Game Preview: Ohio State
Eric Ohlson, David Hadar, Jason Marcus and Ben Jenkins preview the top 10 showdown between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes on Saturday in Columbus.
Buckle up and get ready for the biggest college football game of the year so far. On Saturday at 3:30 p.m., the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes will face off in Columbus for an epic Big Ten East division showdown.
Everyone remembers the narrative in 2016. Penn State upset the No. 2 ranked Buckeyes 21-17 in Happy Valley off a wild blocked field goal return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Despite winning,the head to head matchup and the Big Ten title, the committee left the Nittany Lions out of the College Football Playoff in favor of Ohio State.
A division title and national semifinal spot could be one the line here, so there will be no shortage of motivation from either side.
Ohio State comes off a bye week and will be well rested for their toughest test of the year. The Buckeyes have not been challenged since their week two loss to Oklahoma, but Urban Meyer is sure to have his guys ready to go.
James Franklin and Penn State, on the other hand, passed its first tough test of the season last week, with an authoritative 42-13 win over Michigan last weekend.
Superstar running back Saquon Barkley re-established himself as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner last week with 108 yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving).
Redshirt junior quarterback Trace McSorley was named the National Offensive Player of the Week with 343 total yards and four total touchdowns (one passing, three rushing).
McSorley is completing 67 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and he has one of the best receiving corps in the nation at his disposal. Mike Gesicki may be the best tight end in college football, while DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson are two very talented receivers.
Behind an improving offensive line and an absolute mastermind offensive coordinator in Joe Moorhead, the Nittany Lions boast one the most dangerous offenses in America.
They will have a tremendous challenge on Saturday against an Ohio State defense that is just as good, if not better, than Michigan’s defense.
A defensive line of Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones and others, it’s as good as it gets in college football. Jerome Baker, Chris Worley and Dante Booker comprise an outstanding trio of linebackers as well.
Denzel Ward leads a secondary stocked with young talent, but it has proven to be vulnerable at times. This unit went through a four game stretch where it allowed under 100 passing yards each game, but those opponents were Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland, who was down to their third string quarterback.
Against Indiana, Oklahoma and Nebraska, three legitimate passing offenses, the Buckeyes have given up a combined 1,149 yards (383 yards per game). Penn State may have a better aerial attack than all of those teams, so this could be trouble for Ohio State.
Ohio State’s offense has been hitting on all cylinders lately after a rough start to the season. Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins form probably the best running back duo in the Big Ten, while senior quarterback J.T. Barrett has always been a threat on the ground.
Barrett has been also been phenomenal through the air since the loss to Oklahoma. He is completing 67 percent of his passes and has tossed 21 touchdowns to just one interception. Penn State will be the toughest defense that Barrett has seen all year, so he and this rejuvenated passing attack will be in for a challenge.
As good of a career Barrett has had, he has been mediocre at best against top defenses over his career. In nine career games against top ten opponents, Barrett is completing just 58 percent of his passes with more interceptions than touchdowns.
His last three games against such opponents (Michigan, Clemson, Oklahoma) in particular have been abysmal. In those three contests, Barrett completed just 44 of 100 passes combined (44 percent) for 434 yards (144.7 per game) with zero touchdowns and four interceptions.
Penn State currently has the top scoring defense and top-ranked passing efficiency defense in the nation. Barrett cannot turn in another repeat of history if Ohio State expects to win this game.
Barrett, however, may have his best group of receivers since 2014 with two emerging big play threats in Paris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon. Marcus Baugh is also a very physical tight end that could give Penn State some problems.
Both teams have outstanding special teams units, but field goal kicking has not been a strength for either side.
Tyler Davis for the Nittany Lions looked like an elite kicker last season, but has made just 7 of 13 field goal attempts this season. Sean Neurnberger has made 7 of 9 attempts, but has not made one over 33 yards.
Both kickers are perfect on extra point attempts this season, but field goal kicking could be an Achilles heel for both teams.
Ohio State will pack close to 110,000 fans inside “the Shoe” on Saturday afternoon and give Penn State all it can handle.
Barrett against Penn State’s defense will be the matchup to keep an eye on, but so will how Ohio State’s loaded defensive front attempts to slow down Barkley and McSorley.
This game will be as good as advertised, but the Nittany Lions, behind Joe Moorhead’s creativity and another stout defensive effort, will knock off the Buckeyes on the road and put them in excellent position for a second straight Big Ten East title.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Ohio State 23
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.