During their early-season run, the Nittany Lions have not been challenged by anyone on their schedule, winning their games by an average of more than 30 points. The Nits are in the top 11 in six of the eight major statistical categories that measure offensive and defense.
However, as the team gets ready to face off against Ohio State in the Horseshoe Saturday night, I got to wondering just how the two teams measure up as far as "talent" goes. One of the reasons I've been taken aback slightly by the Nittany Lions dominating start is because I don't remember the team recruiting a large quantity of very highly rated kids.
I know that the Nittany Lions haven't recruited poorly by any means, but I had a thought in my mind that they have been behind the efforts of both Ohio State and Michigan during the past few years, at least as far as Scout is concerned.
The recruiting database shows that only once in the past five years have the Nittany Lions finished in the top 10 of Scout's team recruiting rankings, and twice they have not even been in the top 25.
A closer look reveals that Ohio State does, according to Scout's star rankings, have better talent on hand than the Nittany Lions. We all know star ratings aren't perfect, but I was at least curious to see how things broke down.
To do the breakdown I chose 13 key contributors on each side of the ball for both Penn State and Ohio State and then compared the star rankings of those players.
As it turns out, the 13 players from Penn State's offense averaged 2.92 stars, while Ohio State's defenders were at 3.54. On the other side, Ohio State's offensive players averaged an even four stars, while Penn State's defensive players came out to a 3.15.
Below is a listing of how the players fell on each squad:
5 stars (1): WR Derrick Williams
4 stars (10): TE Andrew Quarless, C A.Q. Shipley, RG Stefen Wisniewski, DE Maurice Evans, DE Aaron Maybin, DT Jared Odrick, LB Tyrell Sales, LB Navorro Bowman, CB Lydell Sargeant, CB A.J. Wallace
3 stars (8): TB Evan Royster, TB Stephfon Green, LT Gerald Cadogan, LG Rich Ohrnberger, RT Dennis Landolt, DE Josh Gaines, CB Tony Davis, S Mark Rubin
2 stars (4): QB Daryll Clark, TE Mickey Shuler, DT Ollie Ogbu, S Anthony Scirrotto
1 star (2): WR Jordan Norwood, WR Deon Butler
unrated (1): LB Josh Hull
5 stars (5): QB Terrelle Pryor, TB Chris Wells, LT Alex Boone, C Michael Brewster, DT Doug Worthington
4 stars (12): WR Brian Hartline, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, TE Rory Nicol, TE Jake Ballard, LG Jim Cordle, RG Ben Person, DE Robert Rose, DE Cameron Heyward, DT Todd Denlinger, LB Marcus Freeman, LB Ross Homan, S Kurt Coleman
3 stars (7): OL Steve Rehring, RT Bryant Browning, DT Nader Abdallah, LB James Laurinaitis, CB Malcolm Jenkins, CB Donald Washington, S Anderson Russell
2 stars (2): WR Brian Robiskie, CB Chimdi Chekwa
A few things stick out, at least as far as the breakdown goes. Penn State has just one five-star player contributing at a high level, while Ohio State has five, two of which are true freshmen.
On the other end of the spectrum, Penn State has seven players at two stars or lower, while Ohio State has just two. The Nittany Lions have more than that – three – at 1-star or unrated.
Both coaching staffs must be given credit for turning players who were not all that well thought of into very good players. At Penn State, Clark has turned into a star but was just a two-star recruit, while Scirrotto is a former first-team All-Big Ten member who has played well as a three-year starter. Norwood has turned into a dependable and occasionally spectacular wideout, and Butler could very well set the school record for catches against Ohio State with a big day.
On the other end, many of Ohio State's best players were three-star recruits who were outshone before beginning their Buckeye careers. Laurinaitis and Jenkins are out-and-out studs who will become first-round draft picks. Rehring has started off and on since 2004, while Russell and Washington have been solid multi-year starters.
Even the two-star players, Robiskie and Chekwa, have done very well. Robiskie will be drafted and has shown his ability time and time again, while Chekwa had grabbed a starting role before suffering an injury against Michigan State that could handicap him against the Nittany Lions.
What's the conclusion here? Well, I'm not sure there is one. I'm not going to use this to say that Ohio State will win; instead, I merely thought it was a pretty interesting look at big game to be held Saturday night.
Slightly more than seven years ago, the first-ever Big Ten night game in Ohio Stadium history was staged – and what a night it was for the Buckeyes. They jumped out to a 38-7 lead over No. 14 Northwestern and ended up dealing the Wildcats their first loss of the year by a 38-20 score on Oct. 6, 2001.
A stadium-record 104,042 fans and a national television audience on ESPN watched the Buckeyes manhandle the Wildcats from the very beginning. On the second play of the game, tailback Jonathan Wells broke through the line and raced for a 71-yard touchdown that set the tone for a Buckeye team that went on to rush for 287 yards.
"With the extra people we had in there, the crowd was fired up," quarterback Steve Bellisari said. "When we have a big play like Jonathan's run to open the game, that set the tempo for the whole game."
Northwestern's spread offense featuring quarterback Zak Kustok and tailback Damien Anderson compiled just 124 yards through the first three quarters as OSU left the third stanza with a 31-point lead.
Wells' early run was huge for not just the Buckeyes but Wells himself after true freshman Lydell Ross ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns the week before against Indiana. He took the ball left on that second play behind pulling guard Bryce Bishop, turned upfield and was gone.
"It looked like a pretty run when I saw the replay on the Jumbotron," offensive lineman Adrien Clark said.
By the time the night was over, Wells had 22 carries for a career-high 179 yards and three scores.
"It was good to see Jonathan Wells come out of the gate like that," first-year head coach Jim Tressel said. "A lot of people were saying that Lydell was taking over and that Jonathan would be old news. But Jonathan is not old news. He is a good player and he showed that tonight."
Northwestern actually tied the score after Wells' long run, going 80 yards for a drive that was capped by a 7-yard run by Anderson with 9:19 left in the first quarter.
But things soon went south, as they so often do for Northwestern in Ohio Stadium. After Bellisari was intercepted, Northwestern started a drive at its own 42 late in the first quarter that lasted just one play when Anderson had the ball punched from his grasp by Will Smith. Safety Mike Doss picked up the ball and went 30 yards for the score.
"I knew there wasn't anybody around for 20 yards," Doss said. "I had no idea of jumping on it. I was going to pick it up and try to score."
The Buckeyes added to the lead with 26 seconds left in the first half when Wells plunged in from 1-yard out. The score was set up by a 41-yard pass from Bellisari to Michael Jenkins. It was one of the four completions by Bellisari, two of which went to Jenkins for a total of 83 yards.
At halftime, Ohio State retired the jersey No. 22 of Les Horvath, the 1944 Heisman Trophy winner. Horvath's wife, Ruby, accepted a framed jersey from athletic director Andy Geiger during the ceremony, which added Horvath's name and number to the façade at the north end along with those of Howard Cassady, Archie Griffin and Vic Janowicz.
Ross scored on a 9-yard touchdown on Ohio State's first possession of the third quarter to make the score 28-7, and Wells scored from 6 yards out on the next drive to make the score 35-7. Mike Nugent's first career field goal, a 44-yarder, made the score 38-7 with 1:31 left in the third.
NU eventually added a 2-yard touchdown run by Kustok and a 4-yard pass from the senior signal caller to Stuart Schweighardt. Kustok finished 16 of 26 for 122 yards with a touchdown and a pick, while Anderson, the leading returning Heisman Trophy vote-getter after rushing for more than 2,000 yards the year before, had 80 yards on 21 carries.
"It was our scheme," defensive lineman Darrion Scott said when asked why Mark Dantonio's defense shut down the talented Wildcats' spread offense. "We came out and wanted to play nickel, which we did, and we also played a lot of dime."
Tressel was pleased after the win, which improved OSU to 3-1 and 2-0 during his initial Big Ten season.
"I think this was the best (team performance) that we've had," he said. "It comes at a good time because we're in the heart of the conference race."
Two recruits were making the first official visits of the year to OSU: Huntersville (N.C.) North Mecklenberg offensive lineman Derek Morris and Fort Myers, Fla., wide receiver Richard Washington. Other recruits in attendance included a senior in Cleveland Glenville's Troy Smith, who had been offered as a defensive back, as well as a number of juniors that included quarterback Todd Boeckman of St. Henry, Ohio; defensive lineman Sian Cotton of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary; Lyndhurst (Ohio) Brush tight end Marcel Frost; Glenville athlete Dareus Hiley and defensive back Donte Whitner; and Massillon (Ohio) Washington wideout Devin Jordan.
One sophomore who made the trip was linebacker Marcus Freeman of Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne.
When asked by WBNS-AM if more night games were on the horizon, Geiger professed that he had no affinity for football under the lights.
"The only reason why we are doing this is because the Big Ten and ESPN asked us to," Geiger said. "If they would ask us again in the future, I'm sure we would acquiesce to their wishes, but I'm a guy who believes college football games should be played on Saturday afternoon."
Play Of The Week
This week's play was the longest of Ohio State's 45-7 thrashing of Michigan State – and very well might have been the death blow for the Spartans.
With Ohio State leading 14-0 in the first quarter against MSU, the Buckeyes took over at the Michigan State 43-yard line. Ohio State had run the ball effectively over its first three drives and looked as though it was going to do so again when it lined up in the I-formation with two wideouts and tight end Rory Nicol on the right side of the formation.
Before the snap, Nicol motioned from right to left, joining Brian Robiskie on the left side of the formation. Brian Hartline was alone on the right.
At the snap, Michigan State brought a blitz from that side with cornerback Jeremy Ware and linebacker Greg Jones flying in from OSU's right. Bryant Browning slowed Jones down before passing him off to fullback Brandon Smith, while Chris Wells stepped up to stop Ware. The rest of the line, including Nicol, did its job.
That gave Pryor enough time to look deep in the two-wideout pattern. With Ware blitzing, Hartline was left to be covered by safety Otis Wiley, and Hartline faked inside, dipped outside and went right by Wiley, gaining about 5 yards of separation. Safety Danny Fortener was lined up on OSU's left side of the formation and was unable to provide help to Wiley.
Pryor, showing great poise, noticed that Hartline was open and lofted a deep ball off just as Jones hit him after coming off the block of Smith. The ball was a bit underthrown as it came down around the 24-yard line, but Hartline leapt and corralled the ball between Wiley and Fortener. The former tried to knock the ball down but failed, while the latter went for a big hit but mistimed it, bouncing off Hartline as the wideout landed.
On his feet after the catch, Hartline turned and raced upfield before being brought down by Chris L. Rucker at the 1, though the original call was for a touchdown before it was corrected by review. A play later, Wells dove in and Ohio State had a three-touchdown lead with 2:44 to go in the first.
Around The Big Ten
There's a good reason why this weekend's game between Ohio State and Penn State is so anticipated: it's one of the few good Big Ten games left.
OK, there are rivalry games like Ohio State-Michigan and Michigan-Michigan State and that are fun to watch, but when it comes to games that might help determine the league title, there are not many left.
Penn State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan State are the only teams in the league to have one or fewer losses in conference play. There are just four games remaining that match up those squads, and there is no weekend that features two such games. The ones remaining:
Oct. 25: Penn State at Ohio State
Nov. 1: Northwestern at Minnesota
Nov. 8: Ohio State at Northwestern
Nov. 22: Michigan State at Penn State
Ohio State has played two such games this year, beating both Minnesota at home Sept. 27 and Michigan State in Spartan Stadium last weekend. In addition, the Spartans beat Northwestern Oct. 11.
Penn State does not play Northwestern or Minnesota, and Minnesota is able to avoid Michigan State as well.
With that in mind, the winner of the showdown in the Horseshoe really has the inside track at the league title considering it will have only one game against the top half of the league remaining on the docket.
It doesn't get much bigger than that.