The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing. 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.
MH: Penn State heads back home to Beaver Stadium for a primetime clash with the Buckeyes after a week off. The Lions used the bye to try to shore the offensive line and special teams, but with a powerful OSU team coming to Happy Valley, PSU should have their hands full.
ND: After a poor offensive and special teams performance against the Wolverines, the Lions had an open date on the schedule to let that loss fester in their minds. The Lions now square off against the resurgent Buckeyes of Ohio State in a primetime game. Many fans are already cringing. But, should they be?
Who: No. 13 Ohio State vs. Penn State
When: Saturday, October 25th at 8:00 pm ET, 5:00 pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Ohio State leads 16-13
Line: Ohio State favored by 13.5 pts.
MH: Let’s take a closer look at where the Nittany Lions stand heading into their homecoming clash with Northwestern.
CLOCK WORK: Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has had issues in recent games with his decision-making and “mental clock” in regards to getting rid of the ball. While the offense worked on pressure situations during the bye period, Hackenberg has to realize he has a lot of weapons around him and even when the offensive line gives him time to throw, he has to willing to throw the rock away when things don’t develop.
QUICK STRIKE: Speaking of play development, the Penn State offensive staff has to implement some quick outs – like slants and curls – that leverage the size of the tight ends and speed of the wideouts. Given the inconsistency of the offensive line, relying on the slow-developing routes is just rolling the dice and more often than not resulting in coverage sacks.
FIELD BATTLES: The biggest concern the Lions seem to have is with the punting game. With an inability to pull off punts past 30 yards consistently, the PSU defense is put at a huge disadvantage in the battle for field position. While we heard punting was a focus of the bye week work, the Lions better start living up to that “nekton” mentality.
DIG IN: Penn State’s defense features the No. 1 run defense in the country, allowing just 2.01 yards per carry. If the offense can muster some drives and special teams can give them decent field position this should be a real weapon for the Nittany Lions. If they are faced with short fields due to quick offensive drives and poor punting then the D will be at a major disadvantage.
BREAD AND BUTTER: Coach Franklin and company have to kick aside the gimmick plays (I’m looking you wildcat) and just play fundamental football to get together some solid, balanced drives. Using the intermediate and short passing game will pull off some of the pressure and get Hackenberg some confidence.
ND: In this section, I will review this week’s opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes
IN A NUTSHELL:After an early, ugly loss to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have been rolling. They have completely dominated their opponents and have scored at least 50 points in each contest. But, Rutgers, which ranks 82nd in total defense, is the best defense that they faced. Regardless, the offensive efficiency and balance is fueling their winning streak. Ohio State is averaging 274 passing yards and 259 rushing yards per game.
TOP NUT:J.T. Barrett had the unenviable job of replacing the injured reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Braxton Miller. After a rough showing against Virginia Tech, Barrett has settled down and is showing excellent talent throwing the ball and running. Barrett isn’t as fast as Miller but he picks the right time to run and makes his runs count. Barrett, arguably, is showing more talent throwing the ball than Miller and the offense is thriving as a result. The combination of smart running and precise throwing is what makes this offense very dangerous to defend.
CASTAWAY: Dontre Wilson plays the role that Percy Harvin did for Urban Meyer in Florida’s offense. He is a dynamic runner and pass catcher. The Buckeyes will line him up all over the field in an attempt to get him the football and get him out into the open field alone. Though Ohio State has better receivers – namely Devin Smith - Wilson is a guy that creates matchup issues because of where he lines up and his versatility.
BUCK STOPS HERE:The Buckeyes feature one of the best defensive lines in the conference. The guy that leads the bunch is DE Joey Bosa. After receiving a much deserved Freshman All American designation in 2013, Bosa has yet to suffer the sophomore slump. He is 1st in the conference in sacks and second in the conference in TFLs. He has a motor that keeps running and the Buckeyes do a great job of utilizing his speed in various stunts, which has been a real problem point for the Lions.
NOT FOR GRANTED:Though the Buckeyes lost Ryan Shazier to the NFL, they did return Curtis Grant and Dorran Grant. Both have a tremendous amount of starts under their belt. Curtis Grant leads the LB crew and had a monster game in a losing effort against Virginia Tech. Dorran Grant is an undersized corner but he makes up for it in instincts and speed. The ability to block Grant on the Penn State flanker screen will be critical. He is a very physical and strong corner that will attack the ball.
KEYS TO THE GAME
MH: I am going with fundamental football. Spread the ball around to Jesse James and the tight ends and open things up foe DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis with some quick, sharp routes. Toss in some running with Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. The Lions have enough weapons to keep OSU’s defense guessing, if they play to their talent’s strengths. Trying to go for the slow-developing, deep plays with the struggles of the offensive line and issues Hackenberg has had reading the pressure will create serious issues for PSU.
ND: The obvious choice here is to protect Christian Hackenberg. So, I’m going a different route. To me, the biggest reason that the Lions lost in Ann Arbor was the terrible punting performance in the second half. The defense was playing great and even though the offense wasn’t moving the ball, the punting game allowed the Wolverines to deal with a short field and that led to field goals and even worse field position for the Lions. Michigan had eight drives in the second half and four of them started in Penn State territory. Chris Gulla has to have the game of his life to help the defense and the offense succeed in this game.
MH: With Penn State woeful offensive line and punting the Lions look to be at a major disadvantage field position-wise against OSU. I expect the defense to make some big plays, but in the end the Lions likely don't have the horses to take this one.
Ohio State 27, Penn State 17
ND: There is no doubt in my mind that the offense will struggle against the Buckeye front four. The Penn State defense keeps the Lions close at halftime but they get gassed and the Buckeyes run away with it late in the third.
Ohio State 38, Penn State 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!
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