Ohio State got back to action last week after the bye week and they didn't show any rust as they had little trouble dispatching Rutgers 56-17 on Saturday inside Ohio Stadium. This week will see the Buckeyes hit the road to take on Penn State in Happy Valley. The Buckeyes will try and continue their terrific offensive play of late, having scored 50 or more points and racking up over 500 yards of offensive in each of the last four games.
While this is the third road game of the season for Ohio State, it is the first true road test that they'll see, with over 100,000 Penn State fans expected to be in attendance at Beaver Stadium. This is the first time that redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett will have seen a crowd this size on the road, and it'll be interesting to see just how he handles the "White Out" that Penn State has scheduled for Saturday night's game.
After starting the season 4-0, Penn State has come back down to earth in the last few weeks, dropping a home game to Northwestern followed by a road game against Michigan. The good news for the Nittany Lions is they had a bye week last week to try and return some order to their team before Saturday night's game. After some of the NCAA sanctions were lifted earlier this season, Penn State is now eligible to go to a bowl game, and they'll be looking to take one step closer to gaining eligibility by securing a win over Ohio State.
The main problem during Penn State's struggles recently has been with the offensive line. The Nittany Lions still haven't had a 100-yard rusher this season, and Christian Hackenberg has been sacked 20 times through the first six games. Even with the offensive woes that Penn State has faced this season, a stingy defense and the large home crowd are just a couple reasons why the Buckeyes can't take anything for granted when they hit the road.
|Team||Record||AP||F/+ Rk||Line||Off F/+ Rk||Def F/+ Rk||ST F/+ Rk|
|Std. Downs S&P+||Pass. Downs S&P+||Rushing S&P+||Passing S&P+||First Down Rate||Explosive Drives||Methodical Drives|
|Ohio State Offense||10||5||28||3||3||27||101|
|Penn State Defense||13||35||8||29||3||7||33|
|Std. Downs S&P+||Pass. Downs S&P+||Rushing S&P+||Passing S&P+||First Down Rate||Explosive Drives||Methodical Drives|
|Penn State Offense||47||81||54||66||53||82||39|
|Ohio State Defense||38||28||61||16||11||47||25|
Ohio State's biggest advantages
Strength against weakness. When studying for Penn State the weekend, the Ohio State defense has to be licking their chops at what they might be able to do to the Penn State offensive line. The Nittany Lion offensive line features four first-year starters, including two redshirt freshmen. Penn State could be in for a long night trying to contain the forceful Buckeye defensive linemen like Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, and Adolphus Washington. Opponents are averaging over three sacks per game against Penn State, and that number could rise after Saturday night if the Buckeye linemen play up to their potential. In just the past two games, Hackenberg has been sacked a total of 10 times, including Michigan registering six sacks in their last game.
Ohio State-Penn State Advanced Stats Preview
The Buckeyes are reemerging into the national spotlight with four straight beatdowns where they scored over 50 points per game. With just one loss, the Buckeyes are in a prime position with Alabama, TCU, Baylor, Michigan State, and Georgia to try and take advantage of the overall parity in college football this season.
The question on everyone's mind is just how good this offense has become since the loss to Virginia Tech. While 50+ points per game is certainly impressive, and the Braxton Miller-less unit has still almost equaled their preseason offensive projection (8th in Offensive F/+), these past four wins have come against the 103rd, 91st, 32nd, and 73rd-ranked F/+ defenses. Penn State, at 42nd in overall F/+ and 9th in Defensive F/+ presents the biggest defensive challenge since Virginia Tech.
The young offensive line of the Nittany Lions not only has hurt Hackenberg in terms of sacks, but it also has put increased pressure on him which has led to more turnovers this year. After a freshman campaign in which he threw for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, Hackenberg has suffered through somewhat of a sophomore slump this year, throwing only five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Even if the Buckeyes don't get to Hackenberg in terms of sacks, it could force him into throwing some ill-advised balls. With 10 interceptions so far this season, the Buckeye defense has been very opportunistic, and will hope to capitalize on the pressure that they create.
The Penn State offensive line woes have also led to very little production from the running game this year. The Nittany Lions are averaging less than 100 yards per game on the ground this season, and they might have problems moving the football against a Buckeye defense that has been solid against the run this year. Ohio State is only allowing 137 yards per game on the ground, but that number is skewed by what Navy was able to do on the ground in the season opener. With the push from the defensive line, linebackers like Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant, and Raekwon McMillan will have the opportunity to shut down the Penn State running game before it starts.
Offense cooking with gas. With the way Ohio State's offense has been performing the last four games, it'd be a crime to not include the unit as one of their advantages over Penn State. It has been a historic run for the offense with four straight games scoring 50 points or more, as well as accounting for over 500 yards. The offense has been very balanced, not only dominating opponents on the ground, but also through the air. Opposing defenses can't load up to stop the run or the pass with the rhythm the Buckeyes are in has kept opponents guessing.
Statistically, Penn State looks like they could match up well with the Buckeyes, but the stats don't tell the whole story. On the season, Penn State is only allowing 283 yards per game, including just 60 yards per game to opponents on the ground, but this by far will be the toughest test to date for the Nittany Lions. Opponents such as Central Florida, Rutgers, and Michigan don't possess nearly the same offensive fire power as the Buckeyes will come into Happy Valley with.
Last year the Buckeyes were able to exploit the Nittany Lions on the ground behind Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller, and it isn't a far stretch to think that Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett can have the same success this year. Penn State linebacker Mike Hull, who has 64 tackles so far this season, is more than capable of making plays against the run, but he'll need a lot of help from his teammates to bottle up a Ohio State rushing attack that is really clicking behind their improved offensive line play.
A new hope. After the Virginia Tech game in early September, it looked as though this could be a lost season for the Buckeyes following high expectations coming into the year. The last four games restored hope in the Buckeye program this year. With the roll that the Buckeyes have been on lately, there seems no doubt that Urban Meyer has his team focused on not only a showdown with Michigan State in a couple weeks, but also possibly making a run at a berth in the College Football Playoff.
While there is always the possibility of the Buckeyes overlooking Penn State and suffering a letdown, Meyer has his team saying all the right things as they continue to roll opponents. The Buckeyes have won 18 straight games during the regular season in the Big Ten, so even though there may be a lot of youth on the team, they have been molded into being a destructive force in the conference.
Compared to the Buckeye team that was seen against Virginia Tech, this looks like a completely different team from a month and a half ago. The Buckeyes have answered every challenge since then, dealing with a couple bye weeks, a road game, and some adversity when Cincinnati staged a comeback. This is just the next challenge that Ohio State has to face, and Meyer is a master at getting his team ready for challenges like this. With the hostile road environment this will serve as a tune-up to the night game in East Lansing in just a few weeks. Meyer will be expecting a complete performance from his team, and it wouldn't be smart to bet against him here.
Penn State's biggest advantages
A real homefield advantage. Heading to Beaver Stadium is never an easy trip for opponents, but Ohio State has handled it well recently, winning in their past three trips to Happy Valley. But this trip might be a little different for a very young Buckeye team. This will be the first trip for J.T. Barrett and the rest of the Buckeyes this year where their opponent has had a true home field advantage. The season opener against Navy was played at the Baltimore Ravens stadium, and their most recent road game against Maryland feature a capacity crowd that'll be about half the size of the crowd that'll be on hand on Saturday night.
While Barrett and company have played in front of 100,000+ a number of times this season, each time they have had the crowd on their side. It has been rather easy for the young quarterback and offense to operate when there is a considerable lack of noise when they have the football. That won't be the case on Saturday night, as Penn State has a "White Out" planned for the game. Just the thought of the combination of a "White Out" and a night game at Beaver Stadium brings back memories of 2005 when the Buckeyes lost 17-10 to Penn State.
Another reason for concern for Ohio State in terms of the crowd noise is they have had a number of offensive procedure penalties this season while at home. Will those issues be magnified when they try to operate with the raucous crowd that Penn State is expect to have? Penn State might not be able to match up to Ohio State in terms of depth and talent right now, but they could be helped if Ohio State starts to beat themselves. If the Buckeyes start to falter early, the crowd noise will only get turned up, and it'll be that much harder for the young team to operate.
Revenge factor? Ohio State might not have Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde like they did last year, but you have to imagine that Penn State is itching for some revenge for the 63-14 thumping that the Buckeyes put on the Nittany Lions in Columbus last October. The Buckeyes left little doubt by jumping out to a 42-7 halftime lead and at one point pushed the lead to 63-7. Ohio State was dominate in every facet of the game, rushing for 408 yards on their way to victory.
The coaching staff at Penn State may be different, with James Franklin taking over for Bill O'Brien in the offseason, and some of the Nittany Lions that played last year have moved on, but there is a large contingent of players that were in Columbus last season. While nobody is expecting Penn State to return the favor and deal out a 49-point win, just winning on Saturday night against Ohio State would be revenge enough. What better way to get back at the Buckeyes than by completely erasing any hopes they had of making the College Football Playoff, as well as handing them a setback in their dreams to win the Big Ten?
The Nittany Lions don't have the expectations that Ohio State has this year, but that doesn't making them any less dangerous. Having had their bowl eligibility this year restored means that Penn State is playing with house money right now. With a couple losses already in Big Ten play, they might already be out of the Big Ten race with Michigan State and Ohio State sitting ahead of them -- so what do they have to lose? It wouldn't be a surprise to see James Franklin pull out all the stops to try and help the Nittany Lions shock the Buckeyes and earn a bit of revenge.
Achilles' heel. While Ohio State has shown marked improvement in the secondary recently, it can't be assumed that all is fixed. Penn State does have a weapon that could exploit the possible weakness in freshman wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton. After a wrist injury forced Hamilton to take a redshirt last year, he has made up for lost time so far this season. In Penn State's last game against Michigan, Hamilton found the endzone for the first time in his young career, and Ohio State will have to keep tabs on him to prevent the receiver from adding to his body of work.
Hamilton has been the most consistent player on the Penn State offense this year, recording at least four catches and 50 yards receiving in each of his first six games. The freshman opened up his career with a monster game when Penn State played Central Florida in Dublin, grabbing 11 catches for 165 yards. The opener was the first game of three games so far this season that has seen Hamilton go for over 100 yards receiving.
The Buckeyes can't afford to commit all their attention to Hamilton though, as both Geno Lewis and Jesse James are capable of hurting the Buckeye secondary as well. Lewis has 32 receptions so far this season, and James is a big threat in the red zone with two receiving touchdowns this year. With the bye week that Penn State had last week, they are undoubtedly trying to find some creative ways to get the ball in Hamilton's hands to allow him to try and find some cracks in the secondary, but also know if Hamilton is unavaliable, to check down to Lewis or James.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 33, Penn State 6
Win Probability: Ohio State 86%
By the numbers, an easy Ohio State win is projected, but the game in Happy Valley on Saturday night might not be quite so simple. Penn State is a tough place to play, especially for a team as young as the Buckeyes. The crowd noise that Barrett and Ohio State will face could be enough to get into their heads and throw them out of their rhythm.
While the crowd noise and atmosphere is one aspect of the game, the talent and depth that Ohio State has over Penn State should be enough to propel them to their fourth straight victory. The recent form by Penn State's offense doesn't lead many to believe that they can keep pace with the high-octane Ohio State offense. If Penn State has any hopes of pulling the upset, they'll need a number of big plays from their defense to try and set their offense up in favorable situations.
Even if Penn State does happen to force some turnovers, the best defense to Ohio State's offense is to keep them off the field. But Penn State doesn't quite have the running game to be able to keep the Ohio State offense on the sidelines. With the tempo that the Buckeyes use on offense, they should be able to tire out the Penn State defense and exploit their lack of depth. With a win on Saturday night, the Buckeyes should continue their roll as they ready for Michigan State in two weeks.