The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
ND: After an incredibly emotional win over Michigan, the Lions received another open date on the schedule before the battle this week against Ohio State. The Buckeyes returned from their open date and had to slug it out against Iowa. This game has been very physical over the years. Turnovers have been the difference in the past but we'll see if that's what decides this one.
MH: Penn State's victory over Michigan was an instant classic and initiated Christian Hackenberg into PSU folklore. Now the Lions face a tall order with undefeated Ohio State. PSU has won two of the last three clashes in Columbus, but they will need to play a top-to-bottom impressive game to walk away with another victory.
Who: Penn State at No. 4 Ohio State
When: Saturday, October 26 at 8:00 pm ET, 5:00 pm PT
Where: Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio
Series: Ohio State leads 15-13
Line: Ohio State favored by 14.5 points.
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: This is the time of year when the highly ranked teams that don't really have much talent are exposed when they face competent foes. Such is the case for the 10th ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders. Their best win this season was over TCU. After that, it was probably West Virginia, who is 3-4. Texas Tech travels up to Norman, Oklahoma to face the Sooners and QB Blake Bell – aka the Bell Dozer. Oklahoma was looking very sharp until they suffered a brain cramp in the Cotton Bowl losing to Texas. But, with Bell under center, I like the Sooners blasting Texas Tech.
MH: Another interesting on will be No. 12 UCLA traveling to No. 3 Oregon. The Bruins were booking their trip to the Pac-12 title game, that is, until they got rolled over by Stanford last week. It will be interesting if Mora can get his squad motivated to beat the high-flying ducks. One more interesting one is No. 21 South Carolina going to No. 5 Missouri. Mizzou is 7-0 and has hopes to show the SEC that Midwest teams can hang in the south. South Carolina is coming off a painful loss to Tennessee.
ND: Such is the case in the PAC12. I'm not convinced that Stanford and UCLA are ranked in the right spots. Meanwhile, the nation has pretty much dismissed Oregon State after an embarrassing loss to Eastern Washington. But, Sean Mannion is putting up some unreal numbers for a non "Air-Raid" offense. I really like Oregon State beating Stanford to start their path to a collision course with the Ducks of Oregon in the annual Civil War game.
MH: South Carolina has got to put on the skids to salvage their season. I think Spurrier is going to pull out all the stops in this on and realizes pressuring QB James Franklin can give them the edge. The question is whether Clowney can live up to the billing and be the disruptive force they need in this contest. I think he can.
ND: The Lions come into this game with another open week where they could continue to refine the offense and give more of the playbook to Christian Hackenberg. The Lions need to continue to improve the run blocking and the utilization of the tight ends. Kyle Carter by this time last year was the second leading receiver on the team and was, arguably, the best tight end in the conference. Though he's been banged up, his numbers are way off. I look for the Lions to learn from how Iowa exploited the Buckeyes through the use of the tight ends and look for the same favorable matchups. Hackenberg has shown quite a bit of accuracy in this offense and the increased use of the bootlegs is giving Hackenberg an open view of the field.
The running game continues to be a carousel. Zach Zwinak was getting solid carries in the first half until he fumbled. At that point, it was the Bill Belton show. Though Belton made the most critical plays at the most critical time, his numbers were far from impressive. He finished with 3.1 yards per carry average. The interior of this offensive line needs to improve. The ability to run the ball gets more and more important as this season wears on regardless of who actually has the ball in their hands.
Defensively, what a difference a week can make. Coach John Butler and his staff were not only able to present many different looks to Michigan but they adapted to a 5-man defensive line formation late in the game. I expect that the Lions will start out in a traditional 4-3 but will switch to a 5-2 if they are getting gashed by the Ohio State running game. The play of C.J. Olaniyan was hugely important for the Lions. DaQuan Jones has been a rock on that defensive line but he desperately needs someone else to step-up to take some focus off him. Everyone thought, coming into this season, that it would be Deion Barnes but it might just be Olaniyan. I am really interested to see what happens in the secondary. Trevor Williams has really struggled this season. Late in the game against Michigan, he was replaced with Adrian Amos, who would have interfered with the peanut boy if he were too close to the field. The Buckeyes have some very strong receivers and I'm interested to see how much they rely on Williams or if they rotate Amos down from his safety spot. The Lions are going to struggle with the mobility of Braxton Miller and the power of Carlos Hyde. The question will be how much they struggle.
MH: Nirav, I think you are spot on with your call out of the tight ends in this game. Penn State arguably has one of the best crops of tight ends in the nation. The challenges they can create for defenders in the flat can really help move the ball and create opportunities. Granted, Carter has not been as instrumental as he was last year, but Jesse James and Adam Breneman have become an nice dimension to the passing game.
When it comes to the running game, I like what Zwinak bings to the table in shirt-yardage and situational runs, but he should not be looked at as a lead horse in the ground game. Bill Belton has shown an ability to carry that load and I think the coaches need to look to him more often. Getting Akeel Lynch for the burst he provides into the mix more is also paramount to challenge the OSU front. Again, Zwinak can come up big if you use him the right way.
Defensively, the Lions looked like a different unit out there against Michigan. In fact, the Lions bottled up Toussaint resulting in the worst rushing performance (27 yards on 27 carries) by a back in the history of Michgian football. I like the five to shift they made against Michigan, but Ohio State has a better offensive line and can shot the ball more consistently out to the wings. This means the secondary have to be ready to play one-on-one with little support. As you said, DaQuan Jones had a monster game, but what was most exciting was CJ Olaiyan at DE having a coming out party. If Olaniyan can play up to that level it will help Jones significantly in pressuring and shifting the pocket to move Miller around and create some changes to make things happen.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: Ohio State features several issues for the Lions on offense. At the head of the list is Braxton Miller. Miller is a true dual-threat quarterback. He can run like a wide receiver but he has the ability to throw the ball all over the field. He has single-handled won games and his 134 yards rushing were one of the main reasons that the Buckeyes beat the Lions last year. He has shown a greater ability to throw the ball and to distribute the ball accurately this year. The Lions have to find a way to contain Braxton Miller. His ability to run when a play breaks down can end this game in a hurry. Carlos Hyde has also been on quite a tear. Over the last two games, he's averaged almost 110 yards in the second half alone. Meaning, he wears the defense out in the first half and then gashes them in the second half when his 240-pound body is a sight of fear. The Buckeye receivers are probably going to pose the most significant challenge for the Lions this season. Corey Brown and Devin Smith have almost identical numbers. Corey Brown has 33 catches for 453 yards and 6 TDs. Devin Smith has 30 catches for 434 yards and 6 TDs. That's distribution!
Defensively, the Buckeyes are all over the map. Though they are statistically one of the best on the country, they don't quite pass the eye test. Ryan Shazier is a heck of a playmaker at his LB spot. He has size and speed. And, as was showcased by his pick-6 last year, he has really good hands. Noah Spence is one of a whole crew of young defensive lineman. The Sophomore DE from Harrisburg leads the team in TFLs and sacks. The other guy on the defense to watch is Bradley Roby. The former All American corner has struggled this year but he definitely has the talent to make some plays for the Buckeyes. Overall, the Buckeyes have shown weaknesses in spots against Iowa and Northwestern. Fortunately for OSU, the offense covered those up by playing really well. But, we'll see how they perform against the Lions.
MH: Miller is a dangerous quarterback. He can smack defenses with his arm or leg. Penn State refused to spy Devin Gardner, but I am not sure it is smart to take that same approach with Miller, given his type of heady play and propensity to take off. In the passing game, Miller likes to look to Philly Brown, the senior WR from PA. This year he has 453 yards on 33 catches and six touchdowns. He can go up and make plays, but more importantly is a sharp route-runner who will challenge the PSU secondary.
When it comes to the Buckeye defense, the Lion offensive line has to dig in and play tough, giving Hackenberg time t see things develop. That means accounting for Noah Spence who the OSU staff likes to unleash on the pocket. The Buckeye front will try to get into the pocket with a straight-on rush, but watch for them to throw in some disguised blitz packages as well to keep Hackenberg guessing. OSU will look to confuse the freshman QB, which is why opening up the tight ends and having the lanes to deliver quick strikes is imperative. OSU has solid linebackers, but I suspect the PSU tight ends could really be a handful for them, assuming Hackenberg can get his ball placement down.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: It's All-American against All-American. I'm very excited to see if Allen Robinson is able to get the best of Bradley Roby. After Roby sat out with the targeting call last week and was abused against Jared Abbrederis in prime time earlier this year, he is going to be very motivated to re-secure his NFL draft spot. Meanwhile, Allen Robinson knows that he has to help Christian Hackenberg in this huge road test for the young freshman. Plus, he wants to retake the top spot in all the receiving categories after Jeremy Gallon caught everything within a 10-mile radius against Indiana last week. Watching these two future pros guys battle should be loads of fun.
MH: That will be fun, interesting matchup. I am curious to see how DaQuan Jones and the new force of CJ Olaniyan do against the Buckeye offensive line. If they can manage to get pressure on the pocket and rush some of Miller's decisions it will be a nice edge for PSU. If not, OSU will be able to pick and choose their options which will be bad news for the Lions.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: The key to this game is Braxton Miller. If the Lions are able to contain him, then I think they will win this game. But, if Miller is able to make plays with his arm or running, then this game will favor the Buckeyes. Braxton Miller is the most exciting and influential player in the Big Ten today. As Miller goes, so do the Buckeyes.
MH: I think a big key to this game is whether Hackenberg has time to deliver the ball and if the targets decided to consistently pull in his passes. If he is on and can minimize the freshman mistakes (like holding onto the ball too long), it will be big for PSU.
ND: Despite a huge win against Michigan, the Lions showed that they struggle with a true dual-thread QB and Braxton Miller is better than Devin Gardner in every category. Miller helps the Buckeyes pull out a big time win.
Ohio State 30, Penn State 24
MH: I think the defense showing up was huge and none too soon. I think if they play their game and can contain Miller they have a real shot. I like the PSU defensive front in this one, but suspect OSU will edge out the Lions in the end.
Ohio State 27, Penn State 24
Until next time,
Fight On State!