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Ohio State vs. Penn State 2017: Game preview, prediction, and 6 things to know

Ohio State will be fighting to stay in the College Football Playoff race on Saturday afternoon when they host Penn State.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Following their loss to Oklahoma in early September, Ohio State has handily won five straight games. Fresh off their bye week, Ohio State welcomes Penn State to Ohio Stadium for Saturday afternoon’s contest, and the Buckeyes have revenge on their minds.

Last year Ohio State was undefeated when they made the trip to Happy Valley to take on the Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes looked to be in good shape to stay undefeated when they entered the fourth quarter with a 21-7 lead. Ohio State wasn’t able to hand Penn State their third loss of the season though, as the Nittany Lions scored the final 17 points of the game to pull off the upset. The game-winner for Penn State came with just under five minutes remaining, when Grant Haley returned a block field goal 60 yards for a touchdown.

Last year Penn State came into their matchup against the Buckeyes off their bye week, and the Nittany Lions put their time off to good use, by formulating a game plan that resulted in the upset of the Buckeyes. This year Ohio State is the team coming off a bye week, and Urban Meyer is 45-4 when he has more than a week to prepare for his opponent.

With the week off, Ohio State was able to watch last Saturday night as Penn State hosted Michigan in State College. The Nittany Lions impressed, scoring 28 unanswered points in the 42-13 victory over the Wolverines. Penn State was able to add to Michigan’s woes on offense, holding the Wolverines to just 269 yards in the win. Saquon Barkley continued to add to his stellar season, rushing for two touchdowns and catching a third.

The bye week came at just the right time for Ohio State, as they probably need the full two weeks to solve a Penn State defense that is allowing just 9.6 points per game, which is the best in the country. The Nittany Lions have already recorded two shutouts this year, and they have yet to allow an opponent to score 20 points. Seniors Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen lead the Penn State defense. Cabinda leads the team with 53 tackles this year, while Allen is just 10 tackles away from 300 for his career in State College.

Ohio State is going to have their work cut out for them running the football, as Taz Bateman is the only opponent Penn State has allowed to eclipse 100 yards on the ground this year. The Georgia State running back needed 29 carries to hit the 100-yard mark. The Buckeyes are going to have to continue to get strong play from their offensive line if they want to get J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber in a rhythm early, so the running game could possibly relieve some pressure the Nittany Lions will throw at quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Ohio State’s biggest advantages

Brimming with confidence. Say what you will about the competition Ohio State has faced over the past five games, but the Buckeyes have done what has been expected of them since their loss to Oklahoma. During the five-game win streak, Ohio State has racked up at least 500 yards of total offense in each game, marking the first time in school history they have eclipsed 500 yards in five straight games.

Ohio State has scored at least 50 points in each of the last four games, and now have scored at least 50 points 23 times under Urban Meyer. Many of those touchdowns have come from the arm of J.T. Barrett, who has thrown for 18 touchdowns during the five-game win streak. The next touchdown Barrett throws will break a tie with Drew Brees for the most touchdown passes in Big Ten history. Currently Brees and Barrett both have 90 career touchdown passes.

Unlike last year when Ohio State’s wide receivers struggled with consistency, this year Barrett has been getting many of his teammates involved in the passing game. So far this year Ohio State has eight players who have caught at least 10 passes, nine players who have amassed at least 100 yards receiving during the year, and 10 players who have caught at least one touchdown pass. The variety of weapons Barrett has to choose from could be the difference against a Penn State defense that hasn’t seen a passing game so far this year as dynamic as what they’ll see from the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Tough nut to crack. Following the first two games of the season, Ohio State’s defense was under fire for their lackluster performance. Since losing to Oklahoma, Ohio State has allowed just 56 points, and only 42 of those can be pinned on the defense, as one of UNLV’s touchdowns was an interception return, and Maryland returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

Ohio State has been especially stingy on defense when opponents have found their way inside the red zone. Opponents have gotten inside Ohio State’s 20-yard line 17 times this year, but the Buckeyes have only given up 10 touchdowns, which is sixth-best in the nation.

Ohio State’s strong defensive line can be given a lot of credit for setting the tone for the rest of the defense with the pressure and penetration they have been able to create. Nick Bosa has been even better than advertised in his sophomore season, as he leads the team with 10 tackles for loss. Ohio State will need another strong outing from Bosa and his mates on the defensive line, as they’ll have a tough task in trying to slow down Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley.

Revenge on their mind. While it is never hard for Ohio State to get up for a game against Penn State, the result of last year’s game has the Buckeyes itching for another crack at the Nittany Lions. Ohio State dominated last year’s contest in State College pretty much everywhere except on the scoreboard. The Buckeyes outgained Penn State by over 130 yards and possessed the football for nearly 15 minutes more than the Nittany Lions, only to see the game decided by a fluky blocked field goal for a touchdown.

Saturday’s game will mark the eighth time in which both teams enter the game ranked inside the top 10, with Ohio State winning four of the seven previous matchups. The Ohio State faithful are hoping the result will be a little different than the last time these two teams met in Columbus with both ranked in the top 10. In 2008, Penn State entered the game ranked third in the country, while Ohio State was ranked 10th. The Nittany Lions were able to grit out a 13-6 win over the Buckeyes.

The atmosphere for Saturday’s game will be a little different, as for the first time since Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State, the game between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will kickoff before 5:30 p.m. ET. Even with the earlier start, as well as some possible cold and rainy weather in the forecast, it doesn’t mean the crowd inside Ohio Stadium will be any less juiced. Penn State had some issues on the road at Iowa, committing a season-high eight penalties, so any noise from the Buckeye crowd that could throw the Nittany Lions off their game would be an added bonus.

Penn State’s biggest advantages

The real deal. Saquon Barkley has been the most electrifying player in college football so far this year. The junior is one of the front runners for the Heisman Trophy, and it’s not hard to see why. Last week Barkley set the tone for the win over Michigan with a 69-yard touchdown run on just the second play of the game, and then followed it up with a 15-yard touchdown run just a few minutes later. The 14-0 deficit was something the Wolverines weren’t able to overcome.

The running back is a threat both on the ground, and through the air, as he is averaging 108 yards rushing per game, along with 64 yards receiving per game. If that wasn’t enough for opponents to try and stop, Barkley has returned a kickoff for a touchdown this year, and he also threw for a touchdown against Indiana. The 211 all-purpose yards Barkley is averaging per game leads the nation.

Barkley is the first Penn State player, and just the fourth player in Big Ten history to rush for 3,000 yards and rack up 1,000 receiving yards in his career. If those stats weren’t impressive enough, Barkley is the first junior to accomplish the feat. Barkley’s ability to hurt defense not only on the ground, but also in the passing game is what powers Penn State’s offense, because with the added attention Barkley demands, it can free up some of the other playmakers the Nittany Lions have on offense.

Trace MoxieSorley. Penn State has to feel like they hit the jackpot for the job Trace McSorley has done in replacing Christian Hackenberg. The senior has thrown at least one touchdown in 22 straight games, and his 45 passing touchdowns are just three shy of tying the school record.

What the senior quarterback has that not many other quarterbacks in the country have is no fear. On the final play of the game with the Nittany Lions trailing at Iowa earlier this year, McSorley zipped a seven-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson to give Penn State a 21-19 win.

What makes McSorley even harder to defend is he does have the ability to make some plays with his legs when needed. To go along with the 14 touchdowns he has thrown this year, McSorley has also added seven rushing touchdowns. Ohio State has to be careful not to over pursue and allow McSorley to break contain and keep drives alive with his legs.

Even though Ohio State lost to Penn State last year, they did a good job for the most part in holding McSorley in check. The quarterback completed just eight of his 23 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown, and added 63 yards and a touchdown on the ground. If Ohio State can hold McSorley to similar numbers and maybe add in a couple turnovers, they’ll have a good shot at taking down the Nittany Lions.

Send ‘em home early. Last year Penn State was an exciting team to watch, especially at the end of the year, but some of that was because they were able to dig themselves out of some early deficits. In the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game, the Nittany Lions found themselves behind Wisconsin 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, and by halftime it was 28-14 in the Badgers favor. Penn State was able to come back and beat Wisconsin to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl, where they fell behind USC 13-0 after 15 minutes of play.

The Nittany Lions have learned from some of their mistakes from last year, and are starting games a lot stronger. So far this year the Nittany Lions are outscoring opponents 90-0 in the first quarter. It’s no coincidence that Penn State has won every game except for one by double figures.

Along with jumping out to an early lead, Penn State is also not beating themselves. This year the Nittany Lions are averaging just 3.57 penalties per game, which is second-best in the country. The only game where Penn State committed more than five penalties this year came against Iowa, where the Nittany Lions committed eight infractions for 90 yards. If the crowd noise inside Ohio Stadium doesn’t throw the Nittany Lions off their game, it’ll make an already tough task in beating Penn State that much harder.

Summary

F/+ Projection: Ohio State 33, Penn State 24

Win Probability: Ohio State 71.1%

By the numbers this will be a hard-fought game, with both defenses struggling after feasting for most of the season on subpar competition. Ohio State should be able to find a few more holes with the arm of J.T. Barrett, along with the legs of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber in this contest.

While Penn State will have some trouble slowing Barrett, Dobbins, and Weber, Ohio State’s tough defense will have a more success slowing what Barkley and McSorley will bring to the table. The Buckeye defensive line is a game changer with the pressure they can create.

Despite what happened to Ohio State last year in State College with the blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown, it’s a little easier to trust Ohio State’s special teams in a close game. Penn State kicker Tyler Davis has hit just six of his 13 field goal attempts this year, and has missed all four of his attempts from 30-39 yards.

This game should be an entertaining one, as it’ll mix in the Big Ten toughness of years past, along with some of the new-age offenses. The colder temperatures and possible rain could add to the Big Ten feel. The Buckeyes find a way to stay in the playoff picture as they snap Penn State’s 15-game regular season winning streak.

How to watch, stream, listen to Penn State v. Ohio State:

Game time: Saturday, Oct. 28th, 3:30 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Streaming: FOX Sports Go

Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM

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