A top 10 clash between the Big Ten’s highest-ranked teams in front of a whiteout crowd under the lights of Beaver Stadium. What else could you ask for?
(9)Penn State (4-0, 1-0) vs. Penn State (4-0. 1-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
The Betting Line: Penn State +3.5
TV: ABC- Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Maria Taylor and Tom Rinaldi (sideline)
Weather: A very nice and sunny day with a high of 69, with temperatures cooling into the low 50s at night and little-to-no chance of rain.
PENN STATE RECORD: 40-17, 5th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 64-32, 7th Year
VS. OHIO STATE: 1-3
OHIO STATE RECORD: 74-8, 7th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 178-31, 17th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 6-1
NOW THE FUN PART....
OHIO STATE OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE
While Ohio State has a first-year starting quarterback playing in a tough environment, it may not make much of a difference as Dwayne Haskins has been phenomenal in replacing JT Barrett. At 6-3 and 220 lbs., Haskins is a pure pocket passer with stunning accuracy. He has completed 75.7 percent of his passes for 1,194 yards with 16 touchdowns and only one interception. Haskins isn’t a dual-threat quarterback like we’ve mostly seen from Ohio State in recent years, and will not be used in designed runs and will only scramble as a last resort. While this does take away a dangerous element of the Buckeyes offense, his accuracy still makes him incredibly difficult to defend.
Haskins also has two outstanding backs to take the pressure off of him. J.K. Dobbins is easily one of the most difficult players in college football to tackle, displaying the “elite wiggle” that was used to describe Saquon Barkley. He’s very good at making defenders miss, and can create a huge gain with the slightest of holes. Mike Weber may not be the same type of playmaker as Dobbins, but he is an excellent north-south runner and could be in for a big day if Penn State’s defense doesn’t address some glaring issues against the run.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Ohio State has a handful of receivers who can light up a secondary. Parris Campbell has been the most consistent playmaker, with 19 catches for 299 yards and five touchdowns. He’s coming in hot, with 147 yards and two touchdowns against Tulane. Junior K.J. Hill is leading the team with 21 catches, and knows how to keep the chains moving. Senior Terry McLaurin has been making the most of his opportunities — averaging 24.2 yards per catch with four touchdowns on just nine receptions. Haskins does an outstanding job of spreading the ball around and not allowing defenses to key on any single player. Through four games, 13 different Buckeyes have caught two or more passes.
Penn State’s defense has continued to make tweaks in the first four weeks, leading up to this showdown where they will absolutely need to put its best foot forward. It will be interesting to see how linebackers Micah Parsons, Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks (all three in their first year of eligibility) are worked into the lineup, as well as safety Jonthan Sutherland, who does nothing but make tackles whenever he steps foot on the field as a reserve.
PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. OHIO STATE DEFENSE
Let’s start with the biggest storyline- defensive end Nick Bosa, the best defensive end (and heck, the best overall player) in the nation is recovering from an injury against TCU and will not play on Saturday. While Ohio State’s defense isn’t as good without Bosa in the lineup, they still have a spectacular defensive line that can take control of the line of scrimmage. It’s still Larry Johnson Sr. coaching up a bunch of blue-chippers, so you know what to expect.
Penn State’s offensive line vs. Ohio State’s front four is perhaps the most compelling, and important, match-up for this game. A year ago, the Buckeyes took over in the trenches following Ryan Bates’ injury, which propelled them to an incredible fourth-quarter comeback. This year, the Nittany Lions boast an improved line as years of successful recruiting has finally taken effect. This will be a huge test for them, but the early results have been promising especially in regards to run blocking.
Junior Dre’Mont Jones has been a nightmare to block, and already has three sacks and 5.5 TFLs as a defensive tackle. He also managed a pick-six against TCU to help the Buckeyes take control of the game. Sophomore Chase Young looks to be filling in for Bosa, and has two sacks and three TFLs on the season. At linebacker, sophomore Baron Browning is a star-on-the-rise who can be disruptive and regularly make plays.
Like Penn State, the Buckeyes like to rotate liberally throughout the defense. They have the talent to go deep into the depth chart without much of a drop off, and it’s obviously been effective for them. Safety Jahsen Wint leads the team in tackles with just 3.75 per game, and a total of 26 Buckeyes have at least three tackles on the season (FWIW, that number is 27 for the Nittany Lions).
It seems every year the Buckeyes bid adieu to some of the best defensive backs in the nation, without seeing much of a dropoff in the fall. That will be the case again this season, even after losing Denzel Ward, the fourth overall player selected in the NFL Draft. While the Ohio State secondary lacks experience, they are uber-talented and know how to capitalize on a mistake. They are also very physical, especially freshman Jordan Fuller who seems to be everywhere on the field. He came out to play in the Buckeyes biggest game so far against TCU, accumulating eight tackles.
Expect to see some new things out of Penn State this week. The Nittany Lions could take advantage of their deep set of receivers, placing everyone on the field with McSorley looking for mismatches- especially if K.J. Hamler or Juwan Johnson are involved. Tommy Stevens has been held out the last couple weeks after healing from a foot injury, but should finally see the field. The staff elected not to trot out the LION package against the Buckeyes last season with Stevens in the backfield even though they had completely hit a wall. Don’t expect them to do that again this season. True freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth has been getting more involved, and this could be his opportunity to completely take control of the position.
This is McSorley’s last go-around with the Buckeyes, and you know he will be ready for the massive spotlight on Saturday night. He has made the most of things with an offensive line that couldn’t hang with the Buckeyes the last two seasons- it will be interesting to see what he can do if he has time in the pocket and a reliable ground game to take pressure off of him.
If there’s a game where a key special teams play can swing the outcome, this is it. One missed tackle or one block, one field goal that goes wide right, or one spectacular return could easily determine who goes home with a loss, and who has an inside track for a division championship.
Ohio State kicker Sean Nuernberger is off to a solid start, connecting on all 29 extra points and making three of four field goals. While Neuernberger is reliable, he doesn’t have a huge leg. His long on the season is just 30 yards, and was one-of-four on attempts of 40-plus yards in 2017. Sophomore Drue Chrisman is a standout punter, averaging 42.4 yards on the season with a long of 65 yards, to go along with two 50-yard punts.
The Buckeyes share the load for the most part when it comes to kick returns, with no one lighting up the stat sheet thus far. But this is Ohio State — they have a number of athletes who can take it to the house if Penn State’s kick teams have any lapses in coverage, which has been known to happen this season. C.J. Saunders is the primary punt returner for the Buckeyes, averaging 6.3 yards per return.
DeAndre Thompkins and K.J. Hamler have been nothing short of spectacular in the return game this season. Each has the ability to break a long return each time they take the field, and have regularly given the offense a major boost by providing fantastic starting field position.
Ohio State-48, Penn State-42
This game could go either way, but there’s just enough that concerns me about Penn State for me to pull the trigger. While this is the most talented team to play under James Franklin, the youthfulness is all too obvious at times. In all four games, there have been too many mistakes- an abundance of penalties, dropped passes, bad reads, and just general mistakes that will sink a team with the talent level of the Buckeyes. I also don’t like the match-up of Dobbins and Weber running against Penn State’s inexperienced linebacker crew, which still needs plenty of development.
While Ohio State is lacking in experience in key spots as well, they are still loaded with playmakers that will make a team pay for any carelessness. A tipped pass against Appalachian State becomes a pick-six against the Buckeyes. A holding penalty against Illinois can be overcome, but is likely to completely kill a drive against Ohio State.
This will be an incredibly close game throughout, and could very well be the most entertaining college football game of the season. However, Ohio State just makes that one play late in the game to come out victorious.
Miles Sanders puts the Saquon Barkley talk to bed with a 150-yard, two touchdown performance. McSorley also has a huge day, with 350 yards and three touchdown tosses, with another coming on the ground. Shareef Miller is Penn State’s defensive MVP with two sacks and a forced fumble.
Note that this is the first time I’ve picked against Penn State since the 2016 Ohio State game, and we all know how that turned out. Let’s all hope you can come in here and say “told you so” around 11 p.m. on Saturday.