This game, involving the top two teams in the Big Ten, features a pair of teams looking to win the game using the same basic approach to victory. Both teams will have have to depend on a strong defensive effort and will also look to the quarterback position to control the action on offense. The play of the quarterbacks will more than likely be the difference in who comes out on top, and that is the key matchup in this game.
Daryll Clark has been very good leading Penn State to eight straight easy victories. Clark, a senior from Youngstown (Ohio) Ursuline, simply does not turn the football over, and is a dual threat, both running and throwing. Ohio State must be able to pressure Clark in the pocket while not allowing Clark to escape and make plays with his legs. Penn State has only scored less than 38 points once, in a victory over Purdue, and Clark has been the story of this high-powered attack. Clark hasn't yet faced a defense as dominating as Ohio State, and how he handles the pressure of playing on the road will go a long way in determining the outcome.
Freshman Terrelle Pryor will be called upon more than ever to make plays in the passing game for Ohio State to win. Penn State has made no secret of the fact that they are going to crowd the line of scrimmage, putting eight men in the box, and will dare Pryor to beat the Nittany Lions with his arm. Penn State will make stopping both Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells running the football as their main priority. The Lions have the man-power in the front seven to make running the football very difficult for the Buckeyes. They will look to take Wells out of the game and force a rookie quarterback to win the game with his arm.
Last week against Michigan State, Pryor only attempted 11 passes all game. He will need to throw at least twice that many passes against Penn State for Ohio State to win. Pryor has been up and down as a passer so far in 2008, but he will need to be efficient throwing the football on Saturday against a good Lion defense, coached by Tom Bradley.
Ohio State will look to get off to a quick start, much as they did last week against Michigan State, and will look to have Pryor throwing when they want to, not when they have to. Pryor will need to look to throw on early downs, hoping to avoid third-and-long situations. The Penn State secondary is suspect, and the Buckeyes could have success throwing deep, much like Todd Boeckman did last year in Happy Valley.
Pryor must come up big for the Buckeyes, but he isn't alone in this area. The Ohio State offensive line had its best game as a unit last week, and they have to be very good against Penn State. If they can keep the pass rush off Pryor, and open holes for Wells and Pryor on the ground, the Buckeyes will win this game. Alex Boone, Jim Cordle and Mike Brewster were dominant last week, and the Buckeyes gashed the Spartans on the ground, running left all game long.
The Buckeye defense has gotten better every week since the USC debacle, and there is no reason to think it won't be very good again. James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins are both having All-American-type seasons, and both have had great success against Penn State in the past. Similar efforts should keep the Lions' offense somewhat in check. An improved defensive line will need to continue to be strong at the point of attack, and not let Penn State control the game, and the clock, by running the football.
Penn State last won in Columbus in 1978, as it defeated freshman quarterback Art Schlichter, making his first start as a Buckeye. Schlichter threw five interceptions that day, and the Buckeyes never had a chance at victory.
Even though that game was 30 years ago, Joe Paterno will look to employ the same strategy to guide his team to victory on Saturday. Paterno will look to put the pressure on another freshman quarterback, and try to force him into mistakes. For Paterno to get to the BCS title game, a win over Ohio State is imperative, and don't think for a moment that he doesn't want to put Terrelle Pryor in his place by doing that.
Pryor chose Ohio State over Paterno's Lions last winter, ending the most hyped recruiting war ever between these two schools. The loss of one of the greatest high school players in Pennsylvania history to Ohio State has to still irk Paterno to this day, despite his denials to the contrary. Beating Ohio State, and Terrele Pryor, in Columbus this Saturday evening just could be one of the most satisfying victories for Joe Paterno in the past decade. You can take that to the Bank.