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Penn State’s Paths to Victory Against Ohio State

After many close calls, can the Nittany Lions finally pull one off against the Buckeyes?

Penn State v Northwestern Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Penn State has had some strong efforts against Ohio State under James Franklin, but little success. The Nittany Lions are 1-8 against the Buckeyes going back to 2014, but will head into Columbus with the most talented roster of the Frankin Era. Here’s a few things that could help Penn State earn a hard-fought victory in Columbus:

A Steady Drew Allar

Drew Allar has done some impressive things during his first six starts, and there are many memorable moments on the way before becoming a high draft pick. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to be a superstar by Saturday.

Allar has proven to be a smart and patient signal-caller, finding holes in the defense to get the ball in the receiver’s hands, even if it’s done in short chunks. He’s also been very careful with the football, and has yet to throw an interception in 10 appearances a true freshman last season and six starts during the 2023 campaign. A respectable stat line of 65% completion rate, 200 passing yards, one or two touchdowns and no interceptions will go a long ways towards the Nittany Lions earning a victory against the Buckeyes for the first time since 2016. Even better, going over the top of the Buckeyes defense to achieve an elusive explosive play or two would be monumentous in what could shape up to a low-scoring affair.

Converting Short Yardage Situations

Penn State has converted 91.7% of its fourth downs entering this week, and has not been shy about going for it on fourth and short to keep the offense on the field. It’s been a winning recipe thus far to help win the time of possession battle and pile up points by methodically driving down the field. Penn State has found success using the T-formation that has been effective with a “tush push” for the 6’5” Allar, running off tackle, or finding an open receiver in the flat or back of the end zone when the defense least expects it.

Now, will they be able to do the same against a stingy Ohio State defense on Saturday? A fourth down conversion or two could end up being the biggest plays in a game that features two exceptional defenses. The offensive line, which should have guard JB Nelson back in the fold, will have little room for error and Drew Allar will need to make the right decisions with the ball on his hand. This is also a huge opportunity for Kaytron Allen, who has proved to be one of the most physical runners in the Big Ten.

Containing Marvin Harrison, Jr.

Ohio State’s offense will be relying on Marvin Harrison, Jr., especially if they are hampered by injuries to its top three running backs and standout receiver Emeka Egbuka. And why wouldn’t they? Harrison, Jr. is the overall most talented player in the nation and is likely heading for a Hall of Fame career at the next level as long as he stays healthy. Penn State’s defense has excelled all season thanks to a relentless pass rush and airtight coverage from the secondary. Throwing up prayer balls to Harrison Jr. could be a bad decision against this defense, but Harrison has the deep talent to make it work.

Harrison Jr. will need a big day for the Buckeyes, especially considering their struggles to get much out of the running game against much weaker defenses. The lower the numbers on Harrison Jr.’s stat sheet, the better chance the Nittany Lions have to win in Columbus for the first time in 12 years.