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Why is this news? J.T. Barrett returning to form, Ohio State defense ready for Penn State

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The former Heisman hopeful looks to be back on track in his role as the Buckeyes' 'closer.'

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

"I think J.T. has gotten better every week. I think...maybe coming back from the injury and not going through spring, he was a little rusty."

- Ohio State QB coach Tim Beck, via Doug Lesmerises, Northeast Ohio Media Group

Perhaps a one-week sample size is too small to make any sweeping claims about J.T. Barrett's resurgence, but last week against Maryland, it certainly felt like last year's regular season hero was back. Barrett didn't win the starting job in camp, and in relief appearances for Cardale Jones during the opening weeks, he looked to be the antithesis of everything we came to know about him last year. Gone was the unflappable, efficient surgeon. In his place was someone clearly still trying to readjust to the demands of a high-powered offense after a major injury.

Still, last week felt like a glimpse at 2014 J.T. Barrett, the one who beat Michigan State with style and Penn State with guts. The Buckeyes have been miserable in the red zone all year, but by switching to Barrett from inside the 20, Urban Meyer may have found the cure for what ails the Ohio State offense. Barrett scored three times against a surprisingly feisty Maryland team.

Given how good the Buckeyes looked with Barrett under center in the final quarter of the field, one has to assume that Urban Meyer will be going back to that particular well against a stingy Penn State defense. The offense looked better than it has any week since the opener against Virginia Tech, and the defending champs have looked sorely in need of the kind of shot in the arm that Barrett was finally able to muster again in the red zone last week.

"I think if you're just talking about efficiency and production...I think you can make the argument that Carl Nassib is in a similar discussion [as Bosa]."

Penn State coach James Franklin, via FOXSports.com

Good as Joey Bosa has been since returning from his one-week suspension this season, this Saturday's opponent, Penn State, believes they have a pass-rusher that can go toe-to-toe with the likely top-10 draft pick. Carl Nassib, brother of New York Giants backup QB Ryan Nassib, is one of the standouts on a tough Nittany Lions defense. He also has the physical tools to look every bit as terrifying to opposing linemen as Bosa.

Nassib actually leads the country in sacks through six weeks, coming in at a robust 10. That's not great news for an Ohio State team that has seen up-and-down offensive line play, going hand-in-hand with shaky quarterbacking, for much of the season. Penn State has 25 sacks as a team. Given how awful the Nittany Lions have been at protecting their own quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, we may be in for some defensive fireworks on Saturday night. It's hard to imagine either team's quarterback(s) walking off with a clean jersey.

Last year's contest between OSU and PSU, of course, ended with Joey Bosa's infamous walk-off sack. Buckeye fans are certainly hoping for a repeat performance from their stalwart defensive end, who's still looking to start racking up the kind of numbers he had a year ago.

"Catching these guys with a strong finish is probably not in the cards."

Bob Flounders, PennLive.com

Depending who you talk to, Ohio State should be favored this Saturday by as much as 19 points (Vegas) or as few as three points (advanced metrics, courtesy of SBNation's Bill C.). Regardless, just about everybody expects the country's No. 1 team to claim a win against the visitors this week. So what would it take for Penn State to play spoiler to an Ohio State team that has let much worse teams hang around in games all year?

According to Bob Flounders of PennLive.com, there are four things that could swing the game in favor of the Nittany Lions. Perhaps the biggest of these is Penn State's ability to limit Ohio State's "chunk" plays, or plays that gain more than 20 yards. The Buckeyes mustered just one of these in last year's game -- for 21 yards -- and as a result, PSU was able to keep things close enough to force two overtimes. It will be a tall task, given Cardale Jones' cannon and Ezekiel Elliott's penchant for massive gains, but Penn State's defense might be up to the task.

Some other factors that might keep the Nittany Lions afloat include limiting the Ohio State pass rush, scoring early, and taking big chances when the opportunities present themselves. That first one will be a doozy for an offensive line that has been in shambles all year. The second might present more opportunities: the Buckeyes are statistically at their best in the third quarter, but have come out flat in just about every game so far. PSU might be able to take an early lead, though holding onto it would be a different matter entirely.


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