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No. 3 Ohio State at No. 18 Penn State: Game Preview

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The Nittany Lions attempt to bounce back against an uber-talented Buckeyes squad.

Penn State v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

After a disastrous season opener at Indiana, Penn State look for a way to bounce back against the three-time defending Big Ten champs.

#8 Penn State (0-1) vs. Ohio State (1-0)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State +10.5

TV: ABC - Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Maria Taylor (sideline)

Weather: Cold, but dry and calm. The temperature should drop into the 30s around kickoff and near the freezing point later that night.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 56-24, 7th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 80-39, 10th Year

VS. OHIO STATE: 1-5

Ryan Day:

OHIO STATE RECORD: 17-1

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 1-0

FUN FACTS

Penn State comes in with a seven-game win streak in home openers...this is the second-ever home opener on Halloween night, with the first coming against Dickinson in 1888...Ohio State enters on a 14-game winning streak in conference games.

OHIO STATE OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Penn State’s defense will be facing one of the nation’s best, and potential Heisman recipient, in Justin Fields. The junior quarterback is coming off a phenomenal year where he threw 41 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and ran for 484 yards and another 10 scores. He showed no signs of rust in week one, with a red hot performance against the ‘Huskers where he completed 20 of 21 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 54 yards and another score.

As his numbers indicate, Fields is an exceptionally smart and accurate passer. Penn State’s best hope is to get in his face on a very regular basis. They will also need to cover the middle of the field to prevent him from taking off with the ball. While Fields is focusing more on being a pocket passer this season, the Nebraska game proved he will still take what’s given to him, whether it be a short run to convert a first down or a long touchdown scramble. If Fields has time in the pocket or an open field, he will make the defense pay in a big way.

The Buckeyes have one of the nation’s best receivers in Chris Olave, who may not be available on Saturday due to concussion concerns. Sophomore Garrett Wilson could become Fields’ top target on Saturday after recording seven catches for 129 yards and a touchdown in week one. True freshman Julian Flemming came to Columbus as the top receiver in his class (sigh) and will be looking to make a statement in his home state (double, nay, triple sigh).

Master Teague III and Trey Sermon will split duties at running back, and the pair combined for 23 carries for 89 yards and two scores (both by Teague) as the duo takes over for J.K. Dobbins.

Penn State will be without starting outside linebacker Jesse Luketa for the first half, who was ejected for targeting in the second half against Indiana. The timing of this could not be worse, considering the other would-be starting linebacker, Micah Parsons, is busy training or the NFL after opting out for the season.

Keep an eye out for Joey Porter Jr., who was named a surprise starter at cornerback, and followed it up with a standout performance in week one. His counterpart, Tariq Castro Fields, also performed very well in bouncing back from an injury-riddled 2019 season. While Indiana had talented receivers, this will be a much bigger challenge for them, with or without Olave.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. OHIO STATE DEFENSE

The Nittany Lions best path to victory is to win the time of possession battle with several long, clock-churning drives. While the offense is set up to potentially accomplish this very thing, missing Journey Brown and Noah Cain at running back will hurt. Sophomore Devyn Ford rises to the top back after a 20-carry, 69 yard performance and a touchdown (yes, that touchdown) against the Hoosiers. True freshman Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes will also receive carries. While Holmes came in with more hype, Lee showed potential to quickly become a major asset, averaging 5.8 yards on his six carries. At 6-0, 230 lbs., Lee needs to quickly become the bruising runner to wear down defenses and help maintain the aforementioned long drives.

While the gameplan may be ground and pound, it will be absolutely crucial for Sean Clifford to limit mistakes this week. While Clifford had a mostly quality performance with his arm and legs in week one, two early interceptions on complete misfires caused the Nittany Lions to get in an early hole. If that happens again, the game will quickly get out of control in favor of the Buckeyes.

Jahan Dotson and tight end Pat Freiermuth are back to lead the pass catchers, while sophomore Daniel George was able to get in on the action with three catches for 29 yards. This is a promising sign considering he had just nine catches despite extensive playing time and several starts last season. Even more promising was the contributions of true freshman Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who each had two receptions including an overtime touchdown reception by Washington who made a beautiful adjustment and was able to get his hands under the ball for the incredibly clutch score.

Ready for some good news? There are no Bosas or Chase Young on the Buckeyes to terrorize Penn State’s backfield. However, Ohio State is not lacking in talent by any means upfront or throughout the defense.

Defensive tackle Haskell Garrett is the most likely player to take follow Young and cause headaches for the Nittany Lions. The interior line will have a stiff test in keeping him out of the backfield and keeping the offense on the field. The Buckeyes are especially strong at linebacker, with three very experience and experienced players in Pete Warner (who led the way with seven tackles in week one), Tuf Borland and Baron Browning. Shaun Wade eschewed first round NFL Draft money to return to the Buckeyes, and has been moved from safety to cornerback.

Ohio State’s defense did show some leaks early on against the ‘Huskers, but settled in after allowing Nebraska’s second touchdown that tied the game at 14 midway through the second quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Blake Haubeil returns for his third year as the Buckeyes placekicker, and is 24 of 29 on career field goal attempts with a long of 55 yards. He connected on his only attempt, a 34-yarder, in week one. He has yet to miss an extra point with Ohio State after 129 attempts. Drue Chrishman returns for his fourth season as Ohio State’s punter, and is among the nation’s best. He had a career-best 44.3 yard per punt average in 2019, and it’s somewhat common for him to blast a 60-plus yard punt to flip the field.

Penn State kicker Jake Pinegar is looking to bounce back from a disastrous performance n week one, where he missed both field goal attempts after going 11 of 12 in 2019. New punter Jordan Stout averaged 39.3 yards on three punts with a high of 49 yards in his first outing at the position.

Devyn Ford proved to be an effective kick returner, and nearly broke the opening kickoff for a score, although his special teams roles may be reduced since he is facing a much increased workload on offense with the absences of Brown and Cain.

PREDICTION

Ohio State-42, Penn State-21

The good news is that Penn State is built to follow the classic upset recipe - hold on to the ball with several long drives on offense to keep Fields and the rest of the Buckeyes playmakers on offense on the sidelines. Then create turnovers on defense and make create negative plays to get them back off the field. However, this would also mean fixing the many mistakes that doomed the Nittany Lions in week one. Multiple turnovers, missed field goals, general special teams blunders, and anywhere close to 100 penalty yards mean the Buckeyes will roll.

While Penn State’s problems from week one are fixable, and in an alternate universe where a few plays were executed properly, the Nittany Lions easily defeat the Hoosiers and we view this game as a much more even match-up. But it still seems too much to ask, and it’s nearly impossible to work out the kinks against a team of Ohio State’s caliber that would have otherwise been addressed against Kent State and San Jose State.

I see Ohio State jumping out to a 14-0 lead, and while the Nittany Lions fight valiantly, they are unable to claw back to a one-score game.

Pat Freiermuth again leads the team in receptions and another touchdown, while Keyvone Lee shows what’s ahead with 75 rushing yards and a score. On defense, Castro-Fields gets a rare interception off Fields, while Lamont Wade continues his hot streak against the Buckeyes and forces a fumble while leading the team with eight tackles.