Closer Look: No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions

November is crucial yet again for the No. 15 Ohio State football team, and the Buckeyes kick off the last month with a trip to No. 11 Penn State. After early-season struggles, the Nittany Lions have rounded into form on offense, the defense is one of the best in the Big Ten. Find out more of what to expect in State College in this week's game preview.

Penn State (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
Saturday, Nov. 7
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Beaver Stadium; State College, Pa.

The Nittany Lions
Head coach: Joe Paterno, 391-128-3 at PSU, 44th year
2008 record: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten)
Series mark: Tied 12-12
School location: State College, Pa.
Enrollment: 44,112
Colors: Blue and White
Stadium: Beaver Stadium (107,282)
Fight song: "Fight On State"

Penn State Players To Watch
QB Daryll Clark: The engine of the Penn State offense, Clark is well on his way to earning first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second year in a row. Clark is also a good rusher and sets the tone for the Penn State offense with his composed performances.

"I don't think Daryll Clark gets the credit he should get," head coach Joe Paterno said. "I think Daryll is the leader of the offensive football team. He is a guy that makes us go."

Clark is tied for fifth all-time in career touchdown passes at Penn State with 37, matching him with Chuck Fusina (1975-78). He needs just four to tie Todd Blackledge (1980-82), Tony Sacca (1988-91) and Zack Mills (2001-04). In addition, his 4,797 career passing yards are seventh in school history.

RB Evan Royster: Royster checks in at 213 pounds, giving him an outstanding combination of strength, moves and speed. One of the best backs in the Big Ten for the second year in a row, Royster leads Big Ten rushers who have at least 10 carries per game with 5.9 yards per carry.

"He's a good back," OSU linebacker Austin Spitler said. "He runs hard. They're looking to get the ball north and south, and he's a good back who breaks tackles and runs hard."

DT Jared Odrick: The Lebanon, Pa., native earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last year and could be in line for more this campaign with 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. Odrick spoke before the year of becoming more violent coming into the campaign, and he's achieved that goal, often dominating opponents and spending games in the backfield.

"He is demanding double-teams and backs are starting to chip on him and that's going to open up everything for me and all of the guys," fellow tackle Ollie Ogbu said. "You really don't know how good he is until you watch the film. He's playing amazing."

OLB Sean Lee: The 2007 All-American missed last year with a left knee injury, then sprained the right one early in the year, costing him three games. Still, Lee is third on the team with 49 tackles even with all the missed time, and eight of those tackles are behind the line. After spending last year working essentially as a student assistant, Lee is another coach on the field for the Nittany Lions.

Sept. 5, Akron, W 31-7
Sept. 12, Syracuse, 28-7
Sept. 19, Temple, W 31-6
Sept. 26, Iowa, L 21-10
Oct. 3, at Illinois, W 35-17
Oct. 10, Eastern Illinois, W 52-3
Oct. 17, Minnesota, W 20-0
Oct. 24, at Michigan, W 35-10
Oct. 31, at Northwestern, W 34-13

Projected Starters
QB 17 Daryll Clark, 6-2, 232
TB 22 Evan Royster, 6-1, 213
WR 6 Derek Moye, 6-5, 198
WR 2 Chaz Powell, 6-1, 197
WR 5 Graham Zug, 6-2, 183
TE 10 Andrew Quarless, 6-5, 258
LT 73 Dennis Landolt, 6-4, 306
LG 74 Johnnie Troutman, 6-4, 309
C 61 Stefen Wisniewski, 6-3, 297
RG 77 Lou Eliades, 6-4, 310
RT 79 Ako Poti, 6-4, 306

LE 5 Jerome Hayes, 6-2, 240/56 Eric Latimore, 6-6, 270
LT 91 Jared Odrick, 6-5, 296
RT 85 Ollie Ogbu, 6-1, 285
RE 81 Jack Crawford, 6-5, 256
OLB 45 Sean Lee, 6-2, 236
ILB 43 Josh Hull, 6-2, 236
OLB 11 Navorro Bowman, 6-1, 230
LCB 1 A.J. Wallace, 6-1, 195
FS 28 Drew Astorino, 5-10, 194
HERO 18 Nick Sukay, 6-1, 213
RCB 8 D'Anton Lynn, 6-1, 198

K 36 Collin Wagner, 5-9, 173
P 41 Jeremy Boone, 5-9, 168
KR 2 Chaz Powell, 6-1, 197/1 A.J. Wallace, 6-1, 195
PR 5 Graham Zug, 6-2, 183

Five Fast Facts
1. The Nittany Lions' record of 48-12, a .800 winning percentage, is the ninth-best in the country since the start of the 2005 season. The only Big Ten team with a better record is Ohio State, which is 50-10 (.833).

2. Nine Nittany Lion players have already graduated, including Clark and starters Boone, Hayes, Landolt, McCormack and Poti. The same number have fathers who played under Paterno at Penn State.

3. The home team won 12 of the first 14 games in the series after Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, but the road team has won the last two. The higher ranked team has won 17 of the last 18 games in the series, the exception being No. 16 Penn State's win against sixth-ranked OSU in 2005.

4. In its 50th season, Beaver Stadium will be hosting its 300th game on Saturday, and the Nittany Lions won the first, 100th and 200th contests in the stadium. Penn State has won 32 of its last 35 contests in the venue. The Nittany Lions haven't lost more than one game in a season at home since 2004, and they already have one loss there this campaign.

5. Penn State had punts blocked against Iowa and Michigan, with the Hawkeyes returning the block for a critical score in their win in Happy Valley. In addition, both of Penn State's return units have been outgained this season.

Offensive Scouting Report
After a slow start that was at least partially bought on by an offensive line that had trouble sorting itself out, the Nittany Lions have become one of the better offenses in the Big Ten. During the team's current five-game winning streak, Penn State is averaging 35.2 points per game.

Overall, the team is in the top half of the Big Ten in both rushing and passing, allowing the Nittany Lions to lead the league in yardage per game (429.1) and place third in scoring (30.7).

One of the major reasons is efficiency, both in the red zone and on third downs. Penn State has scored on 26 consecutive red zone trips with 19 touchdowns and seven field goals, and the team's third-down percentage of 51.6 leads the Big Ten and is fifth in the nation.

The whole show is orchestrated by senior quarterback Daryll Clark, the returning first-team All-Big Ten quarterback. Clark could even be in line for more honors, given that he's a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award given to the nation's best quarterback. For the year, the Youngstown native has completed 166 of 263 passes (63.1 percent) for 2,158 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's rushed for 148 yards and five scores, as well.

"He's a great quarterback," OSU safety Anderson Russell said. "He's a really big kid, too. A lot of people don't talk about that. They talk about how well he throws the ball. He does throw the ball well, but he does a great job of running. They're going to get him out on the perimeter too with some boots and stuff and give him the option to run or pass."

Penn State has continued to take the pressure off of Clark with a good rushing attack that has topped 160 yards in six of the last seven games. Most of the carries this year have gone to junior Evan Royster, a second-team All-Big Ten back a season ago.

The 6-1, 213-pound Royster is having an excellent year, rushing for 859 yards and five touchdowns on 145 carries to place second in the Big Ten in yards per game at 95.4. Royster has hit 100 yards rushing in each of the last three games.

"He's the smoothest runner that I have ever played against," Penn State safety Drew Astorino said. "He's so smooth, you think you can just go tackle him, and then he lowers his shoulder and he runs you over."

Royster, a talented athlete who starred in lacrosse in high school, has added 11 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.

His backup, Stephfon Green, is a home-run hitter, but the speedster has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. A sophomore, Green has rushed 49 times for 248 yards and three TDs. The backup the past two weeks has been sophomore Brandon Beachum, a Youngstown native with 21 carries for 106 yards and a score. The fullback is sophomore Joe Suhey, who has pulled in 14 catches to go with his 13 rushes.

The wide receiver group had the big task of replacing Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams coming into the year, and the tall trio of Derek Moye, Chaz Powell and Graham Zug is showing signs of turning into another "Big Three."

"They really haven't missed a beat at all," Russell said. "The thing with the guys this year is they're a lot taller than those guys were last year. The throw the ball deep, too, so that helps them out going up and getting deep balls. It's going to post a challenge to us as defensive backs. Indiana had some tall guys, but they didn't really throw the ball downfield as much as Penn State."

All three have topped 25 catches on the year, with the 6-5, 198-pound Moye, a sophomore, leading the way as a big-play threat with 39 for 648 yards – a 16.6-yard average – and five touchdowns.

Zug, a junior who is second on the team with 29 catches for 344 yards and five scores, is following in Norwood's footsteps as a former walk-on who has turned into a dependable possession receiver. The new Williams – an electric performer with speed and versatility – is sophomore Chaz Powell, who has 25 catches for 352 yards and three touchdowns to go with seven rushes for 61 yards.

The passing game has been helped by the steady play of Andrew Quarless. The 6-5, 258-pound Quarless is athletic and playing like a senior with 25 grabs for 340 yards and a touchdown. The Nittany Lions use him in a variety of roles, often splitting him out to create size mismatches out wide.

"He's a great player," OSU's Austin Spitler said. "He's a great athlete, 255 pounds or something like that. They flex him in their gray sets and he's a good receiver and he's a good blocker, so we have to be aware of where he is at all times."

Backup Mickey Shuler (6-4, 247) is more of a blocker, but he has nine catches for 73 yards and two scores.

The Nittany Lion offensive line was maligned at the start of the year, putting Clark under constant pressure on Sept. 26 against Iowa, but some changes to the startling lineup have helped the line give up only three sacks in the last five games. Penn State now leads the league with 10 sacks given up in nine games.

The two leaders of the line are the only two returnees from a season ago in senior left tackle Dennis Landolt and junior center Stefen Wisniewski. Landolt, who has started 35 straight games, moved this offseason from right tackle to his high school position of left tackle, while Wisniewski has moved from right guard a season ago to replace All-Big Ten choice A.Q. Shipley.

The two guard spots were issues at the start of the year, with first-game starters Matt Stankiewitch and Lou Eliades even benched at one point early in the year. Eliades, a junior, has regained his spot to start at right guard, while sophomore Johnnie Troutman has taken over for Stankiewitch to start seven games in a row.

Then there's right tackle, where three Nittany Lions have started. Finally, senior Ako Poti has taken over for the last four games after sophomore DeOn'tae Pannell and senior Nerraw McCormack failed to hold the spot.

Defensive Scouting Report
Those wishing to argue that Penn State has the best defense in the Big Ten can point to a bevy of statistics in which the Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the league – rushing defense (84.1 yards), total defense (254.8 yards), scoring defense (9.3 points), passing yards allowed (170.7), sacks (3.6 per game) and tackles for loss (8.8 per game). All of those numbers are in the top 12 in the country.

"They're disciplined," Buckeye wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said. "They're a defense that's not going to beat themselves and make a lot of mistakes."

The only drawback for the Nittany Lions is that only Michigan, of the team's nine opponents, is in the top half of Division I-A in scoring offense. The Wolverines and Northwestern are the only ones who are above the midway point in yardage gained.

Penn State uses a cover-3 defense and doesn't blitz a ton, schemes that haven't changed over the years. The challenge for Ohio State is to make the result look more like the 37-17 domination the Buckeyes put together in 2007 rather than last year's 13-6 loss.

"Their defense is the exact same as far as schemewise," Ohio State left tackle Jim Cordle said. "We're obviously going to do some of the same things that we've done the last couple of years. In '07 we went there and executed. Last year, it was the same defense schemewise, but you have to man up and beat the man across from you. It comes down to wining the individual battles. In '07 we got them, and last year they got us."

Penn State has given up only 19 plays in nine games of more than 20 yards, including a minuscule three rushes.

The talent starts up front with one of the best defensive tackles in the country, senior Jared Odrick. After earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2008, Odrick has 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and two hurries on the season. As defenses have sought to double-team Odrick, Ollie Ogbu has disrupted offenses all season with 24 tackles, seven TFL, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Third tackle Devon Still is a sophomore with 12 stops, including two sacks.

The end position has been restocked after the departure of Aaron Maybin to the NFL as a first-round draft pick. The best of the bunch is sophomore Jack Crawford, an English import who first came to the U.S. to play basketball. Crawford, who Maybin said has the talent to be an All-American, is a speedy rusher who has 28 tackles, 13 TFL, 5½ sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

Sophomore Eric Latimore and senior Jerome Hayes have split time on the other side. Latimore has 15 tackles and 3½ sacks, while Hayes has 13 stops and a sack.

Penn State likes to bill itself as Linebacker U, and this year's crop is among the best in the Big Ten with 2007 All-American Sean Lee and ‘08 first-team All-Big Ten choice Navorro Bowman.

But the player who has the most tackles this year is former walk-on and middle man Josh Hull, who comes off in two-LB nickel sets. A senior who struggled upon his first playing time last year, Hull has fashioned himself into a solid performer with 82 tackles, 7½ TFL, two sacks and two interceptions.

"People are always going to wonder about me," Hull said. "I'm just going to continue to go out every week and prove to these people that I belong here."

Hull has been the one constant at linebacker while Lee and Bowman have dealt with injury issues this year. Lee returned to the starting lineup against Northwestern after missing three games and five starts with a sprained right knee, coming back to make a team-high 12 tackles. On the year, Lee has 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks.

Bowman, who had a huge game against OSU last year, missed two games early with a groin injury, but the junior has returned to form with 53 tackles, nine TFL, two fumble recoveries – including a 91-yarder for a touchdown – and an interception.

Bani Gbadyu took over for Lee while he was out, and the athletic, experienced junior originally from Liberia has 34 tackles and a forced fumble. Sophomore Nate Stupar was the one to take over for Bowman, and he has 28 stops along with a sack and an interception.

Penn State's secondary was thought to be a concern at the start of the year, but the Nittany Lions have allowed three passing touchdowns, kept all but three opponents below 200 yards passing and are placed second in the Big Ten in passing efficiency defense. Youth is being served among the group, with three of the four starters holding sophomore standing. That's true of the two safeties in Astorino and Nick Sukay.

Astorino, the nickelback a season ago, has slid into the free safety spot, and he has 41 stops, two fumble recoveries and a pick. Not bad for a player whose only BCS scholarship offer came from Penn State after Paterno noticed he won both the state football and basketball championships at Edinboro General McLane. Sukay has 32 tackles and an interception in his first year as the starter at the hero position.

D'Anton Lynn has taken over at one cornerback spot, and the sophomore has 23 tackles and five pass breakups. Seniors A.J. Wallace and Knowledge Timmons have shared the other position. Wallace, an off-and-on starter in his career while dealing with off-field distractions, has 27 tackles and two picks. Timmons has 17 stops and two pass breakups.

Finally, freshman nickelback Stephon Morris has 12 tackles and an interception he returned 70 yards.

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