Penn State is set to take on potentially the nation’s most complete team in the Ohio State Buckeyes. To preview this week’s game, we caught up with Colton Denning of Land Grant Holy Land to learn more about the Buckeyes and to see if Penn State even has a chance on Saturday afternoon.
1) The Buckeyes enter this weekend undefeated at 10-0 and are one of the most complete teams in the nation. Yet, they’re not ranked No.1 in the playoff rankings. Do you think this will add a chip to the shoulder of the Buckeyes for this weekend’s matchup?
A: No, I think playing Penn State on Senior Day is all the motivation they need this week. Based on everything Ryan Day and the players have said recently, they don’t seem concerned with anything but the opponent in front of them, and they know everything will take care of itself if they do what they’re supposed to do.
2) We’ve seen dominant Ohio State teams in the past but they always seemed to have one trip up game during the course of the season. What has made this team in 2019 different?
A: This year’s team plays much more loose and relaxed, and it’s a testament to Ryan Day’s leadership. Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches ever, but his intensity led to really tense play for much of the four seasons after the 2014 team won the National Championship. Those “trip up” games you mentioned --hi Purdue and Iowa-- and the infamous 2015 loss to Michigan State were a direct result of that. Pretty much the same thing happened to Meyer at Florida. I’m sure that sounds like I’m playing the world’s smallest violin to your readers given how much he won in Columbus, but it was a problem.
Day’s less intense approach has paid off huge so far. Ohio State’s not only avoided those trip up games, but they’ve just straight up obliterated basically everyone in their path. Interestingly, Joel Klatt and Gus Johnson have mentioned this change in approach on a couple broadcasts in their talks with players in the program; it’s a very real thing. I won’t say it’s the main reason for their overall success this season, but to me it’s the biggest reason they’ve avoided the pitfalls that prevented previous Ohio State teams from reaching the playoff.
3) What has made Ohio State’s offense this season so efficient and explosive this season? They’ve been strong in years past but this offense just seems to be an a whole other level compared to the those of the past.
A: It’s hard to pick just one thing here, but I’ll go with the re-emergence of an explosive run game. They’ve always been efficient running the ball, but the explosiveness has been hit-or-miss since Ezekiel Elliott left. In four fewer games, they already have 16 more runs of 10-plus yards than last season, and 14 more of 20-plus. Day’s creativity, the offensive line’s improvement, and J.K. Dobbins bouncing back from a sub-par 2018 all deserve a lot of credit for the improvement, and it’s taken the offense to the next level.
4) If Penn State is going to have a chance to win on Saturday, how must they attack the Buckeyes on both offense and defense?
A: Sticking with the run game again here for both sides of the ball. As y’all are well aware, Penn State’s run defense is super stout, so this should be a fun matchup. If they can limit 5-6 yard runs on first and second down, I’m sure Brent Pry has some creative stuff cooked up for Justin Fields on third-and-long. Michigan State succeeded for most of the first half with this recipe, but then Ohio State figured it out and it was pretty much game over. If Penn State can’t stop the run, the same thing’s going to to happen.
Offensively, they have to at least be somewhat successful running on standard downs. Third-and-longs mean opportunities for Chase Young to get after the quarterback, and we all know how that ends.
5) Ohio State’s starters really haven’t played a full 60 minutes all season, do you think if its’ a close game entering the fourth quarter, do you think Ohio State could struggle?
A: I’ve seen people bring this up all season, and I honestly think it means nothing. The majority of Ohio State’s starters have played huge roles the last two/three seasons, which means they’ve played in their share of close games, especially against Penn State. They aren’t just going to wilt if it’s a close game just because it hasn’t happened in 2019. If Penn State keeps it close or wins, it’s not going to be because Ohio State doesn’t know what to do in that situation; it’s going to be because Penn State’s a really good team who has a track record of playing them close.
6) How do you see the game on Saturday playing out between the two teams and does Penn State have any shot of keeping this a close game down to the end?
A:Penn State definitely has more than a shot at keeping it close. James Franklin thrives in these situations, and I don’t think they really have anything to lose. This might be the best Ohio State team ever, the spread is damn near 20 points for a top-10 matchup, and it’s on the road. If Penn State loses or gets their asses kicked, so what? There’s no shame in losing to a team as good as this one, so you go out and put up your best fight. That won’t be Franklin’s rallying cry or anything, but he’ll have them motivated.
I think this is going to be a lot like Ohio State’s game with Michigan State earlier this season. At some point early in the third quarter, there’s going to be a tipping point where Penn State can either make it a four-quarter game and give themselves a chance to win, or things just completely snowball out of control. Maybe it’s breaking a big play for a touchdown, forcing a turnover in Ohio State territory, or getting off the field on a crucial third down at mid-field. Penn State’s margin for error is pretty small, and I think we’re going to see whether we get a repeat of the last three games between these two early in the second half.