It's no secret that this is a big weekend in State College. Let's just list off the reasons why.
- Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are coming to town.
- It's a night game.
- It's a whiteout.
- It's one of the biggest line up of recruiting visitors the school has ever had.
- It's James Franklin's chance to prove himself on the field against the man who he will battle for the foreseeable future for the top recruits in the area.
There are a lot of factors making this one of the biggest weekends for Penn State fans in recent memory. Of course, there is a danger in getting too excited. After all, this is Ohio State. This is the same team that embarrassed the Nittany Lions last year to the tune of 63-14. Granted, these are different teams than last year's rosters, but that doesn't mean the Lions won't be looking for a little revenge. Let's talk about the three most likely possibilities for this weekend, shall we?
Scenario #1: Penn State gets blown out
After watching the Nittany Lions most recent losses, this seems to be what most of the fan base is anticipating. There are plenty of reasons to agree with them. Ohio State is playing masterful football right now. JT Barrett looks like a seasoned veteran, not a freshman. The defensive line is playing up to their monster potential, even without Noah Spence. Urban Meyer even recently stated that this upcoming night game on ABC will be a chance to make a statement on national television.
Penn State is truthfully not prepared to handle this team. The Lions' defense has been fantastic, but has also been susceptible to giving up yards in the passing game (cough Trevor Siemian cough). Barrett should have plenty of holes to exploit in the secondary all night long. The matchup that should be keeping Penn Staters up all night this week though, is the Buckeye defensive line against Penn State's offensive line. Should current trends continue for both of these units, Christian Hackenberg will be lucky if he has more than two seconds to find a receiver.
Scenario one gives Ohio State a chance at duplicating last year's beat down thanks to their dynamic freshman quarterback and their man-eating defensive line.
Scenario #2: Penn State loses, but keeps it close
It will take a herculean effort by the defense and the offensive line, but it's not completely inconceivable that the Nittany Lions keep this one close. Having the support of a packed full Beaver Stadium caught up in a frenzy of white pom poms certainly will help. JT Barrett, for all that he has accomplished so far this year, is still a redshirt freshman. The environment in Happy Valley is going to be unlike anything the playcaller has experienced yet as a starter, and it could just be enough to make him human for the night. Should Barrett not be his usual effective self, the run game will become more important for the Buckeyes. Thankfully for Penn State, this is the one area where they have been consistently dominant all year long. If the Lions can get some stops on defense and force Barrett into mistakes, this could be a much closer game than most anticipate.
In the end of scenario two, Urban's boys still end up on top. Penn State's defense will be key in this one, but the offensive line still just won't have enough in them to protect Hack long enough to let him make plays. The defense can only hold out for so long before succumbing to fatigue from chasing all the Buckeye weapons around all night, and Ohio State pulls away in the fourth quarter to keep their one loss season intact.
Scenario #3: Penn State wins in a close game
This Kool Aid I'm drinking tastes delicious.
Remember when I said it would take a herculean effort to keep the game close? Well it would take more than the strength and heroism of Hercules for Penn State to pull out a win in this one. Should the nearly impossible take place however, the formula will be simple: The offense shows some balance, and the defense plays like their hair is on fire.
The Ohio State defense hasn't been perfect. There have been times where they've given up big chunks in the passing game, and times when they've given up big chunks in the running game. The entire country knows what Hackenberg and the receivers can do if they have the opportunity. However, those opportunities have been few and far between. When the defense can generate pressure with only three or four down linemen and drop everyone else into coverage, there's only so much a rocket arm can do. For Penn State to win this game, they will need Bill Belton/Zach Zwinak/Akeel Lynch to give the defense something else to think about. The offensive line will need to show that they have grown, and at least give Hack the chance to see the field. The receivers and tight ends will need to find space in the secondary and keep the ball off of the turf. Plain and simple, the offense needs to be everything that it has failed to be this year. The potential is there for Penn State, but unlocking that potential has been the struggle to this point.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions will need to do something they've been accustomed to doing the last few years- prepare for a running quarterback. Barrett is much more of a passing threat than Braxton Miller, but the Nittany Lions should be able to handle the offense in the air. The element to Barrett's game that is most likely to hurt Penn State is his running ability. It will be vital for the defensive line to create pressure early and contain Barrett within the pocket. If they can accomplish that, they will have a very good chance to force him into mistakes and generate some sacks.
The game in scenario three is likely not a pretty one. There will be turnovers, and there will be mishaps. There will be boneheaded plays, and there will be noise. Penn State will need to play their best game of the season BY FAR to make this a reality, and that will probably mean a low scoring and heart stopping affair. Should Franklin's squad pull it off though, it will make the Big Ten even more confusing.
We will analyze this game a lot this week. But right now, we want to hear from you. What do you think is the most likely outcome of this game? Can you see a way that Penn State claws their way to victory? Or will we have flashbacks of last year?