2006 Big Ten Preview: Penn State

We continue our series on Ohio State's 2006 opponents by looking at Penn State, which will visit OSU for the Big Ten opener on Sept. 23. Ohio State and Penn State shared the Big Ten title a year ago. Linebacker Paul Posluszny returns after winning the Butkus Award a year ago.

Here is the fourth in a Bucknuts.com series on Ohio State's 2006 football opponents as well as a preview for the Big Ten in 2006. We continue with the Sept. 23 game against Penn State.

Penn State

* Date, Time: Sat., Sept. 23, time TBA (seems likely to be at 3:30 p.m. on ABC).

* Location: Ohio Stadium.

* Last Year, Bowl: 11-1. Big Ten: 7-1/first (tie).

* Coach: Joe Paterno (41st year at PSU, 354-117-3).

* Returning Starters: 11. Offense (5): LT Levi Brown, TB Tony Hunt, WR Deon Butler, WR Jordan Norwood, FB BranDon Snow. Defense (4): DT Jay Alford, OLB Dan Connor, MLB Tim Shaw, OLB Paul Posluszny. Specialists (2): K Kevin Kelly, P Jeremy Kapinos.

* Big Ten Championships: 2, last shared title in 2005.

* Rose Bowls: 2, last appearance in 1994.

* BCS Bids: 1, 2005 (Orange).

* National Championships (Rissman/Rockne, 1924-35; Associated Press, 1936-2005): 2 (1982, ‘86).

* Series Vs. Ohio State: Penn State leads the all-time series 11-10, although OSU leads 7-5 in games played in Columbus. The Buckeyes also have an 8-5 edge in the Big Ten series since 1993. Penn State defeated OSU 17-10 last year in University Park, Pa.

* Schedule: Sept. 2, Akron; Sept. 9, at Notre Dame; Sept. 16, Youngstown State; Sept. 23, at Ohio State; Sept. 30, Northwestern; Oct. 7, at Minnesota; Oct. 14, Michigan; Oct. 21, Illinois; Oct. 28, at Purdue; Nov. 4, at Wisconsin; Nov. 11, Temple; Nov. 18, Michigan State.

* Outlook: Paterno, who turns 80 in December, shows no signs of letting up after leading PSU to its second Big Ten title (and first in 11 years) as well as its first BCS bowl appearance and win.

"I hadn't had a physical in 10 years," Paterno said. "The doc said to me, ‘You can coach 10 more years.' I told my staff that and you never saw nine guys put their heads down so quickly."

But the Lions will miss many of the seniors who made that title run possible a year ago.

Junior Anthony Morelli steps in at quarterback to replace departed Big Ten MVP Michael Robinson.

"Each player you have is different," Paterno said of Morelli. "You must give the team or the player a specific scheme to fit their strengths. We had Michael Robinson who was great in that scheme as well as some young players who gave us a new dimension.

"But the offense really won't change as much as you think because Anthony runs better than people give him credit for. It depends on what defenses decide to do. They have to give up something to get something. The scheme won't change much. Hopefully, the offense will be prepared to take advantage of what the defense gives them."

Morelli has a ton of weapons to work with, including Butler (37 catches), Norwood (32 catches) and dynamic Derrick Williams (22 catches in an injury-shortened freshman year). Hunt broke through with 1,047 yards rushing in 2005.

Posluszny, the reigning Butkus and Bednarik Award winner, and Alford are two of the very few remnants from PSU's stellar defense in 2005. Posluszny (116 tackles) would have turned pro if he had not suffered a knee injury in the Orange Bowl.

"Paul could have practiced in the spring," Paterno said. "He was chafing at the bit to get in there and we had to hold him out. He is wearing a brace right now in practice at the doctors' request, but the braces they have today are so light that it's not an issue. Paul has done everything that the rest of the squad has done."

Replacing the entire secondary could mean for some long days (and nights) for the Lions defense.

"They are all excellent athletes, and not just the first four," Paterno said of the secondary, which is led by corner Justin King. "The backups can all run as well. It will take getting into a game and getting a feel for things to make them comfortable."

* Jerry Rudzinski Says: Does Penn State bounce back after that great year with a .500 season or do the Lions come back with a 10-2 mark or a 9-3 record?

In Penn State's six games against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium since they joined the Big Ten, they have only scored 45 points. I think Ohio State is in their heads a little bit. Maybe their focus is off when they come into the Horseshoe.

They replace Robinson with Morelli, who has a cannon for an arm. But he does not have the same kind of feet or play making ability that Robinson had.

Tony Hunt at running back is not flashy. He gets it done with little chunks. I like Derrick Williams. He makes plays. It is a great receiving corps, but they need to retool on the offensive line.

Here's the stat you have to pay attention to. They lose all four guys in the secondary. Nobody in their two-deep has started a game at the college level. Ohio State should be able to go out and make plays in the passing game against them.

* Steve Helwagen Says: Last year's game at Penn State was more than just a football game. That was an experience. The neat thing is, though, the experience will be in Ohio Stadium this year.

These two teams went on after their game to share the Big Ten championship and each won BCS bowl games, so this is a high octane game.

Penn State has to regroup after losing Robinson and so many great players off that defense like Tamba Hali. Paterno is back for year 41 as the PSU head coach. He has stood the test of time, certainly. This figures to be the ninth time Paterno has brought a team to the Horseshoe.

The Buckeyes have never lost a home Big Ten game to Penn State. And the scores haven't been all that close – 24-6 in 1993, 38-7 in 1996, 28-9 in the rain in 1998 and the 45-6 game in 2000 marred by the injury to Adam Taliaferro. Ohio State gets up for this game, it's a big game and given what happened last year at Penn State, I think the Buckeyes will be up for this one.

There is some star power here with Derrick Williams at wide receiver and Paul Posluszny at linebacker. He's back to lead the defense.

Below are archives of past opponent previews:

Game 1: Northern Illinois

Game 2: Texas

Game 3: Cincinnati

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