heaps to work with. With this schedule and this inexperience and youth, all I wanted all year was to see improvement. Well, we've certainly seen that these past three weeks. And, like Minnesota a few weeks ago, Ohio State actually comes at a good time: this is going to be a great test of our improvement.
On offense, we've now got two quarterbacks, each with their own well-documented skill sets. We've got a running back stable that includes an all-timer, a sick future-star #2 and a speedy team leader at #3. But most of all, and improbably given our recent history at the positions, we've got some very decent interior linemen. Klopacz is still gonna get beat, but he's eliminated the mental mistakes, and he's flanked by future next-levelers in Johnnie Troutman (yeah, I said it, and he's playing like it!) and Stefen Wizniewski. And before we (I) spend too much time heaping praise on OSU's Dline, let's note that this is not last year's OSU line (missing Thad Gibson this year? We won't). We should also remember that Northwestern's Vince Brown, Nate Williams and Bryce McNaul are not scrubs and our Oline pounded them each handily on five straight touchdown drives last weekend. If they play with similar passion and crisp execution this week, Penn State has a chance to put some points on the board.
Similar improvement was witnessed in another beleaguered unit last week: the linebackers. While Dan Persa kept our entire defense off-balance for much of the first half, Coach Scrap made what has become a halftime staple this season: 'adjustments,' and made him largely ineffective in the second half. Mike Mauti morphed into a one-man terrordome, Chris Colasanti continued his disciplined play and Nate Stupar tightened up his rowdiness. Next up: Gerald Hodges shakes off the last bit of injury rust and begins playing to speed, and Khairi Fortt comes back from the stinger injury enough to keep Bani Gbadyu on the bench. Of course, Terrell Pryor is freakish enough to make even the best LBs look silly (remember Bowman bouncing off harmlessly last year? I want not to; please help me, this year's linebackers), and OSU has some mean and tough blockers (I'm not even gonna say their names), so we'll need epic games from Ollie Ollie Ogbu and Devon Still (more than a peer both athletically and physically; may be our best defensive player next year), and it will be crucial for Malcolm Willis, Drew Astorino and Andrew Dailey to defend the debilitating arm punts, unlike Nick Sukay and D'anton Lynn were able to last year.
All that said, I totally expect a good hard fight. I think our lads come to play and will play well. I also think we're due for some debilitating mistakes and OSU has enough athletes to make us pay.