Little Guys Could Be Key In OSU-PSU Showdown

It seems odd that a game between Ohio State and Penn State, two teams known for smashmouth football, could hinge on the play of a bunch of little guys on the outside, but that could very well be the case tonight in Happy Valley.

When Ohio State and Penn State get together, "physical" is likely the first word to come to mind.

Both Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Penn State's Joe Paterno have a reputation as conservative, old-school coaches, but the clash between their teams tonight could come down to a matchup of the guys out wide.

That is because both Ohio State and Penn State boast strong corps of receivers and defensive backs, and both teams have a multitude of receivers who must be accounted for.

Ohio State's Brian Robiskie is fourth in the Big Ten with 91 yards receiving per game and averages 19.7 yards per catch.

He gets a lot of help from Brian Hartline (30 catches for 360 yards) and the emerging Ray Small (13, 150) as well.

Then for the Nittany Lions there are three players with at least 28 catches: Deon Butler (30 catches, 418 yards), Jordan Norwood (30, 381) and Derrick Williams (28, 264).

But defensively both teams have had even better production.

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are first and second, respectively, in the Big Ten in pass defense, both in terms of yards allowed and opponents' efficiency, and it is because both defensive backfields are loaded with talent. Ohio State's group of corners Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington along with safeties Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman have won every battle this year, and they have gotten an excellent assist from newcomer Chimdi Chekwa. Playing corner in the Buckeyes' nickel package, Chekwa is among the league's leaders in passes defended. Meanwhile, Penn State has a strong secondary headlined by corner Justin King and safety Anthony Scirrotto, an All-Big Ten pick a year ago, but corners Lydell Sargeant and A.J. Wallace are talented as well. One downside: Paterno's team is expected to miss injured starting free safety Tony Davis, according to published reports. "Their coverage guys are excellent, with King and Sargeant and A. J. Wallace back there," Tressel said. "Their safety (Scirrotto) is a typical Penn State safety. He's back there in center field and he makes sure there aren't any problems, and then he comes flying and making plays."

Robiskie said he sees experience working in the favor of the Nittany Lions.

"I think that's the biggest thing with defenses, who's experienced and who's not," Robiskie said. "I think that they've got some guys that have been there before and played a lot and I think they have a lot of talent back there.

King, a starter last year along with Scirroto, gets the most publicity, He was a five-star recruit in the class of 2005, and last season he showed some of the reason for his lofty status by shutting down OSU speedster Ted Ginn Jr.

"He's a guy that's been playing for a while so he's one of those experienced guys," Robiskie said. "Obviously watching film on him he's a great athlete who's made a lot of plays for them but I think their secondary as a whole, all of them have talent."

King, though, stands 6-0 and comes in having given up a huge day to Indiana star James Hardy, a 6-7 stud who caught 14 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think Justin King has played very, very well," Paterno said. "You've got to realize he takes on the best guy the other guy's got and he's hung in there."

His matchup with the 6-3 Robiskie could be the key to the game.

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