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Brutally Honest To-Do List: What Ohio State needs to do in today’s Penn State game

It’s all about containing PSU’s only offensive weapon.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Oh how things have changed in the past month. At one point, Ohio State looked like they were in a rebuilding mode, struggling to stop even the most pedestrian of offenses, and even though they were putting up yards on offense, it was always a tenuous process.

On the other hand, Penn State was riding high as a top-five team, looking like they were the best defense in the country and a legitimate College Football Playoff contender.

However, fast forward to Halloween weekend and the Nittany Lions are coming off of back-to-back losses (with an off week sandwiched in between) and the Buckeyes are again looking like one of the best teams in the country, and perhaps the best offense in college football history.

So, as they square off tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC, I’ve got some suggestions to the Ohio State coaching staff for how to make the lost out of this game. What do you think that the buckeyes need to do tonight? Let me know in the comments below.

Give Denzel Burke Some Help on Jahan Dotson

Coming into the season, there were some serious concerns about the Ohio State secondary, and when we learned that starting cornerbacks Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown were going to be out for the season opener, things looked especially grim. However, true-freshman Denzel Burke has stepped up and filled the holes created by the oft-injured CBs more than admirably. He hasn’t been perfect this season, but he has been very good and has improved every week. No doubt that part of that improvement has been because of his confidence.

That confidence was on full display this week when discussing his assignment of guarding PSU’s electric receiver Jahan Dotson. Of Dotson, Burke said, “He’s a pretty good receiver ... Nothing I can’t handle, though.”

That comment raised some eyebrows across the college football world (and I’m sure in Happy Valley), as the DB who is only halfway through his first season of collegiate football was talking about a receiver who wracked up 144 yards and three touchdowns while being guarded by Shaun Wade in this matchup last season.

No matter how good Burke is tonight against Dotson, it is inevitable that the receiver (perhaps the best in the Big Ten who’s not on Ohio State’s roster) is going to beat the freshman defender on at least a handful of plays. So, while I love Burke’s confidence and swagger — something that No. 1 corners absolutely must have — OSU defensive coaches Matt Barnes and Kerry Coombs will need to figure out how to give Burke some backup, especially in obvious passing plays.

Whether that is rolling out some Cover 2 in order to provide some extra support on the backend, or even bracketing Dotson if need be, I don’t know that Burke is ready to be completely out on an island against an elite college football receiver.

Burke is very good, but Dotson is better and more experienced. He is also the only legitimate weapon that Penn State has on offense, so it would behoove the Buckeyes to pay extra close attention to him at all times.

Keep Clifford Contained

Look, I know that many of you out there are animal lovers, but an abnormally red-colored dog with a pituitary problem has no business on the football field <puts finger to ear>. Oh, I’m sorry, I have just been informed that Penn State’s quarterback is Sean Clifford, not Clifford the Big Red Dog. I apologize for the mistake, I am borrowing Tim Brando’s notes to write this article.

Ohio State’s defense has been remarkably solid against admittedly sub-par offensive competition over the past month. But, if there is a historic kryptonite for any Buckeye defense, it is a mobile quarterback. Now, Clifford is not exactly Braxton Miller or even really Trace McSorley, but he does have the ability to make plays with his legs, especially when the pocket collapses on passing plays.

The Nits’ QB has three games this season in which he ran for more than 5.8 yards per carry, including having three rushes for 36 yards in the loss to Iowa earlier this month. In his career, he has nine games in which he rushed for 50 yards or more. Again, not mind-boggling numbers, but if this somehow turns into a close game, Clifford’s ability to scramble could be the difference.

Last week, as Indiana was playing musical quarterbacks, anytime one of the Hoosiers’ more run-friendly QBs was in the game, the Ohio State defense brought in Craig Young to be a spy. Young — who I think should be much more involved in the OSU linebacker/bullet rotation anyway — is incredibly athletic and has the speed and tackling ability to keep up with anybody. Should the game require it, Young could be the eraser that prevents the quarterback from keeping the Nits in contention.

Leave No Doubt

This has been a recurring theme in these columns over the past few weeks, especially as the Buckeyes faced off against over-matched competition — as they are again today. With the first College Football Playoff rankings being announced on Tuesday, Ryan Day and company should do everything in their power to ensure that they leave the best impression on the college football world, who will undoubtedly be tuning into ABC in just a few hours.

Despite the back-to-back losses against bad teams, people still think that Penn State has at least a solid defense. So, if OSU can put up 40+ points tonight (as I predict that they will) that will go a long way to showing just how historic their offense is.

Unfortunately for OSU, they aren’t going to play a top-flight offense until they face off against a non-B1G squad, so there is likely to always be at least a shadow of doubt over how good the defense is — especially because even the two most competent offenses in the conference (the ones from the Mitten State) are run-based, which is not what the Buckeyes would be up against if they made the CFP.

So, I think Day needs to keep C.J. Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson, and the wide receiving corps in the game until they are up by at least four touchdowns, and even then, I would let Kyle McCord get some time with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, even though I would rotate in Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr., and others a bit more freely.

On defense, I would recommend doing something similar, let the starters go practically the whole way, but loosen up the rotation a little in order to get some second and third-teamers a bit more time.

The thing is, there are only four games left in the regular season, it is time for Ohio State to show who they truly are, and if that is anywhere near how they have been playing for the past four games, that is really freaking good. It’s time to prove it, boys.