Getting it done up front key for PSU
Five things to look for as Penn State tries to end No. 2 Ohio State’s incredible 20-game road winning streak, tied for third longest in college football in the post-World War II era.
No. 1: Compete in trenches
The Buckeyes are favored by three touchdowns, and they average 49 points per game while giving up only 12. This is, by every standard, a terrific team.
If PSU is to stay close, it must get big-time performances from its linemen on both sides of the ball. Ohio State has a huge advantage with its strong offensive line going against Penn State’s subpar D-line, as well as a huge advantage with its own powerful D-line going against the Lions’ offensive front.
The Buckeyes average 300 yards rushing, while PSU gives up 209 per game. There’s a chance Ohio State will line up and just run, run, run with their good tailbacks and fantastic quarterback, J.T. Barrett, picking up one first down after another.
The Lions must get a lot of push up front to attack the ballcarriers before they pick up a head of steam, and that responsibility falls directly on the defensive linemen. If they can keep most runs to 2-3 yards, the game might stay close, but if the Buckeyes are breaking off 7-8 yards a clip, there won’t be much chance.
On the other side, there’s no secret what Ohio State is going to do defensively. It will load up the box to stop Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley in the running game, while trusting its athletes in the secondary to win the one-on-one battles with PSU’s receivers.
Penn State is coming off a 372-yard rushing game against Maryland, but this isn’t Maryland. The Buckeyes will try to overpower PSU’s offensive linemen not only with strength but also numbers, and their D-line coach, former Penn State assistant Larry Johnson, is one of the best in the business at game planning and rotating personnel.
James Franklin keeps talking about how his offensive linemen have improved. Sure they have, but what we’re likely to find out tonight is that they haven’t made nearly enough strides to get the job done against this kind of opponent.
No. 2: McSorley’s magic
McSorley will need to have a huge day throwing and running to keep Penn State close.
It could be a very windy night at Beaver Stadium, and no weather component impacts a passing game more than wind. That hurts PSU more than Ohio State because you figure the Lions will have to throw more and be efficient through the air to have a chance.
Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead likes to have McSorley throw the deep ball, and that could be tougher with the wind. The quarterback doesn’t have the strongest arm, and if he leaves balls hanging up, Ohio State will pick them off.
McSorley needs to be outstanding on shorter throws, although there’s more to it than just him (more on that later).
The first-year starter did a great job against Maryland knowing when to keep the ball on read options, but Ohio State will be much better at disguising things with defenders and forcing McSorley to make quick, difficult decisions.
If McSorley can pull the trigger and keep the ball on some good reads as the Buckeyes swarm Barkley, he could wind up having some nice gains on the ground.
No. 3: WRs in spotlight
Penn State’s wideouts had a horrible day at Michigan, combining for just five catches for 18 yards. They just couldn’t get open against man coverage, which has been a problem for several years now.
The receivers must find a way to get quick separation, giving McSorley somewhere to go on quick hitters before the Ohio State rush attack.
The Lions’ best receiving options actually might be tight end Mike Gesicki and Barkley out of the backfield. They had five catches apiece at Michigan, with Barkley picking up 77 yards, and it will be up to Moorhead to dial up some plays to get them open in space.
No. 4: Coaching
This is a big opportunity for Franklin and his staff. Urban Meyer is a legendary coach, and he has a staff of outstanding assistants. Penn State has a lot of intangible advantages in this one with the night game whiteout, which Franklin should be able to use to help offset at least some of the talent differential between these teams.
Even if PSU loses but plays fairly well, Franklin and his staff can earn a lot of respect from those in the fan base who wonder if he’ll ever be able to compete against Ohio State and Michigan.
But if Franklin starts kicking field goals from the 2-yard line when trailing by four touchdowns, like in the 49-10 loss at Michigan, it won’t change some of the opinions about him as a gameday coach.
No. 5: Players to watch
PSU: The defensive line will get a huge test against this running attack and must play better than it has all season to prevent the Buckeyes from running up and down the field.
Ohio State: QB J.T. Barrett is the best player PSU will see this season and might win the Heisman Trophy if some breaks go his and the Buckeyes’ way down the stretch. Don’t be fooled into thinking he’s only a runner and not a passer. He can make spectacular plays in both aspects of the game.
Prediction: Ohio State 40, Penn State 16