Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's road showdown with Ohio State.
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.
MH: This is an interesting situation for Penn State. First, the Nittany Lions head to Columbus to meet the No. 1 Buckeyes, but OSU hasn’t quite lived up to the rankings yet this season. Sure, the Bucks are undefeated, but they just edged out Indiana 34-27 and have had some issues in the early goings. Having said that, this one will be a tall order for the Nittany Lions. The good news is that the offense is coming off a strong, balanced performance against Indiana. We’ll see if they can carry that into the Horseshoe.
ND: The Nittany Lions finally have to leave the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium and it’s straight into the fryer as they head to. Penn State picked up a very good win over a gimpy but still dangerous Hoosier team. Ohio State finally pulled away from Maryland last week to keep its undefeated season intact. Penn State’s experience in Columbus has been pretty ugly over the years and its last visit two years ago is probably still lingering. That being said, this Ohio State team has been very underwhelming this season.
Who: Penn State vs. No. 1 Ohio State
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Series: Ohio State leads 17-13
Line: Oho State -17 as of Wednesday night
MH: Let’s take a closer look at Penn State.
AIR OUT: The good news for the Nittany Lions is that QB Christian Hackenberg is coming off his best game of the season. Against the Hoosiers he passed for 26s yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another pair of scores. The question is whether he can spread the ball around to his WRs and TEs. No doubt the Buckeyes will throw a lot of pressure at him and force him to make reads. The coaches will have to set him up to make quick strikes with check-down outlets if things break down.
PRESSURE PLAY: One of the biggest weapons PSU has headed into Columbus is the defensive front, which seems to improve with almost every snap. It will prove interesting to see how Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel, Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickels will be able to perform against the OSU offensive line.
http://www.scout.com/college/penn-state/story/1599495-lions-feel-the-noi...OPPORTUNITY LOST: The bad news with offensive opportunities with turnovers and short fields is that Penn State has largely squandered them in recent games. The good news is that the Lions significantly improved last week. The key is play-calling — to keep things versatile to make Ohio State’s defense wondering what’s coming next.
SPLIT ‘EM: While James Franklin gave Joey “Big Toe” Julius a vote of confidence this week, Lion fans have to be concerned with the multiple missed kicks he put up last week. That was odd, given the perfect conditions (aside from the new holder). The kicking game has to get nailed down and cannot be a liability for PSU in this one.
RETURN MEN: While Ohio State has not been all that impressive against the run, Penn State’s backfield still has questions marks related to the return of Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch. It looks like there’s a chance for Lynch to see action in this one given his progress, but we’ll have to wait and see. If he does, it really could give PSU a big offensive boost.
THE BUCK STOPS HERE
ND: Let’s take a closer look at Ohio State.
SEEING RED: Urban Meyer initially turned to QB Cardale Jones to lead the Buckeyes. But, after an anemic trend in the red zone, OSU is now using J.T. Barrett in the red zone. This was a new approach that was taken last week (vs. Maryland) and it yielded some success so I expect more of the same this week. Barrett brings another threat to this offense because, unlike Jones, he is an excellent runner and gives defenses another assignment to manage near the goal line.
EASY-E: RB Ezekiel Elliott is currently second in the Big Ten in rushing (and eighth in the NCAA). He also has a streak of 11 games of gaining at least 100 yards on the ground. Elliott had a slow start to the season, but the Buckeyes have been getting back to what made their postseason so successful last year — handing him the rock. Elliott is a runner who really wears out defenses and then he will bust big runs. The Lions have to stop him at the line of scrimmage and I expect the defense to stuff the box to try to take away the run.
MILLER TIME: Former QB and back-to-back Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller moved to an H-back position in the spring to get his talent on the field. Last week, Ohio State really focused on getting him the ball, which it had not done in previous weeks. Miller has tremendous speed and has some wiggle to him that makes him difficult to tackle. The Buckeyes are handing the ball off to him in the backfield, using him in the Wildcat and are throwing the ball to him. He is a dynamic player and I look for the OSU to continue to expand his role in this offense.
D-STRACTION:: Defensive linemen Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington get all of the attention on the Buckeye defensive line — and rightfully so. Bosa is the defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Washington is a very talented DT, as well. But keep an eye on youngster Typquan Lewis at DE. Bosa and Washington are getting double- and triple-teamed because of their abilities, and that has allowed Lewis to have a productive year. He has racked up nine TFLs and 5.5 sacks this year. The Buckeyes are moving Bosa all over the defensive line to get him better matchups, but I think that is really distracting the offensive line from focusing on Lewis.
HARVESTING PICKS: The Buckeyes have had a good history of developing excellent corners and Eli Apple appears to be the next one. He broke into the starting lineup as a freshman last year and he is off to a good start this year, as well. QBs have gone after CB Gareon Conley and, in particular, safety Vonn Bell. The Lion receivers have struggled to get separation this year and I don’t see that improving on Apple’s side of the field.
KEYS TO THE GAME
MH: Penn State defense has to get a good push up front to create opportunities for the offense in the form of short fields and ideally turnovers. The Buckeyes will toss out a variety of offensive looks which will test the PSU front seven, but the Nittany Lions have to keep things sharp and the coaches have to watch the rotations and balance them out so they have strong points on the line for every snap.
ND: The Buckeyes have a very good, talented defense. But they have not been as strong against the run, as they had been in previous years. In particular, they have been weak against the run between the tackles. Overall, the Buckeyes are giving up 152 yards per game and are giving up 210 yards per game against Big Ten opponents. In order for the Lions to be effective, I look for them to utilize the quick passes to the perimeter to get the linebackers and safeties flowing to the outside, which will open up the middle of the field for the run game. This week, Penn State has to run the ball effectively.
MH: OSU has by no means looked like a No. 1 team to this point. Being a road game for PSU gives a solid advantage to Ohio State. If Penn State can create opportunities on defense and capitalize on offense, I think it has a chance to shock the college football world. While I am a believer that the defense can create disruption for OSU, I am not sold that the offense can capitalize enough to grab this one.
Ohio State 27, Penn State 20
ND: Ohio State has not looked very good this year, and if this game was in Happy Valley, I would be tempted to pick Penn State. But the home crowd at night will give the Buckeyes some juice. A late Elliott long run will seal the deal.
Ohio State 24, Penn State 17
Until next time,
Fight On State!