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How can Ohio State upset Penn State? Start by controlling the trenches

Protection up front has been a problem in Happy Valley.

Nick Bosa (right)
Steven Branscombe

The undefeated Penn State Nittany Lions are riding a seven-game win-streak heading into their showdown with Ohio State.

And fresh off a big victory at home over Michigan, things are starting to set up nicely for James Franklin’s squad, who haven’t lost a regular season game since September of last year.

But for how good they’ve been, PSU is not without their own flaws.

So let’s look at where the Buckeyes can exploit the Nittany Lions Saturday afternoon.


Protection Issues

If you’ve watched Penn State play, it probably didn’t take you too long to figure out that they have serious issues along their offensive line.

The problematic unit has allowed 18 sacks this season and there have been numerous failed plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Last Saturday, though, PSU took control early and thumped Michigan and their top-ranked defense, 42-13. They scored six touchdowns and racked up 506 total yards of offense behind another stellar performance from Saquon Barkley.

Iowa actually found success in disrupting the PSU backfield in Week Four.

They held the Nittany Lions to 21 points and registered four sacks, 11 tackles for a loss, and five quarterback hurries despite giving up 579 offensive yards.

All of this isn’t to say the blame should only be lumped on the offensive line. PSU’s offense is so predicated on being in sync and on time, that even the slightest error can blow up a play.

The Nittany Lions still have a top-40 offense, a Heisman Trophy favorite in Barkley, and All-American candidates in Trace McSorley and Mike Gesicki. They’ve adapted every week and have overcome an inconsistent O-line.

Will their potent offense be able to do the same when faced with one of, if not the best defensive front in college football? We’ll have to wait and see.


Special Teams

Whether it’s been the kicking, protection by the line, or their new snapper and holder, Penn State’s field goal unit has had rough go of it in 2017.

Coming off a season in which he didn’t miss any field goals, kicker Tyler Davis is 6-of-13 on field goal tries this year. He’s yet to shank any extra points.

Similarly to the Nittany Lions’ offensive line, Davis isn’t solely to blame here.

PSU special teams coordinator Charles Huff offered some insight on what exactly has been going wrong, according to PennLive.

“Obviously from the outside eye, it's a struggle,” Huff said. “But internally, I see him at about the same spot he was at last year. Now you say, 'Well, he didn't miss any kicks last year.' OK, well he didn't miss any kicks, but you consider replacing the snapper, the holder and eliminate the blocked kicks, he's missed three on his own. Well I've seen him miss eight in practice before.”

It’ll be really interesting to see how well Davis and the field goal unit hold up on Saturday. They could be the difference between a win and a loss for PSU.


Conclusion

Penn State is one of the best teams in college football today.

They have a plethora of ways to beat you and sport some of the top players in the nation — not to mention a Heisman frontrunner. But every contender in the country has weaknesses.

PSU is no different.

A leaky O-line and an unreliable field goal unit definitely fall into the category of problems that’ll come back to haunt you, especially on the road at Ohio State.

The key for the Buckeyes is whether they’ll take advantage or not.

It’s hard not to like their odds of doing so.