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Neil Rudel on football: Trouble brewing in Columbus?

Some nitpicking to digest during the closest thing to an open date besides the real one Oct. 16:

• While Penn State is off to a 3-0 start, things aren’t going as smoothly for the Nittany Lions’ biggest Big Ten nemesis in Columbus. The Buckeyes were torched at home by Oregon, 35-28, losing the game despite rolling up more than 600 yards of offense — including three receivers surpassing 100 yards. That’s really hard to do. Ryan Day’s response was to demote defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, who was banished to the press box as secondary coach Matt Barnes took over the signals. Now highly touted freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud is out with a shoulder injury. The Buckeyes’ announced crowd of 76,000 last week against Tulsa was the lowest at Ohio Stadium in nearly 30 years. The oddsmakers don’t expect Akron (a 50-point underdog, no misprint) to provide a test this week as the Zips are likely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

• Even including the matchup with Villanova this afternoon, there’s no question Penn State has a competitive advantage in terms of its rugged schedule over the Buckeyes, who don’t play Iowa or Wisconsin this year. Ohio State will try to right its ship over the next month against Akron, at Rutgers, Maryland and at Indiana so it makes sense to tinker with the operation now before Penn State’s visit on Oct. 30.

• Speaking of scheduling, Iowa, which has risen to No. 5 and hosts Penn State Oct. 9, doesn’t play Ohio State or Michigan this season unless it’s in the Big Ten title game.

• Penn State’s players have continued to reference how many wrinkles are in Mike Yurcich’s offense, and we got to see a few against Auburn. Tight end Tyler Warren was part of a tight three-TE set, and he wound up taking wildcat snaps twice. One the first, he dove for a touchdown. The second didn’t work, but it looked like Warren was about to throw a pass out of the formation. There was another set in which right tackle Caeden Wallace was split wide in a receiver formation. Fun stuff.

• One of the best parts of Yurcich’s offense is how much less the quarterbacks are running. Sean Clifford has carried 22 times in three games. In the past two years, Clifford had double-digit carries 10 times (not to mention the number of times Will Levis carried). Levis, by the way, has led Kentucky to a 3-0 start and is on ESPN2 tonight vs. South Carolina.

• Through three games, the aspect of Penn State’s overall team that needs the most improvement is its running game, especially in short-yardage situations inside the tackles. Keyvone Lee leads the team in yards-per-carry average at a healthy 6.1 in just 13 tries. Noah Cain, meanwhile, has averaged 3.4 on 47 tries. Lee has fumbled twice, recovering both, and that’s a contributing factor to fewer touches.

• Based on his work at Penn State last year, when he somehow didn’t register a single sack or set the edge all that well, it was clear Jayson (now Odafe) Oweh was drafted in the first round (by Baltimore) on his potential. So much for a slow transition: Oweh made the play of the game last Sunday night with a forced fumble that he recovered to set up the Ravens’ comeback win over Kansas City.

• The sentiment expressed by Penn State transfer Arnold Ebiketie on his reaction while waiting to take the field prior to the whiteout merits repeating. The former Temple player looked around and said, “I felt so blessed. I said to myself, ‘What did I do to deserve this?” Elite athletes are sometimes more entitled than appreciative so this was refreshing.

Neil Rudel covers Penn State football and can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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