Penn State vs. Ohio State Preview

Story posted October 25, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Bradford Conners

After the Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) spoiled Michigan’s perfect season two weeks ago, they’ll be looking to pull off a similar feat when they travel to The Horseshoe, to take on the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions have the advantage of a bye week to recover from the euphoria of their 43-40, four-overtime win over the Wolverines. Still, they’ll face their toughest task of the season against an Ohio State team that hasn’t lost since Urban Meyer took over the coaching duties before the 2012 season.

The Buckeyes are coming off of a 34-24 win over Iowa a week ago. Ohio State trailed 17-10 at the half, but the Buckeye offense proved too much for the Hawkeyes to handle in the second half. Running back Carlos Hyde finished the day with 149 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Braxton Miller picked up 222 yards and two scores through the air, while adding 102 yards on the ground.

Saturday’s primetime matchup between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will be their 29th all- time clash, with Ohio State leading the series 15-13.

The road team has been victorious in each of the past two meetings, and if that trend is going to continue, Christian Hackenberg and the Penn State offense will need to exploit an Ohio State secondary that has surrendered 294 pass yards per game through three Big Ten contests.

Hackenberg has put up solid numbers thus far in his true freshman season, racking up 279 passing yards per game to lead the Big Ten. However, he’ll have to perform under the pressure of a hostile crowd for the first time in his young career, as Penn State steps into a difficult road environment in Ohio Stadium.

Though Hackenberg’s composure may be put to the test Saturday, having a pair of reliable targets to lean on, should make the situation much more manageable. Wide receiver Allen Robinson leads the Big Ten with 7.2 receptions per game and is second in the conference with 118 receiving yards per contest. In addition, Brandon Felder emerged as an effective complement to Robinson, after posting a breakout game against Michigan with 97 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Even if Penn State’s offense turns in a solid performance on Saturday, its defense will have its hands full against an Ohio State offensive attack that leads the Big Ten with 45 points per game. In contrast to the Nittany Lions’ pass-heavy offense, the Buckeyes prefer to pound the ball on the ground, having tallied 280 rushing yards per contest in 2013. Penn State, meanwhile, averages just 157 rushing yards per game.

The good news though for Penn State is that, aside from the loss to UCF, its run defense has been effective throughout the first half of the season. In the win over Michigan, Wolverines’ running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was held to just one yard per carry on 27 attempts.

However, even if the Nittany Lions can manage to put the clamps on Ohio State’s high-powered running game, they will also be tasked with slowing down Braxton Miller’s dangerous aerial attack. Miller has recorded eight passing touchdowns to just two interceptions in four full games this season, and he was spot-on against Iowa last week, connecting on 22 of his 27 throws.

Though the Buckeyes lack a receiver with the ability to take over games like Allen Robinson, both Philly Brown and Devin Smith have accounted for over 400 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns on the year.

If the Nittany Lions are to knock off the No. 4 team in the land on its own home turf, they will need to make every possession count, which means that they need to see improvement in two areas that have plagued them throughout the season: turnovers and third-down conversions.

Thanks in large part to a Big Ten-leading seven lost fumbles on the season, Penn State has posted a -4 turnover margin, which is tied for second-worst in the conference. Meanwhile, Ohio State is tied for the Big Ten lead with a +5 turnover margin.

In addition to taking better care of the ball, Penn State will need to do a better of sustaining its drives by moving the chains on third down. After converting just three of its 16 third-down attempts against Michigan, the Nittany Lions now have a 28% success rate on third downs this season, which is worst in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, went 10-for-14 on third downs last week and lead the conference with a 51% conversion rate.

A road upset would be a hallmark win for Bill O’Brien in his second year at the helm for Penn State, but the Nittany Lions will need to hope that the some of their magic from the Michigan win remains as they look to keep pace with an Ohio State team that is riding a 19-game winning streak and looking to remain in the national championship hunt.

Bradford Conners is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email btc5082@psu.edu.