“Typically, a game like this is defined by the road underdog. What can that team do to puncture the home team’s shield? How can it steal some easy points and put pressure on the favorite?
Really, though, this game is more about the home favorites.”
-Bill Connelly, SB Nation
There have been a lot of questions surrounding Ohio State’s improvement over the past five weeks, and whether things have actually gotten better, or if it was all a result of a lower level of competition. All of those questions will be answered on Saturday when No. 2 Penn State comes to town, and the Buckeyes face one of the country’s best all-around team.
Despite the slow start to the year, it’s quickly turning into a recreation of the 2014 National Championship season for Ohio State. This year, like back then, the Buckeyes faced a Week 2 loss at home under the lights, only to turn on the burners to finish out the year on the upswing heading into one of the greatest wins in Ohio State history against Nick Saban’s Alabama.
The Buckeyes have been sitting at the No. 1 spot in Connelly’s weekly S&P+ rankings for the past few weeks, with them being the most well-rounded and complete team in the country -- on paper. Whether or not that translates into a win on Saturday is yet to be seen, but they’ve at least got all of the weapons to prove once and for all whether or not they are still the best in the Big Ten.
“Opposing coaches have noted that Barrett has lingered less on his first read, moving to his second and third read quicker the past handful of games. They attribute that to both tempo and an evolution in Ohio State’s pass game, with multiple coaches using the word “clean” to describe it.”
-Pete Thamel, Yahoo! Sports
Heading into one of the most anticipated games of the 2017 college football season, Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports spoke to head coaches and coordinators throughout the country to get their input on the matchup. More times than not, the conversations quickly turned to QB J.T. Barrett and how he manages the game, his improvement over the past few weeks, and some of his known tendencies.
Thamel’s piece was a list of the top-10 keys to the Penn State-Ohio State game this weekend, and it quickly became evident that the biggest key for the Buckeyes would be Barrett. If he can find success early on in the contest, and if his receivers can continue their hot streak, the Ohio State offense should have no problem matching Saquon Barkley and the Nittany Lions point for point.
“It's a huge game at Ohio Stadium and another chapter in a rivalry that heated up when the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993. Ohio State leads the series 17-14, and this marks the seventh top-10 showdown between the Big Ten East rivals.”
-Bill Bender, Sporting News
It might not carry the same weight as the rivalry against That Team Up North, but Penn State is quickly becoming the second most important rival for the Buckeyes. With six meetings before Saturday as top 10 teams, the Nittany Lions have consistently put up a challenge for Ohio State, and has ruined enough post-season opportunities to make Buckeye fans mad for years.
The rivalry has certainly be turned up a notch over the past couple of seasons, with last year serving as a tipping point. After losing thanks to two special team plays aided Penn State en route to 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions earned their spot in the Big Ten title game only to watch the Buckeyes take their spot in the College Football Playoff. If anything, Ohio State ended up having to play one less game and risk fewer injuries on their way to a playoff run... not that it helped.
This year’s matchup will only fan the rivalry flames. Sitting at No. 2 and No. 6 respectively, the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes are very much fighting for the same things as last year. To the victor on Saturday goes the (likely) Big Ten East title and a clear path into the CFP.
One thing’s for sure, James Franklin won’t be leaving Columbus comparing the team to Akron.
“It could be argued that’s what is needed to be a truly complete offense in this era, a tight end that helps the running game and the passing game by blocking with the line and taking part in pass protection, not to mention running routes as a credible receiver.”
-Time May, Columbus Dispatch
Tight ends haven’t typically seen many touches in Urban Meyer’s offense, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been critical to that side of the ball. Over the years, Meyer’s TEs have grown into superb blockers while seeing a limited number of targets.
Penn State on the other hand, boasts one of the largest tight ends in the country and uses him to completely dominate DBs down field, serving as one of QB Trace McSorley’s top targets. The Buckeyes have Marcus Baugh and Rashod Berry, who have had their share of success this year, but the stat lines between teams look completely different.
This, however, doesn’t make either more or less important to their teams. Since the inception of the College Football Playoff, teams who have found success, did so behind their tight end talent. In 2014, the Buckeyes had Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, Alabama had O.J. Howard in 2015 and Clemson featured Jordan Leggett in 2016.
As some of the other skill positions on offense get more of the spotlight, it’s the tight end position that continues to grow in importance regardless of how they’re utilized.
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