The Nittany Lions will start a former walk-on at quarterback in Matt McGloin, but it is PSU's rushing attack that has led the way in recent weeks. Senior tailback Evan Royster has rushed for 100 or more yards in his last two games, and freshman speedster Silas Redd is coming off a 131-yard performance in a win against Northwestern.
Meanwhile, Ohio State's rushing defense has stepped up after allowing Wisconsin rushers John Clay and James White to combine for 179 yards Oct. 16 in a 31-18 loss to the Badgers. In games against Purdue and Minnesota following the loss in Madison, the Buckeyes have allowed a total of 100 yards on the ground on 58 carries. That's an average of 1.7 yards allowed per rush.
Senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said the improvement against the rush came after he and defensive teammates did some soul searching upon their return from Wisconsin.
"There's two things you can do when you lose," he said. "A lot of teams say, ‘Oh, we lost. Our season's over. We're miserable.' Or you can look at the game film, understand what happened. … I think that's what we did. We have a lot of older guys, and we looked at the film a million times to see what happened, see why we didn't make those plays, see why things were happening.
"We tried to force ourselves to get better and understand what went wrong. That's kind of why we've been a little bit better."
And what did Larimore and company see when watching the film?
"I don't think we were using our hands as well as we needed to," he said. "A lot of times we were getting penetration but we weren't getting off guys, making tackles. Our linebackers had a hard time flowing, being able to shed blocks and get off guys.
"Those are things we can work on. Little things. Being able to use your hands more, being able to get your feet set. ... We've been working on that over and over and over and trying to get better at the little things."
Facing the Boilermakers and Golden Gophers after the Wisconsin game probably helped as the defense worked on those little things. Purdue ranks sixth in the Big Ten in rushing offense with an average of 173.2 yards per game. Minnesota is 10th, ahead of only Indiana, with 127.1 yards per game. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Penn State is ninth in the conference in rushing. The Nittany Lions rush for 149.6 yards per game. Ohio State is also tops in rushing defense, allowing 84.0 yards per contest.
But PSU's rushing totals have improved dramatically during the Nittany Lions' three-game winning streak. After being held to 54 and 65 yards, respectively, in back-to-back losses to Iowa and Illinois to start Big Ten play, Penn State has averaged 196.7 yards on the ground in wins against Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern. The best of those rushing performances came last week against the Wildcats. Royster, who became PSU's all-time leading rusher during the winning streak, rushed for 134 yards against Northwestern, and Redd added a season-best 131 yards on 11 carries.
As a team, Penn State finished with 260 yards rushing against Northwestern.
"Evan's just finally gotten rolling," senior defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "He's a great back. He's always been a good back for them. They have a really good one, two punch (with Redd), and it's going to be difficult to try to stop that. The main thing is we have to not let them get going early and continue to get after them."