In a season where most of the games have gone exactly as I thought they might, the matchup between Ohio State and Penn State just isn't all that easy for me to make a prediction with much confidence. The obvious pick is Ohio State to roll easily over the Nittany Lions, and you are seeing that on every website across the internet. And I can see why.
Ohio State has more talent than Penn State overall, and that's a shocking revelation, I'm sure. Ohio State vandalized them last year to the tune of "whatever Urban decided it would be", and the final score was irrelevant shortly after the first quarter ended.
I really like James Franklin a lot, and their defensive staff is top shelf. Not sure Christian Hackenberg suits this offense like he did Bill O'Brien's, but Hack is a player. Long-term, they have the right coaching staff in place. Can it find the secret to beat Ohio State this week?
How can Penn State win this game? How do you realistically make up 50 points in one year? That's a tough one to answer. First off, Penn State has part of the equation you need to stop the Buckeye offense, and that's being strong up the middle. They have two D-tackles that can bang with Boren, Price and Elflein, and a middle linebacker that is a heck of a player. Howard University would not run the ball down these guys throats like they did to Rutgers, so that gives the Penn State defense a chance.
Penn State will need to take a chance and not load the box to stop the run, but count on the base defense to control Zeke Elliott inside. The Ohio State passing game has grown since the Virginia Tech disaster, and I don't think the Eagle will land on the Buckeye offensive staff's head again. Ohio State admitted they had no clue against the Hokie defense, and that's not exactly how you help your freshman QB in his second start, but I don't see that repeating. Penn State will need to keep the safeties back, and not use them in the running game, because bringing them up makes them too vulnerable over the top.
The Lions need to force Ohio State to play the length of the field, and not give up big plays. Make this offense have to grind it out 80 yards in 12 plays, not let one of the Buckeyes go 50 in a heartbeat. Getting hurt in the run game costs Penn State first downs, while mistakes in pass defense cost them touchdowns. Keep everything in front and be sound in your tackling, and do not gamble defensively. Can Penn State do this? They had better keep Ohio State around 24-27, because scoring points won't be easy.
Offensively, Penn State has issues with a bad offensive line and that's a tough one to overcome. Ohio State fans saw against Virginia Tech how an offensive line getting wrecked affects things on offense. Penn State's O-line can get wrecked Saturday night, and if that happens every point will be tough to come by. Can their O-line be average? Can they hang in there and not get steamrolled? This is the game to me. If they can't, Penn State will not score 10-points offensively. For Penn State to win, their offensive line would need to play the Ohio State defensive line to a standstill.
I really like Christian Hackenberg and have since I saw him at Under Armour. He will play in the NFL a long time. Last year against Ohio State was not a day he will look back on fondly, and being a competitor I'm sure he will play well if given any amount of time. The runningbacks and receivers are good enough to cause problems if their offensive line can be adequate. The Ohio State defense has been good, but not dominant, so there are possibilities if they can hang in there against Bosa, Bennett, Washington and the rest. Can they hang?
For the most part, I think the old "night-game-at-home" syndrome is highly overrated, and the best team wins because the crowd cannot play in the game. However, crowd noise can affect communication and BSB's Kirk Barton explained that issue perfectly this week. This will be a tough environment for Ohio State, so a fast start is imperative for a lot of reasons. Taking the crowd out of it is one. Making a team like Penn State believe another butt-whipping is coming would be another. Obviously, the opposite is also true, where early success by Penn State gives them hope and whips up a frenzied crowd even more.
The first quarter will tell the tale in a lot of ways. If Ohio State sprints out 21-3, then it's time to call in the dogs and pee on the fire because the hunt will be over by 8:45 p.m. Penn State needs success early on offense, and they need to make this game a brawl defensively. They need to make this as physical a game as they possibly can, because you simply cannot outscore Ohio State. In a pretty game, Ohio State rolls easily because they have the prettier athletes. In a street fight, the toughest guy on the street can beat the heavyweight champ. Penn State has to make this a war and play at the highest emotional level to have a shot. Turning J.T. Barrett over 3-4 times wouldn't hurt either.
For Ohio State, all they have to do is be Ohio State. Nobody has to play out of his mind, or over his head. If they get the chance to bury Penn State, that's going to happen and Urban Meyer knows that. If it occurs, people will make up all kinds of reasons for running it up, from James Franklin to Larry Johnson, but that won't be it. Ohio State needs to continue to try to erase that bad loss, and they don't play enough quality teams to overcome that loss by just winning. They need to win big, and a last second field goal to beat Penn State won't cut it with the committee at the end of the year. The loss to Virginia Tech forces Ohio State to get attention by killing opponents, and trying to make a statement by saying all you can do is dominate the people on your schedule.
THE PICK: I really hated making a pick on this game, because I'm not at all sure I have a clue about it. Every other game this season, I felt I had a handle on how it would be played and what the result might be. In this one, I can easily see a repeat of last year, and I can see Franklin rallying his team and his fans for one monster effort. Penn State has quality players outside of the offensive line, but that's such a tough place to be weak at, so it's hard to see them scoring enough to win without a lot of Buckeye help. I guess in the end, I find it hard to see Ohio State under 30 points. And I find it tough to see Penn State hitting 20. I don't see Penn State folding up like Cincinnati, Maryland or Rutgers, but I don't see them having enough to win. Tough game. Tough place to play. Solid OSU win.
Ohio State 31 Penn State 16.