Penn State looks to build off its dominant win Saturday over Iowa, and they'll have a chance to big up an even bigger win this Saturday when the undefeated Buckeyes come into Happy Valley. So, as always, we reached out to the foremost authority on the Lions' opposition, and our friends at Land-Grant Holy Land are just that. Thanks to Luke Zimmerman for lending a helping hand in enlightening us about the Big Ten's standard bearers.
So thanks a ton, Luke, and remember to check out LGHL all season long to stay up to date on Ohio State, and be sure to check out what I had to say when they put me on the hot seat.
On to the questions!
Black Shoe Diaries: Obviously, the hiring of Urban Meyer was a huge deal for Ohio State, and in just one year, he's got the Buckeyes back to the top of the Big Ten standings after--gasp!--one down year. How has he put his stamp on this team in getting them to 8-0?
Land-Grant Holy Land: Meyer's first act was the absurd resurrection job he put on what was a decent but sub-Ohio State historical standard recruiting class that ultimately he had finish in many top 5's nationally. From there, he started orienting his new assistants and players within the finer points of the driving day-to-day philosophies of his football program and from there it begin to permeate to the fan base. There's certainly been some bumps along the way, but cheering for a team capable of scoring 50+ in multiple weeks as well as run entire series strictly out of the no-huddle with a balance of run option and sophisticated passing routes is a sight for sore eyes for folks that spent a decade plus under the tyrannical rule of the mad walrus king, Jim Bollman.
BSD: Like Penn State, the Buckeyes are bowl ineligible--though unlike Penn State, Ohio State would otherwise have the inside track to a BCS berth. Without that possibility, what are the goals for this season for Ohio State?
LGHL: Braxton Miller not spending 2013 in a wheel chair. No, in all seriousness, winning out would be a rather Ohio f-you to an establishment that probably doesn't care if the Buckeyes are unbeaten or not. While unless there were two SEC/Big 12 teams also unbeaten there's probably not any the Buckeyes would be left out of the national title picture, this particular group has navigated a less than rigorous schedule. And while I don't think this takes away from the fact that Ohio State fans will never forgive Gene Smith for costing them a potential berth in a BCS bowl (much less the national championship game), I think they still understand this none the less.
When you joined us for our Five Minutes in the Holy Land, you mentioned that no one gives a damn about winning a division title. Pretty much my sentiments exactly (though the contrarian in me would be quick to point out to myself that you have to win the division before you can win the conference before you can win it all, not that either teams are in any position to do so this season). That being said, something tells me the athletic department will print ridiculous t-shirts you might be able to find in a Columbus Goodwill in about 5-10 years if it winds up happening.
BSD: Ohio State's been somewhat schizophrenic this year. You guys beat up on a good Nebraska team, and struggled with mediocre teams like Purdue, Indiana, and Michigan State. Which is more indicative of the Buckeyes' true talent level, the 63-38 beatdown of the Huskers or the OT squeaker of last Saturday?
LGHL: I think the Nebraska game is the perfect example of the Buckeyes firing on all cylinders. That was also sort of a soft "38" to allow, and what I mean by that is that a lot of the points were contextually diminished in importance. The defense was in its pre-M*A*S*H unit states but had expended a lot of effort bearing down on Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead earlier in that one. They weren't garbage points by any means, and they probably still say a lot about how this incarnation of Buckeye defense has looked the majority of the season, but they also weren't damning.
I also wouldn't use "struggled" against Indiana and Michigan State. I get that Sparty has four losses but how many teams in the country have as many good losses outside of maybe Louisiana-Monroe? I know it sounds ridiculous, but I still think that Spartans defense is potentially the best in the conference. That game was an out and out war that really either team could've taken.
Also, Ohio State was never not in control against Indiana. Sure, there was a storm of late points, but even more so than Nebraska, the defense was exhausted and paper thin depth wise. Some of those points were apathy/prevent scores more than anything.
And Purdue probably deserves its own classification all together. The Buckeyes defense (aside from completely shitting the bed on the opening sequence in a cover LOL situation that matched up middle linebacker Storm Klein against a running back), played a pretty solid game for the most part. Sure, they struggled with the long play at times (which I guess tackling woes/being out of position/etc account for more so than anything), but it was probably their most consistent effort since that tough Michigan State win. Where Ohio State really did fail across the board was offensively. Until that final drive under the watchful guise of alto sax superhero Kenny G, the offense was broken basically all afternoon. The prospects of another showing like that freaks me out more than anything the defense could possibly do.
BSD: Braxton Miller's had a tremendous season, but he may not be at 100% this week. From an outsider, it seems like Ohio State doesn't have too many weapons, and that it's pretty much all Braxton, all the time. How might his injury change what the Buckeyes look to do offensively, and who would have to pick up the slack for the offense to succeed?
LGHL: I definitely wouldn't say that. Outside of Braxton Miller, Ohio State may not have any other potential Heisman candidates on their offense, but Carlos Hyde, Jake Stoneburner, Corey Brown (who's battling through injury in his own right), and Devin Smith are as good as any skill position guys in the league. Jeff Heuerman can make plays at the tight end position too, as he proved with last week's game tying two point conversion. And while none of those guys (outside of Brown) are probably capable of consistently generating daunting GIFable touchdowns like Miller, they're all NFL caliber talents.
It bears mentioning that Kenny Guiton has been a pretty near perfect game manager in the stints he's had to fill in for a dinged up, battered, and bruised Braxton Miller. He's not a quarterback of Miller's pedigree by any stretch of the imagination, but I (and most Ohio State fans) wouldn't lose any sleep over the prospects of having to turn to him to engineer the locomotive if Braxton is still sore/unable to go. He's not going to teleport all around the field and make you swear he's using cheat codes like Miller, but he's still athletic enough to run the offense and put Ohio State in position to score touchdowns (which is this thing we do now instead of kicking field goals; it's all and all very confusing for us still).
If senior Jordan Hall was also back from injury (which has been a lingering issue for him all season), I'd feel even more confident about Ohio State's wealth of weapons, but I think the mix of Hyde and redshirt sophomore Rod Smith in the back field and Ohio State's totally capable wide receiving corp and Guiton would more than suffice, even against a defense of Penn State's caliber.
BSD: Defensively, it seems like Ohio State's missing a lot of key pieces. I know Zach Boren's basically being forced to learn how to play linebacker on the fly, and the secondary's been pretty well maligned. Tell me why, as a Penn State fan, I can't be positively giddy about the idea of our tight end-heavy offense matching up against this Buckeye D.
LGHL: I don't know Penn State's second and third tight ends as well as you, but given how he's fared in his first two weeks at the position, I actually feel pretty okay about the idea of Zach Boren marking them in man coverage situations. If the name Storm Klein comes up, that confidence instantly decreases exponentially. It's worth pointing out though that Klein had his best game of the season against Michigan State, who's also known to work in a tight end or two on the regular, for whatever that's worth.
If McGloin can work an effective dink and dunk offense replete with plenty of screen passes and what not, I think Penn State can get some momentum going. I don't know that I'd go as far to say that Penn State has anyone who can break the big plays the way Shane Wynn of Indiana or Brendan Bigelow from Cal did, but I do think they can have some success offensively. All in all, I'd be surprised if Penn State scored less than 3 touchdowns, but I'd sort of also be surprised if they scored more than 4 if that makes any sense.
If you want something to feel good about? Well, if McGloin's deep ball is working for him, the secondary can be had. The corners are pretty solid overall, but the safeties are fairly high risk-high reward with a wide open landing strip for opposing receivers at times.
BSD: Prediction time! Do Ohio State's chances of winning this game really rest on whether Braxton Miller can play, or could the Buckeyes conceivable find a way to win in Happy Valley without their do-everything quarterback?
LGHL: I don't think it comes down to Miller at all, to be perfectly honest. I agree with the median opinion taken by the sports books: this is basically a coin toss. I think the two teams are really evenly matched in terms of where they're at and how they're executing right now. I still think Ohio State is the more "talented" team if all other things are equal, but they're not, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to learn that everyone on the Ohio State defense was dead all along.
If you made me pick right this second (and it sounds like you are), I'll say Penn State 24-21. But I could also just as easily say Ohio State 28 - Penn State 24. The one situation I don't see happening is Penn State blowing the Buckeyes out, but stranger things have happened. Who knows, maybe this game could be just that.
Thanks again, Luke, and remember to read Land-Grant Holy Land all season long.