The Nittany Lions look to upset the Buckeyes on Big Noon Saturday.
(#13)Penn State (6-1) vs. (#2)Ohio State (7-0)
Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
The Betting Line: Penn State +15.5 (Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.)
TV: FOX, Noon - Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analyst), Jenny Taft (sideline)
Weather: A beautiful fall day is expected, with sunshine and highs in the low 60s.
PENN STATE RECORD: 73-35, 9th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 97-50, 12th Year
VS. OHIO STATE: 1-7
OHIO STATE RECORD: 41-4, 4th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 41-4, 4th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 3-0
This is the 21st time Penn State and Ohio State have both been ranked when playing one another (out of 38 games in series history)...FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff pregame show will make its first appearance in Happy Valley, airing live from 10 a.m. to noon...this will be the second time Penn State and Ohio State meet on October 29 - the first resulted in a 63-14 pasting of the Buckeyes in 1994.
OHIO STATE OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE
Where to even start? First off, the Buckeyes have the current Heisman frontrunner in quarterback C.J. Stroud, who finished fourth in voting last fall. He’s been red-hot to start the season, with a 70 percent completion rate and 28 touchdown passes to four interceptions. He’s averaging just under 289 yards a game through the air despite not needing to pass much with six of seven games being blowout victories. Stroud did have a pick-six at the start of the Michigan State game, followed by a fumble that was returned for a touchdown against Iowa in the first quarter on Saturday. Obviously, he easily bounced back from the early miscues.
It helps that Stroud has an embarrassment of riches in the skill positions around him. The offense hasn’t skipped a beat even without the services of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who was widely considered the best receiver coming into the season. He’s only appeared in three games and has five receptions due to nagging injuries. While he did play last week, his snaps were limited. Sophomore Emeka Egbuka is having a breakout year, and has been the Buckeyes most consistent receiver with at least four catches in each game, and four 100 yard-plus games in the first seven weeks; he’s only been held out of the end zone in one game this season. Marvin Harrison Jr. has the skillset you’d expect as a bigger, more athletically gifted version of his father, who was one of the best receivers of his generation. At 6-4, 205 lbs., he is a match-up problem for just about any secondary, and has 14 catches for 193 yards and four touchdowns in the last week. He’s found the end zone 10 times already this season. Former Penn State target Julian Flemming has come into his own this season, and is coming off a 105 yard performance against the Iowa defense. Stroud also likes to rely on tight end Cade Stover, who is third on the team with 18 receptions.
If that’s not enough, the Buckeyes also have one of the nation’s most explosive backs in TreVeyon Henderson. He’s the type of back who can escape a surefire tackle and maneuver his way to the end zone at any moment. However, he’s been fighting off injuries too, but backup Miyan Williams has had no problem taking on a bigger load. Williams is a 225 lb. bruiser who is averaging 7 yards per carry on the season and has found the end zone nine times. He could play a large part in extending drives and winning the time of possession battle.
Ohio State’s offensive line has standouts across the board. They are particularly effective in pulling schemes, something that Michigan used to find running lanes to great success against the Nittany Lions defense.
This will be a huge opportunity for Penn State’s talented secondary. Corners Joey Porter Jr., Kalen King and Johnnie Dixon have all been playing at a high level throughout the season. It should be a fascinating match-up with the Buckeyes’ deeply talented set of receivers. A big day from the secondary paired with an effective pass rush would go a long ways towards knocking the Buckeyes’ offense out of rhythm and forcing them to make adjustments that may be out of their comfort zone.
PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. OHIO STATE DEFENSE
It’s clear the Buckeyes’ defense is living up to its potential under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who came to Columbus after transforming the Oklahoma State defense. The Buckeyes are allowing just 14.9 points per game, despite playing backups for the second half of most games. They’re second in the nation in yards allowed with 239.9 yards, and second in pass yards allowed with just 149 per game. They’re stingy all over, never giving up more than 21 points in a game this season.
Linebacker Tommy Eichenberg can make plays all over the field, and leads the team with 57 tackles - 22 more than the second leading Buckeye. He does a little of everything, with 7 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, a couple pass breakups, an interception and three quarterback hurries. Defensive tackle Mike Hall Jr. is a headache as someone who can stuff the run but also get into the backfield regularly. He has 7.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks from the interior. Javonte Jean-Baptiste is dangerous off the edge, and the latest Larry Johnson Sr. protégé who can wreak havoc. Safety Tanner McAllister leads the team with three interceptions.
We could keep going until we cover all of the Buckeyes’ starting 11 and key rotational players. The gist is that they all do their jobs very well, and make you earn every yard.
Penn State finally found success in the vertical passing game against Minnesota, largely in part to the tight ends getting more involved. Consistent rushing and downfield attacks will be absolutely necessary for the Nittany Lions to pull off an upset.
Ohio State typically has outstanding specialists, and this year is no different. Kicker Noah Ruggles is six of seven on field goals and has connected on all 47 (!!!) extra point attempts. He was 20 of 21 on field goals last year, so he may have already gotten his one missed field goal out of the way for the season. Punter Jesse Micro has been very consistent, averaging 44.9 yards per punt with a long of 55 yards; he’s placed 12 of 22 punts inside the 20 this season.
Ohio State-35, Penn State-20
Penn State did a fine job of picking itself off the mat with an overall outstanding performance in a blowout win against Minnesota. It was clear they learned some harsh lessons that made them better, as difficult as the Michigan game was to stomach. The Nittany Lions will be more competitive this game, and follow a similar pattern to previous match-ups with the Buckeyes - Penn State comes out with a great gameplan, makes the Buckeyes sweat for a while, but eventually give up a couple explosive plays that make the difference for the guys in scarlet and gray.
I don’t think it’s hopeless though. Penn State has standouts throughout the secondary and a tenacious pass rush, which could lead to some problems for the Buckeyes offense. If they get them out of rhythm and force turnovers, then we may be partying all day and night in Happy Valley.
It could happen, but I’m far removed from saying it will happen.