Game Preview: Ohio State at Penn State

For the second consecutive week, Ohio State hits the road to play in another tough environment, and make no mistake, Penn State is a tough place to play on a Saturday night. How will this one play out?

OVERVIEW: I would think everyone remembers the last time Ohio State waltzed into Happy Valley to play Penn State, and I guarantee you Urban Meyer remembers. Had the Buckeyes not squeaked out a win in overtime over the Nittany Lions (with some help from the referees), there would be no national championship banner from the 2014 season. This is a tough place to play. Add in extremely high winds and cold weather, and it's going to take Ohio State being on point to come out with a big win. Last week's scare from the Badgers should have the Buckeyes prepared to play well. 

THE KEY FOR BOTH TEAMS: I like James Franklin a lot, and he should have his team primed to play well from the opening whistle. They are coming off a bye week, like Wisconsin was, and they needed the extra week to get players healthy on the defensive side of the ball. Penn State needs to start fast, ala Wisconsin, and feed off their crowd. If they can stay close by the half, they will feel they can get this game into the fourth quarter with a chance to win. Again, like Wisconsin. For Ohio State, they must be really good defensively right off the bat, which they weren't last week. A fast start by the Buckeyes could silence the crowd, and the rout could be on. Who starts the fastest? 

WHAT WILL OSU DO DEFENSIVELY? The first half against Wisconsin was an aberration I believe, and for the most part this secondary just refuses to allow pass completions. Look at the graph on the story heading closely. Those are crazy stats, and they were achieved against good passing teams like Oklahoma, Tulsa and Indiana. The pass rush was great in the second half against Wisconsin, and Penn State will be without top offensive tackle Andrew Nelson. It looks like Penn State could struggle throwing it against the Buckeye defense, so the big question becomes: CAN OSU STOP SAQUON BARKLEY? He is a great back, the best in the conference, but they haven't run the football all that well this year. If OSU can stop Barkley, and make Penn State have to throw to beat them, it could be a long night for Penn State. But if Barkley gets off early, that opens up McSorley and the play action stuff. The theme for Ohio State, one they failed against Wisconsin and Corey Clement, is to stop Barkley first and foremost. Commit to the run, and leave the defensive backs on an island. 

WHAT WILL OSU DO OFFENSIVELY? For all the flash and dash, with big scoring totals, people are missing the point with the Ohio State offense. They rolled up big numbers against God-awful defenses in Bowling Green, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rutgers, but the dirty little secret is that the Buckeye offense is more efficient than explosive. They're a grind it out team, not a team that scores from long distance. They have a run/pass advantage of 2-1 favoring the run. They've only thrown 21 passes this entire season over 20 yards. They do have one explosive player in Curtis Samuel, but the rest of them are slug it out players. Including quarterback J.T. Barrett. And this is not a criticism at all. It's about being more Alabama, and less Oregon on offense. I know which of those teams are prettier, but which one collects national championship trophies like people collect baseball cards? When Ohio State goes 5-wide on offense? Look for the QB run every time. In the red zone? Barrett will look exclusively to Noah Brown. Their base offense: Mike Weber runs between the guards, Barrett keeps it in the zone read, and Samuel threatens the edge with the option pitch. The offensive line is built to run block, but they've been decent in pass protection. Barrett isn't Tom Brady throwing it, but he's efficient (there's that word again) and fairly effective throwing the football. The receivers haven't helped him with a lot of drops, and he hasn't always been accurate, so this is the Achilles heel of this team. Penn State has not stopped the run well this year to date, so Ohio State should be able to run it well this Saturday. And that should open up things in the passing game. Barring turnovers, and Barrett has put it on the ground a lot this year and thrown a few picks, Ohio State should be good on offense. 

THE "X" FACTOR: Franklin is a motivator, and his kids really seem to like playing for him. They are going to be ready to play. Penn State needs a great first quarter to avoid getting blown out early. That gets the crowd in it. It might be really tough to throw the football in the wind, so getting the lead is the key in this game. Should Ohio State start the fastest? It could get ugly early. I'm not sure Penn State can win this game without Barrett giving them the ball a few times, but if they play their best it might be close. My guess is Meyer comes out attacking on offense, because he will want to seize control early in this one. 

THE VEGAS LINE: We are still in the plus this season, but last week's horrible call drops the spread record to 5-4. This is another inflated line with Ohio State now at -19. I think a true line should be -14 on the road. The total of 58 is probably right on the money. Last week was a tough place for Ohio State's youngsters, but I think they grew up a lot in the second half. This week, I'm going to lay the 19 points and take Ohio State even though I'm not all that confident in this pick. Penn State has had trouble stopping the run, and that's a must if you want to bang with Ohio State. I think Meyer has the Buckeyes ready to roll from the opening kick and they take control early, and cruise to a nice win over Penn State. I sure don't see a 35 or 40 point win, but I think OSU will get over by more than 20. As a few bonus picks, I'm taking Texas A&M +17 against Alabama, taking Iowa +3 at home against Wisconsin, taking Nebraska -24 to destroy Purdue, and Louisville -19 over North Carolina State. 

THE PICK:  OHIO STATE 42  Penn State 14. 


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