Quick 2021 Recap
The Buckeyes finished 11-2, which is somehow below the lofty standards of Ohio State fans. They suffered a loss against Oregon in week two where both sides of the ball were underwhelming. They would right the ship with a nine-game winning streak, capped of with a stunning 56-7 voctory over #7 Michigan State. Michigan finally had their number though, handing the Buckeyes a 42-27 loss where they dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage. The season did end on a high note with a wild 48-45 victory over Utah in the Rose Bowl, led by Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s record-shattering 347 receiving yards.
Offensive Player to Watch: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR)
Sure, quarterback C.J. Stroud is an early Heisman favorite. But you can say the same as every other Ohio State quarterback since the start of the Urban Meyer era. Running back TreVeyon Henderson is among the most dangerous players in the nation, but seems to get excluded from the gameplan for stretches of time.
Smith-Njigba explded toward the end of the 2021 season, and is poised to be perhaps the nation’s top receiver this fall. He recorded an eye-popping 958 yards and six touchdowns in the final five games of the season. In fact, the least-productive of the last eight games of 2021 was a 97-yard performance againt Penn State. Smith-Njigba did all of this while sharing the load with two receivers who went on to become first round draft picks in April. Now he’s ready to carry the load, with the Biletnikoff Award a very real poosibility.
Defensive Player to Watch: Tommy Eichenberg (LB)
Like Smith-Njiga, Eichenberg showed steady improvement throughout the year and took a big leap at the end. He became a more relaible presence at linebacker by the midway point, and put together big games in victories against Purdue and Michigan State. He ended the season with his best game by far with a 17 tackle performance in the Rose Bowl. He’ll be a key component in new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ (formerly of Oklahoma State) 4-2-5 scheme.
Ohio State Wins If
Basically what they do every year against Penn State - don’t beat themselves and make a couple momentum-shifting plays to put the game out of reach.
Penn State Wins If
Win the turnover battle by two or more and limit big plays. These are the two things that have crushed Penn State’s chances in this series well before the Franklin era. The offensive line will also need to have a marked improvement over last season (and several before) to help keep the offense on the field, and Stroud and co. on the sidelines. Also, it will be paramount that Sean Clifford is fully healthy when the teams meet on Oct. 29.