5 Questions: Ohio State at Penn State

This week we have our eyes on special teams, turnovers, the play in the trenches and the poise of Terrelle Pryor, who will need to help the Ohio State offense rely on more than simply quick strikes to score points.

1. Will a special teams play have an impact?

At least one notable special teams play has occurred in four consecutive Ohio State games, starting with Ray Small's kickoff return for a touchdown against Wisconsin, continuing with Small's muffed punt at Purdue the following week that set up a Purdue score then a Minnesota muffed kick led to Ohio State's second touchdown two weeks ago. Last week, the Buckeyes scored their second touchdown after a surprise onside kick.

Meanwhile, the winning points in Penn State's lone loss of the season were scored on a return of a blocked punt by Iowa.

Last season, both punters were superb, helping make the game into the defensive struggle that it was, but could one team blink in that area this year?

"You make a couple of mistakes in the kicking game, and that will beat you," summed up Penn State head coach Joe Paterno at his weekly press conference.


2. Can Terrelle Pryor keep his poise and play under control?

The sophomore quarterback of the Buckeyes has been at his best when letting the game come to him rather than trying to do too much, and Pryor himself said this would be a key issue as he returns to his home state for the first time as a collegian.

"I'm just going to try to be relaxed and just always be focused," he said. "I'm not really going to get hyped. When you get overhyped as a quarterback, you lose vision of what you're supposed to do."


3. Which team will win in the trenches?

As with any quality Big Ten game, this one figures to be decided by what the big fellas up front are able to do against each other.

The offensive lines for both teams got off to poor starts this season, and though both have started to play better of late, that might not matter much considering the quality of both defensive lines.

Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick has six sacks on the season and was a constant presence in the Ohio State backfield last season, while new ends Jack Crawford (5.5 sacks), Jerome Hayes and Eric Lattimore will try to recreate the pressure the Nittany Lions brought from the outside.

Ohio State counters with speedsters Thaddeus Gibson and Nathan Williams on the outside and hopes to have again the services of tackle Dexter Larimore, the team's best run stuffer who has been out since the beginning of October with a knee injury.

"I think good defense starts when you're good up front and both teams that you'll see in State College are good up front," Tressel said. "Which team blocks the other better is going to have a big head start in having a chance to win."


4. Who will win the turnover battle?

This statistic has had more of an impact on the Ohio State-Penn State series than most.

The loser of the turnover battle has not won the game since 2002, and even that contest saw Ohio State score the game-winning points on an interception return for a touchdown by Chris Gamble.

The last two Penn State victories, in 2005 and '08, have seen the Nittany Lion defense set up the offense for the game-winning points then take the ball away from the Buckeyes to seal the game.

This season, Ohio State has forced more turnovers (24) than Penn State (17), but the Buckeyes have also been guilty of more giveaways (16 to 12).

Ohio State lost five turnovers in a loss to Purdue earlier this season, and Penn State four while falling to Iowa.

Look for the trench battles to affect this area, too, as Tressel pointed out.

"If you can block the other guys, you're probably not going to have pass protection problems and those kind of things, pressure problems, throw-it-before-I'm-ready problems," Tressel said.


5. Can the Ohio State offense sustain drives?

Only 10 of the Buckeyes' 44 scoring drives this season have lasted more than four minutes, and a mere four have included more than nine plays.

Quick scores were the order of the day last week against a gambling New Mexico State defense, but Tressel says that won't be the case this week at Beaver Stadium.

"We had 14 plays that accounted for like 400 yards and 50 other plays that accounted for 160 yards, something crazy, but it was that kind of defense you were facing," Tressel said of last week. "You're not going to have 14 plays account for those kind of yards against a defense that plays the way Penn State plays. They're going to make you beat them one first down at a time."


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