Five Questions: OSU at Penn State

This week's Five Questions takes a look at Ohio State's need to stay poised under the lights, dominate the line of scrimmage, protect the ball and get after the PSU quarterback. The matchups out wide should be fun to watch, too.

1. Can the Buckeyes dominate the line of scrimmage?

Ohio State fairly whipped Penn State up front in the running game last year, but the Nittany Lions were able to offset that by possessing the ball for nearly 10 minutes more than their hosts.

The Buckeyes were outrushed 142-138 but needed 11 fewer carries, thus they enjoyed a hefty 4.8-yard average per rush.

That is without removing the 18 yards Ohio State lost on three sacks, which leads us into part two of this equation.

This season, the Nittany Lions lead the nation in sacks with 35 in eight games. They do not blitz a lot but get good pressure from a front four teeming with good young players. When they did blitz Indiana's Kellen Lewis last week, they were generally successful in taking the Hoosiers out of what they wanted to do.

OSU fullback Tyler Whaley seemed to agree with the idea that given the fact Michigan State's only real success on defense was when blitzing Ohio State, the Nittany Lions will be more aggressive this week.

"I think defenses are going to look at this past game and realize what happened so we've got to be ready for blitzes that we may not have been the best on and be ready to handle those situations later on down the road," Whaley said.

Keeping Todd Boeckman clean will be key. The Nittany Lions have sacked Buckeye quarterbacks eight times in the past two seasons.

2. Will the Buckeyes keep their poise?

The majority – if not all – of Buckeyes have dubbed Penn State's Beaver Stadium the loudest place they have ever played, thus this would not seem to be the week to be coming off a game that was marred by pre-snap penalties.

Or, maybe the opposite is true. It is a safe bet offensive coordinator/line coach Jim Bollman put an extra emphasis on staying cool under fire this week, so the Buckeyes could come out sharper than they might have otherwise.

Poise also includes keeping everyone on the same page in terms of audibles and blocking schemes. Those involved attributed any protection breakdowns that occurred against Michigan State to miscommunications, so extra attention is being paid this week to nonverbal communication.

"We won't be able to recreate that type of noise, but I think it's going to be a big deal for the guys to get used to the hand signals, maybe not hearing the snap count," wide receiver Brian Robiskie said.

3. Can the Buckeyes protect the ball better?

On paper, Ohio State is the clear favorite. The Buckeyes strength – their defense – matches up with the Nittany Lions' weakness – their offense – so Penn State will have to have an advantage in turnovers to win this game.

Four takeaways were crucial in Penn State's securing a win last week at Indiana. Four Hoosier fumbles in the second half led to nine Penn State points in a 36-31 game. The last IU fumble ended their final drive of the game with 1:03 to go and PSU holding on to a five-point lead.

The Buckeyes have been hearing all week about how two miscues made a laugher look like a close game, and they must know they will be walking a tighter rope this week against a better Penn State team that figures to be energized by its home crowd.

Under Jim Tressel, Ohio State is 35-3 when winning the turnover battle with the only loss since 2002 coming in 2005 against Texas, the eventual national champion.

4. Will Anthony Morelli lose the game for Penn State?

He put the nails in the Nittany Lion coffin last year with two ill-advised passes that became Ohio State touchdowns via returns by Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith.

After an awful start to the season, it appears the PSU staff has reigned in the senior with the erratic golden arm, and he has played better.

Against a solid Indiana secondary, the Nittany Lions generally stuck to short passes and had success. Going downfield was another matter entirely, though. His one interception came on a poorly thrown deep ball that was intercepted in the end zone. That looked more like the Morelli who struggled in road losses to Michigan and Illinois.

Against the Hoosiers, Morelli completed 22 of 32 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns, and his longest completion of the day was 15 yards. That was a road game, however, and OSU cornerback Malcolm Jenkins argued that Morelli has played better at home.

"He's had some turnover problems, especially playing away, but when he's home he's a totally different quarterback," Jenkins said. "He plays calm, makes good decisions and good throws, but we'll definitely be challenged in the secondary." While it is true Morelli's numbers at home are better in every category, the five teams to play in Happy Valley thus far this year have 13 wins (including six by Wisconsin).

The Buckeyes, though, have not flashed great hands in the secondary so far this season, so it will be up to them to take advantage of potential mistakes.

5. Which defensive backfield will play the best?

This should be a fun matchup to watch. Both teams boast talented groups both at receiver and in the defensive backfield, so the key could be which players win individual matchups.

For Penn State, the star is junior corner Justin King. He bottled up Ted Ginn Jr. last season and can boast of being the first player to intercept the eventual Heisman winner last season when he outjumped Ginn on a deep ball from Troy Smith.

Brian Robiskie, with a three-inch height advantage, will pose a challenge for the Nittany Lion this week.

On the flip side, Penn State has four wideouts with at least 19 catches, but Ohio State counters with three corners who have been stellar all year in Jenkins. Donald Washington and Chimdi Chekwa.

"Last week was a pretty good receiving corps but I think they have a little bit more depth than Michigan State does and they have a little more speed so I think it's going to be a step above what we just played," Jenkins said. "Hopefully we can focus on our technique and eye control in practice and come out and perform on Saturday."

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