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No. 20 Penn State at No. 5 Ohio State: Game Preview

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This suddenly seems much, much more difficult.

Ohio State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Penn State will try everything in its power to avoid a third consecutive loss. Unfortunately, they will need to do it on the road against the suddenly red-hot Buckeyes.

#20 Penn State (5-2, 2-2) vs. Ohio State (6-1, 4-0)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH

The Betting Line: Penn State +17.5

TV: ABC - Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Holly Rowe (sideline)

Weather: Highs in the upper-50s with showers expected throughout the day.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 65-30, 8th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 88-45, 11th Year

VS. OHIO STATE: 1-6

Ryan Day:

OHIO STATE RECORD: 29-3, 3rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 29-3, 3rd Year

VS. PENN STATE: 2-0

FUN FACTS

This will be the 38th match-up between these two programs, with Ohio State holding a 22-15 series lead...The Nittany Lions will be looking to create a turnover in its 14th consecutive game...this will be the third time Penn State and Ohio State have faced off on October 30, with the Buckeyes winning both games in ‘93 and ‘04.

OHIO STATE OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Would you like the bad news or the bad news? Penn State’s run defense came apart at the worst possible time, as they now must patch things up in time to face the nation’s most explosive running back. Freshman TreVeyon Henderson has a Saquon-esque ability to turn any touch into a big play. He’s come on especially strong lately, averaging at least 8.9 yards per carry in four of the last five games. The other? A ho-hum 169 all-purpose yards and three scores against Maryland. It’s only a matter of time before Henderson gets loose whenever the Buckeyes commit to putting the ball in his hands.

Penn State will not be able to key in on slowing down Henderson, as Ohio State has a likely Heisman finalist under center with two of the nation’s best receivers not named Jahan Dotson.

It seemed that this would finally be the year Ohio State would not be led by one of the nation’s finest quarterbacks. C.J. Stroud has proven that’s not the case. After his first six starts, Stroud is completing 67.6 percent of passes with 22 scores to just three interceptions. He has improved with each week, and has been particularly lethal of late - completing 74 percent of passes with 14 touchdowns for 1,002 yards in just three games. Stroud has quickly grasped the offense, but has the big arm to be dangerous. He’s found little trouble finding Ohio State’s massively talented pass catchers down field for big gains.

Ohio State has the nation’s best receiving trio in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. While Smith-Nijba is the lesser known of the three, he leads the team with 19 yards per catch and is second with 551 receiving yards. Olave is well on his way to being a first round draft pick and has two touchdown catches in three of six games, with eight total scores on the season. Wilson leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards and is the most steady performer of the group.

Stroud also has a reliable tight end at his disposal. Jeremy Ruckert is an athletic, 6-5, 260 lb. target who can make plays as needed. He’s coming off his most productive game of the season after catching five passes against Indiana.

Put all this together and you get the nation’s top scoring offense (49.3 ppg) and total offense (559.7 ypg). While Penn State’s secondary has been phenomenal all season, it will be impossible to keep the Ohio State offense in check unless the run defense can quickly return to form.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. OHIO STATE DEFENSE

The biggest storyline is the health of Sean Clifford, who was clearly not close to himself in the loss to Illinois. He was limited as a runner, and was unable to pass the ball downfield, making it easy for Illinois to scheme against a largely restricted gameplan. Penn State will need Clifford close to 100% to move the ball with regularity. From what we saw on Saturday, it’s doubtful we’ll see a healthy Clifford by the time the team takes the field in Columbus.

Ohio State’s defense seemed to be a far cry from its usual self earlier in the season. Oregon used tempo and attacks on the perimeter to run up and down the field during their win in Columbus. Even Tulsa was able to keep things interesting for three quarters by finding holes in the Buckeyes zone. However, the Ohio State defense has been gradually improving and appears to be a much better unit that we saw give up 31 to Minnesota and 35 to Oregon to start the season.

The biggest difference for the Buckyes defense may be the lack of a gamebreaking pass rusher like they’ve had over the last several years between the Bosa brothers and Chase Young. Although they have seen several young players emerge as the season progresses. True freshman defensive tackle Tyleik Williams looks to be the next star in the making. The 330 lb. defensive tackle is surprisingly quick, and has four sacks and 5.5 TFLs from the trenches. He lines up next to Haskell Garrett, the known commodity on the Buckeyes’ defensive line, who is already having his best season with 4.5 sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Safety Ronnie Hickman can cover the whole field, leading the team in tackles by a wide margin, as well as the lone Buckeye with two interceptions on the season - one of which went for a pick-six. Teradja Mitchell is having a breakthrough season at linebacker, and is second on the team in tackles while contributing four TFLs.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Buckeyes kicker Noah Ruggles is perfect on the season, connecting on all seven field goal attempts and 44 PATs. His long for the season is 44 yards. Punter Jesse Mirco is an Aussie-style kicker who is averaging an impressive 43.6 yards per attempt.

Ohio State has a dangerous return man in Emeka Egbuka, an explosive true freshman receiver you will get to know before too long. He is averaging 35.2 yards per kick return, although he is not likely to get a chance with Jordan Stout’s ability to put the ball out of the end zone.

PREDICTION

Ohio State-38, Penn State-10

There was a window of time when it appeared the Buckeyes were vulnerable this season, and Penn State was built to match-up with Ohio State and leave Columbus with a victory. Unfortunately, we’ve seen these two programs go in complete opposite directions during the past several weeks. Penn State showed some concerning flaws at points that came to an ugly head against Illinois. Meanwhile, Ohio State has grown with experience on both sides of the ball, and look like their usual selves that sit upon the top of the Big Ten and ready for another trip to the Playoffs.

Penn State will need the ability to open up the playbook to find the holes in the Buckeyes defense to keep them on their toes. Clifford will do everything in his power to grit out a victory, but will likely not be himself again on Saturday. We’ve also learned the bitter truth that there is no other quarterback on the roster who is capable of filling in and finding any success in moving the offense.

Penn State is in danger of following behind quickly if the offense can’t stay on the field, and then make things worse if they have to push to stay in the game. This is a recipe for disaster that there doesn’t seem much in the way of preventing under the lights on Saturday.