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ND: At the start of the season, many thoughts that Ohio State and Penn State would be playing to decide who would go to the Rose Bowl. Though things have not played out as all of the pundits felt, the two are playing for a chance at a BCS at-large bid. The Lions come in after a tough road game at Northwestern that had the game in doubt until the fourth quarter when the Lions blew it wide open. Meanwhile, Ohio State blew out the Aggies of New Mexico State. Although, the Buckeyes did not score until the second quarter when they were able to score 28 points. This game has been awfully exciting over the last handful of years and this year should be no different.
MH: Yeah, it's amazing that a growing segment of Ohio State fans say they see Penn State as their primary rival currently over Michigan, considering the Wolverines have not beaten the Buckeyes in five years. This game should be an interesting one with an Ohio native QB heading up Penn State and a Pennsylvania native QB heading up Ohio State.
Who: No. 16 Ohio State at No. 11 Penn State
When: November 7th at 3:30 pm ET and 12:30 pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Tied 12-12
Line: Penn State favored by 4 points
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: Mark, I'll let you talk about the big SEC matchup. In the meantime, I'm gonna focus on the Michigan and Purdue game. Many were talking about how Rich Rodriguez is famous for his year two turnarounds. After beating Notre Dame and a few of the directional Michigan teams, the Michigan bandwagon was filling up. But, "Little Brother," Michigan State, showed that the Wolverines were beatable. From there, the Blue and Maize have dropped games to every team in FBS. Now, the Wolverines face a not-so-good dose of reality – lose to Purdue and the chance of being bowl eligible will require a minor miracle with games at Madison and against Ohio State. Purdue, on the other hand, had some nice momentum going by beating the Buckeyes and Illinois. But, they fell apart against Wisconsin. The Boilers still have an offense that, when they don't turn the ball over, should easily score on Michigan. I like the Boilers in this game winning in Ann Arbor, which should have Rich Rodriguez squirming to answer some hard questions – when will Big Blue be better.
MH: That should be an interesting clash in the race for Big Ten bowl eligibility. Looking around the rest of the country, the big game out of the SEC is No. 9 LSU at No. 3 Alabama. This is a pivotal game in the race for the SEC West and ultimately the BCS. Alabama has rolled through their schedule, and the Tigers have only lost to No. 1 Florida. So, watch for some fireworks down south. It looks like Alabama is the favorite in this one, but Les Miles will likely pull out all the stops in an attempt to make a final dash at the SEC title game.
ND: This week, Mickey Andrews stated that he would be stepping down as defensive coordinator at Florida State at the end of the season. The Seminoles face off against Clemson in what used to be the Bowden Bowl. Now, people wish that Bobby would bowl instead of coach in this game. But, I like the Seminoles winning in this game. Clemson beat Miami but they have struggled against every other quality team that they have faced. Meanwhile, FSU has been scoring quite a few points in the month of October and I think the defense is going to play inspired football for Mickey Andrews in order to secure the "W".
MH: Last week I picked the Vols to upset the Gamecocks, but certainly didn't expect the 31-13 blowout they put on USC. I am not sold that FSU will beat Clemson; however I think Nebraska has a shot to knock off No. 24 Oklahoma. The Huskers have lost some tough games, but they are at home and given the issue the Sooners have had this season I think they could play inspired like they did when they knocked off Missouri.
ND: Penn State's Daryll Clark continues to show that he is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country. He started out the season with 9 TDs, but 6 INTs in the first four games of the season. Since then, he has thrown another 9 TDs but has thrown only 1 INT. He is managing the game far better and he remains very accurate. Last week, against the Wildcats, the coaches changed things up. Northwestern was stuffing the box and that was preventing the Lions from moving the ball on the ground. So, Galen Hall and Jay Paterno put the ball in Clark's hands and asked him to win the game through the air. And, he responded. By doing so, the Wildcats had to respect the pass, which opened up running lanes for Royster. I expect the Buckeyes to take a similar approach – stuff the box to take away the run and to see if Clark is able to beat them through the air. They have 3 safeties that they use regularly and all 3 – Coleman, Russell and Hines – are very good against the run. The Buckeyes also like to show blitz regularly but will then pull out at the snap. I don't expect that to happen at the start of this game. Instead, they will bring Brian Rolle and Ross Homan every chance they can to keep Royster at bay. Look for Clark to use play action early in this game in order to freeze those safeties and the linebackers and then hit the out routes or Quarless on the seam. Quarless and Shuler could be huge weapons in the first quarter as the Buckeyes try to stop the run. The Lions will struggle against the Buckeye corners. They are good, fast and physical. Everyone talks about Iowa's defense picking the ball off. But, in conference play, the Buckeyes are tied with the Hawkeyes picking off 11 passes. As a result, Clark will have to make the safe throws, take his shots when they are there but rely on guys like Royster, Shuler, Quarless and Suey to make key catches to keep the chains moving.
The Buckeyes are also doing a fantastic job at pressuring the passer. Thadeus Gibson is the latest kid to make a name on the D-line. He is a heck of a player and is a sure pick for first team All-Big Ten. He's fifth in the conference in both TFLs and sacks. Meanwhile, his bookend, Cameron Heyward, is equally as good. The Lions offensive line has significantly improved since the Iowa game and they faced some pretty good defensive ends the last few weeks and they have performed well. They have given up only five sacks in conference play and two of those were against Iowa. Their ability to keep Clark clean is one part. But, what the offensive line must do is provide Clark with time. Clark is far more efficient when he's able to step into his throws and when he's able to come out of a play action with his shoulders squared up to the line of scrimmage. If the PSU offensive line can give him time, I'm certain that he can find an open receiver.
This Buckeye defense is very good and they are playing well. However, I saw a shift in that Northwestern game that I have not seen in a long time and that is for the coaches to not be stubborn to run the ball when there are 8 and 9 guys in the box. They called plays to take advantage of what Northwestern was showing and I think they will do the exact same thing in this game, which will allow Clark to get in rhythm and, eventually, open up some holes for Royster. But, it's going to be hard fought.
MH: As you pointed out Nirav, Clark has been masterful in his management of the game and has certainly settled down with pragmatic, effective play with his arm, regularly distributing the ball to a wide variety of targets, and his legs, running in situations when needed. That is vital in my view. Clark doesn't have to run a lot for the defense to respect him, just periodically in order to pull in the coverage enough to realize he can step over the line of scrimmage and pickup 10, 15 or 20 yards on a run.
That should come in handy against a solid defense like Ohio State's. However, I too, expect OSU to make Penn State throw first and foremost, but keying up on the run. Almost every opponent PSU has faced has attempted this approach this season. This means Clark will have to get some early intermediate completions to targets Derek Moye, Graham Zug, Chaz Powell and Andrew Quarless.
The Buckeyes love to pressure the pocket and will want to pressure Clark in order to not allow him to set his feet and deliver the ball. This will be a test for the offensive line, which in recent weeks have faced impressive defensive end pressure with Michigan's Graham and Northwestern's Wooly, but only on one side. Ohio State has the ability to pressure from both sides of the line, so that changes up the dynamic of the offensive approach, which will need quick outs if the pocket can't hold consistently.
Personally, I think the squad has had this game circled on the calendar since last year. And Clark has shown consistent improvement this season and seems to have grown into this role with the confidence to manage a game like this. I think we will see some additional variety with a dose of Joe Suhey out of the backfield and some shifts in the split-back and I-formation sets to give OSU some new looks. The base approach will be bread and butter for Penn State; get a balanced attack, spread the ball around and keep the defense guessing. I thing we will see PSU's coaches try to run early, to show they are committed to the ground game and a balanced offense, so watch for some early drives to possibly stall out.
ND: The Penn State defense struggled early against the Wildcats but buckled down when Kafka got injured and that was the end of the game. The same was the case after Michigan's first drive in Ann Arbor. This defense has had the benefit of playing against two very mobile QBs in the past two weeks. Now, they face the most mobile QB in the conference. Terrelle Pryor has been the subject of quite a bit of media coverage in recent weeks but he continues to push forward and he is only a sophomore. Plus, the Ohio State offensive line has been marred with injuries. What we know about Pryor is that he can run. When he doesn't have a passing option, he tucks that ball and takes off. Pryor is the leading rusher on the team with 554 yards on the year and he averages 5 yards per carry, which is very impressive since a QB's sacks are taken off of their rushing yards. The key to stop Pryor is to get him at the line of scrimmage because once he has hit his full stride, he gobbles up yards. Of course, it is easier said then done. Crawford and Hayes have a huge task in this game to keep contain on Pryor. Ohio State uses Pryor in just about every type of running play as well – zone read, QB draw and a straight QB sweep. When Pryor does hand off, he's going to either Brandon Saine or Dan (Boom) Herron. Neither guy has really taken the torch from Beanie Wells and they really should shoulder more of the blame for the OSU offensive woes because neither is the type of back that Pryor could hand off to 25 times a game and get in the endzone two or three times in a big game. I'm looking forward to seeing if either of these two guys can run on the Penn State front seven, which got a big boost last week with Sean Lee being on the field even more. He's about as close to 100 percent as he's going to get and that's bodes well for the Lions rushing defense, which is already one of the best in the league.
The real question is whether Pryor is going to be able to throw the ball effectively in this game. His completion percentage was far from stellar last week against New Mexico State and he has not been able to sustain drives through the air despite having some pretty good wide receivers. Posey, Sanzenbacher and Ray Small are very good receivers. Posey has been making quite a few big plays for Pryor while Sanzenbacher is averaging more yards per catch because he doesn't get the short line of scrimmage flares. Pryor has the receivers but he locks into his primary read and if it's not there, he's off and running. This is what most argue is the biggest disappointment in Pryor's development – he's not consistent and he gives up on the passing game once his primary read is eliminated. The OSU player that could have the most impact in the passing game is Saine coming out of the backfield. With so much concern with the speed of Posey and Pryor's ability to run, it could leave Saine open in the flat or on wheel routes on play action. Astorino and Sukay must not get overally sucked into stopping the run or Saine could burn them.
One thing to keep an eye on is the health of the Ohio State offensive line. The left tackle position is on its third starter with Jim Cordle. This starting unit only has two starts as a unit. We'll see how their communication is when the Nittany Nation is screaming and Larry Johnson and Bradley mix up the looks of pass rush.
The ability for Ohio State to move the football is going to come down to how well Pryor is able to throw the ball. He is going to gain some yards on the ground but he has to throw the ball in order to win this game. Unfortunately, his track record isn't there especially in the red zone. Ohio State is tenth in the conference in red zone offense converting only 66 percent of their trips into points and that includes three turnovers. That could be a real problem in this game.
MH: To echo your thoughts Pryor is evasive and often improvises with his feet as things break down. This is a strength of his and has to be contained like PSU was able to do with Juice Williams. I am looking for Penn State to put a spy on Pryor with Navorro Bowman. Bowman did not have his best game last week, but he has the physical abilities and speed to pick the right angle and direct Pryor, if he's unable to get to him. Penn State's front seven have been very difficult to run on this season, however Pryor is strong at seeing an open zone and making a dash for it. He doesn't tend to be comfortable lowering a shoulder and running into traffic, despite his 6-foot-6 235 pound frame. However, he will spot a passing lane to wing and turn it into a running lane. This is why the defensive ends and outside ‘backers like Bowman and Sean Lee will be instrumental in trying to box him in.
Nirav, you make a great point on the struggles of the offensive line. The unit has gotten some work recently together, but they have yet to play in an environment like this, so the crowd will have to once again bring it and serve as the nation's best 12th man.
I think if Ohio State is going to mount sustained drives, they will have to get Pryor's passing into the mix. What is interesting is that the word around OSU circles is that Penn State has a "weak" secondary. However, D'Anton Lynn and A.J. Wallace have shown they can shut down big receivers and the safety play with Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay continues to make strides. In fact, Penn State is twelfth in pass defense nationally, OSU is fourteenth.
All in all, the defense should have the speed and experience to match up with the Ohio State offense, but the question is whether they can play reckless, yet disciplined ball to avoid breakdowns and over-pursuits that Pryor can exploit.
ND: This week's special team's matchup is really interesting. Penn State's coverage on kicks and punts has been far from acceptable. Wagner has not been that bad kicking field goals and Boone has punted the ball when he's able to get the ball away. Ohio State had the decided edge coming into this game but with the loss of kicker Pettrey to a knee injury, it sure does make things more interesting. Regardless, Ray Small is an extremely dangerous returner and this could be just the advantage that the Buckeyes need to get prime field position against the stout Penn State defense. Special Teams in this game is huge and the Lions better be ready to play better on kick and punt coverage.
MH: In these types of defensive battles, kicking can be vital, so OSU losing Pettrey is a blow to their offense. However, the battle for field position will be key, so PSU's coverage has to be sharp and stay in their lanes to shut down Small, which is no small task.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: Mark, I have a ton of respect for Thadeus Gibson. He is a heck of a defensive end. He's tall, fast and strong. The Lions have faced some quality defensive ends this year but Gibson (along with Graham from Michigan) is probably the best in the conference. I am really looking forward to see how Landolt and Poti do against Gibson. The Buckeyes move Gibson all over to force the right matchup and watching him go head-to-head against the two Lion tackles should be a good one. Gibson is going to get some plays but if the tackles can limit it, then will have done their job.
MH: Great pick. I am looking at the other side of the ball with Penn State's front seven against Terrelle Pryor. The legs of Pryor are a major weapon for Ohio State, so the front, seven and particularly the ends and outside ‘backers will have square up make sure they are able to make him run east-west instead of north-south.
Keys to the Game:
ND: Last year's game came right down to a key turnover. That was all that was needed for the Lions to pull ahead for good. I think the key for this game is going to be minimizing turnovers and penalties. Whichever team is able to play smart and not hurt themselves will win this game.
MH: I totally agree. Turnovers killed Penn State against Iowa, but when they have protected the ball they have had solid outings. Pryor has had turnover issues, so whoever protects the ball gets the edge in this clash.
ND: The two defenses are going to keep both offenses under wraps. The difference in this game is that Penn State has a competent kicker and the Buckeyes have to break in a walk-on or a redshirt freshman in their biggest conference game of the year. As a result, I give the edge to Penn State in this one.
Penn State 20, Ohio State 14
MH: On paper, Penn State has a better offense, better kicker and home field advantage. However, Ohio State's defense is a monster that could make this a slug-fest like year's past. Clark needs to have an efficient game and rely on the weapons around him. He doesn't have to do everything himself. And PSU as a whole has to protect the ball. If they do that they should put some successful drives together.
Penn State 23, Ohio State 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!