What are five things we should be watching for this weekend when the Buckeyes enter Happy Valley to take on a surprisingly solid Penn State squad?
Last week was one of the more thrilling wins in a few years. It was an okay week for the defense, a bad week for the offense until the very end, a terrible week for Braxton Miller, and an average week for my predictions. As expected, Purdue threw the ball to the outside on screens and the Buckeye defense couldn't stop it. Again. I know it sounds like a broken record playing the same tune every week, but until the Silver Bullets stop it we can expect to see more of the same. Why wouldn't opposing teams do it?
Special teams was also a big factor - there was a kickoff return for a TD by the Boilers and a missed field goal. Unfortunately I picked the wrong team that would be affected positively by the return game, but the Buckeyes did get their hands up to block some field goals. Sadly the defensive line still failed to bat down any passes. At least Zach Boren didn't have to lead the team in tackles again.
Now, let's take a look at this week.
1) Freshman tight end Kyle Carter will have a huge effect for the Nittany Lions. For those of you who don't know him, better start learning about him. With the depleted linebacking corps, Ohio State will have little to no options for covering the big guy. They can't use a linebacker on him - Ohio State's linebackers are not very good in pass coverage. Exhibit A, Storm Klein's debacle against Akeem Shavers last week. A safety is more likely, and Carter is going to break a safety's tackles more often than not. The best option to cover him, if they choose to do so, is to bracket him with a linebacker underneath and safety over the top. However, Matt McGloin has proven so far this year that he can finally find the open man if his other options are covered. Carter presents a matchup problem, and will either have a big game himself or open up opportunities for other receivers to make plays.
2) More sacks. Ohio State's defense has had some trouble rushing the passer, but Matt McGloin is a more traditional drop-back guy who has a little bit of trouble avoiding a strong pass rush. I think this game is set up for some splash plays by Big Hank, John Simon and the rest of the crew along the defensive front. Penn State has a good offensive line, but nothing like the players they've had in the past. There is nobody like A.Q. Shipley, Levi Brown or Stefen Wisnewski this year I fully expect Ohio State to have at least three sacks this week.
3) Braxton Miller will be a little bit skittish until he takes a hit. Then he'll be fine. Miller looked like he suffered from whiplash last week on that scary tackle, and despite what he says about being "good to go" I think he'll have a few issues throwing the ball, and taking off on a run might worry him a little. I don't expect him to get settled in until he takes a shot. At that point he'll know where his body stands and he will begin to realize if the injury is limiting him or not. That will help him get a little bit more comfortable. I think we'll see some early game jitters and then see Braxton settle down later on.
4) The spread will not be covered. I expect this to be another close one. Penn State has really shown up in Big Ten play so far, although their best win is probably against Northwestern at home. They have reeled off five straight wins and are playing with the confidence the streak would bring any team. This is by far their biggest test yet this season, and I think both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes are ready for the challenge. A lot of folks see a close game, and I agree with them.
5) Big plays from the Buckeye receivers. As much of a question mark as they were coming in to the season, Devin Smith and Corey Brown have been quite good this year. Brown has been excellent as a possession receiver and coming out of the backfield, while Devin Smith (despite some bad drops) has made some big plays. I expect these two to have big games as Penn State loads the box to stop the Buckeye rushing attack. I think Brown and Smith can win some 1v1 battles against a middling Penn State secondary that hasn't really been tested by elite wideouts.
I'd be glad to hear any predictions from you guys, and your thoughts on mine. I think, despite many predictions to the contrary, that Ohio State wins by a field goal. Check out Black Shoe Diaries for more Penn State information.