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No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State: Game Preview

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The Nittany Lions face off against the Buckeyes in one of the most highly-anticipated games of the college football season.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State looks to remain undefeated while Ohio State looks to keep its playoff hopes alive in the biggest game of the Big Ten regular season.

(2) Penn State (7-0, 4-0) vs. (6) Ohio State (6-1, 4-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH

The Betting Line: Penn State +7

TV: FOX- Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analyst), Jenny Taft (sideline)

Weather: A cool day with temperatures only reaching the upper 40s. Showers are expected in the morning and may continue off and on throughout the afternoon.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 32-15, 4th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 56-30, 7th Year

VS. OHIO STATE: 1-2

Urban Meyer:

OHIO STATE RECORD: 67-7, 6th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 171-30, 16th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 4-1

NOW THE FUN PART....

OHIO STATE OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

The Buckeyes rarely find themselves in the loss column under Urban Meyer, but when they do it tends to come down to a stagnant offense. The struggles that attributed to some recent upset losses culminated in an embarrassing 31-0 shutout at the hands of Clemson in last season’s College Football Playoffs. It looked as though those struggles may continue, as Ohio State took a while to get things going against Indiana in week one, and then managed just 16 points in a week two loss to Oklahoma a home. However, the offense has come alive in the last four games, averaging 57 points against UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska.

A big part of this resurgence has been a return to form for quarterback J.T. Barrett, who seemingly has been leading the Buckeyes offense since 2003. If not for the middling performance against the Sooners, Barrett would likely be near the top of the list of Heisman candidates. He is currently completing nearly 67 percent of pass attempts, with 21 touchdowns to just one interception and an 8.88 yard per attempt average. He’s also the Buckeyes second leading rusher with 359 yards and five scores on the season.

Barrett is about as experienced of a college quarterback you can face, and its showing as he’s found a way to limit mistakes. He can run hot and cold at times, but when he is on he is one of the toughest players to defend. Barrett has outstanding playmaking ability, with the speed and power of a standout running back. Against Michigan, Penn State often left the middle of the field open to dare John O’Korn to run. They definitely will be doing more not to allow any wide open lanes for Barrett this week.

Freshman J.K. Dobbins quickly claimed the starting running back spot, and is easily a superstar in the making. Dobbins has the burst and vision reminiscent of Saquon Barkley and can be incredibly difficult to maintain. He’s the type of back who can strike at any moment when given the slightest amount of space. Dobbins is coming off a 106 yard effort against Nebraska on just 12 carries. Sophomore Mike Weber doesn’t have the same explosiveness, but is a very effective back who would be starting at most other Big Ten teams when he comes in to spell Dobbins.

The Buckeyes offense was hindered in 2016 with the lack of a true downfield threat, but junior Parris Campbell has now stepped into that role. He is tied for the team’s receptions lead with K.J. Hill, and has 405 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Junior Johnnie Dixon is also threat- while he only has 10 receptions, he is averaging an eye-popping 27.6 yards per catch.

OHIO STATE DEFENSE VS. PENN STATE OFFENSE

Well this should be fun.

It looked like Penn State’s offensive line was heading into a stretch where they would easily be outclassed for three consecutive weeks. However, they put together an outstanding effort against a highly talented Michigan front to help the offense rack up 506 yards. They will face a similar challenge against the Buckeyes, who also easily have one of the nation’s best front sevens. However, they will have to do so without the ability to communicate as much in front of a raucous crowd at the ‘Shoe.

Are you tired of guys named Bosa crashing Penn State’s backfield? Too bad, because Nick Bosa is picking up where older brother Joey left off in Columbus. The younger Bosa is leading the team in sacks with four and negative tackles by a wide margin with 10. Finding ways to contain him will be an absolute must for Penn State’s offense to continue to fly.

It’s more than just Bosa who is capable of disrupting the offense- Ohio State’s depth chart is littered with talent upfront. At the other end is Sam Hubbard, who also makes himself home in opponents’ backfield regularly, racking up five TFLs and two sacks on the season. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis is also a disruptive force who oftentimes comes off the bench for passing downs.

The Buckeyes also have the Big Ten’s best linebacker unit, led by playmaking outside linebacker Jerome Baker. Along with Dante Booker, Ohio State likes to dial up blitzes from various looks with its two speedy outside linebackers. It will be interesting to see if they use their speed to their advantage with an aggressive gameplan, or use a more disciplined approach in an attempt to keep Barkley in check, and limit big plays from a number of talented Penn State pass catchers.

If there’s one thing that has caused problems for Ohio State’s defense, it’s using their athleticism against them by going against the grain. You better believe Joe Moorhead has a few new tricks up his sleeve to counterattack a Buckeyes front seven that can otherwise get to the ball and shut things down in a hurry.

The key to the game could very well hinge on the ability for Penn State to move the ball through the air. The Buckeyes young secondary has been challenged this year, and Penn State’s collection of talented receivers could cause problems for them, especially if the Buckeyes stack the box to shut down the run. Mike Gesicki, Juwan Johnson and DaeSean Hamilton can all cause match-up issues when left in single coverage, and Trace McSorley should have no trouble taking advantage as long as he has ample time to find an open receiver.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Junior Sean Nuernberger has reclaimed the kicker spot and is seven of nine on the season. However, he has missed his last two attempts and has not connected on a field goal since week four. His long on the season is 33 yards, and the last time he made a field goal of 40 or more yards was 2014. Expect Meyer to roll the dice often on fourth downs once the Buckeyes cross the 50.

Punter Drue Chapman has not seen much action this season, and is averaging 42.6 yards with a long of 62. He has punted a grand total of 10 times in Ohio State’s last five games.

Parris Campbell is an incredibly dangerous kick returner, averaging 39 yards on eight returns. His long is 82 yards, and was stopped just short of the end zone. Fellow wideout K.J. Hill handles punt return duties, but is only averaging 3.5 yards per return with a season-long of eight yards. The Nittany Lions are in great shape in the return game, as both Saquon Barkley and DeAndre Thompkins are threats to go the distance when they spot an opening.

Penn State did not attempt a field goal against Michigan, so it is unknown if the struggling unit made any tweaks or improvements during the bye week. Tyler Davis started the season six of 13, but many misses were the results of poor snaps, holds and breakdowns in blocking. This is a game where missed field goals and other miscues will need to be at an absolute minimum to escape Columbus with a victory.

PREDICTION

Penn State- 31 Ohio State-24

At this time last week, I felt fairly certain Ohio State would be handing Penn State its first loss of the season. With their offense clicking and a dominant front seven, it just seemed too much for the Nittany Lions to overcome when playing on the road against a team coming off a bye. But then the Michigan game happened, and my faith was restored after seeing the offensive line come together to have their best performance of the year against a tough Michigan defense. Sure, this game could easily go either way, but I believe the Nittany Lions have what it takes to come out as the victors on Saturday.

We learned last season not to doubt this team. As the nation’s second-youngest, they came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten, all while battling a string of injuries at linebacker and the offensive line. They still have that “it” factor, and now have the motivation of a Playoff snub and the bitter taste of a Rose Bowl letdown that seems to propel them to work towards perfection, doing everything they can to take matters in their own hands and leave no doubt to others.

The offensive line will need to find a way to replicate their success from last week without the ability to communicate in a hostile environment. Joe Moorehead will need to call an outstanding game to take advantage of the Buckeyes pursuit to the ball and their focus on stopping Barkley. Trace McSorley will need to stay on point throughout the game, and make smart decisions to move the ball on a tough defense. And Penn State’s defense will need to again play at a high level against by far the best batch of playmakers they will face in the regular season. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.

Barkley has himself a day, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in rushing and receiving, and a late touchdown run to put the Nittany Lions ahead and all but cement his Heisman status. Trace McSorley adds a score with his legs and a touchdown toss to Mike Gesicki, while DaeSean Hamilton again has several key third down receptions to keep the chains moving. On defense, Amani Oruwariye comes up with a huge interception while the defensive line puts in a fantastic group effort to combine for five sacks as they wear down the Buckeyes offensive line in the second half.