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Three Things To Watch vs. Penn State

Could be another nailbiter between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

National television audience. A de facto Big Ten East Division elimination game. Ticket prices are exorbitant. The weather is predicted to be in the mid-50 degree range, with rain off and on in the forecast. Both teams are ranked highly. What else could you want as an Ohio State fan?

How about for key players on both sides of the ball to be healthy and able to play? We can address that one more in a little bit.

The Penn State Nittany Lions come into Ohio Stadium undefeated, and ranked seventh in the country. Penn State has had two previous road games this season, at Illinois (Penn State won 30-13) on Sept. 16, and at Northwestern (Penn State won 41-13) on Sept. 30, but the Nittany Lions have not yet played on the road against a ranked opponent.

This game will serve as a sort of homecoming for Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and Penn State quarterback Drew Allar. Yurcich grew up in Euclid, Ohio, and was on the Ohio State coaching staff in 2019 under Ryan Day as the Ohio State passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Allar grew up in Medina, Ohio, and was an All-State selection at quarterback. If not for Ohio State having current Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers on the roster in 2021, it is not far-fetched that Allar may have become a Buckeye.

Penn State has not won in Ohio Stadium since 2011, but have come so very close in 2017 (39-38) and 2021 (33-24) to doing it again under the leadership of James Franklin. For Penn State to emerge on the national scene as a college football playoff contender, beating Ohio State on the road would help with that narrative.

Below are Three Things To Watch Versus Penn State, when the ball kicks off on FOX at 12:00 p.m. ET. For those of you going, make sure you check out the weather forecast, as it could be rainy.

  1. Can Ohio State slow down the Penn State running game?

The aforementioned Allar is a talented passer, but he is aided tremendously with two strong running backs in Kaytron Allen (375 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, three touchdowns) and Nicholas Singleton (362 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, six touchdowns). Look for Ohio State to try to limit the Penn State running game, putting the Nittany Lions in longer yardage situations. Tyleik Williams has been having a strong season for the Buckeyes along the interior defensive line, and will need to help clog up any running lanes against the Nittany Lions.

2. Is Cade Stover going to be a factor?

The Ohio State passing game, led by superstar WR Marvin Harrison Jr., is the strength of the Buckeyes’ offense. Penn State’s defense is arguably the nation’s best, and yards will be tough to gain through the air and on the ground. Emeka Egbuka did not play last week at Purdue, and may be limited in his effectiveness. If Harrison is being double-covered, and Egbuka limited, could this open up things for Cade Stover underneath in the short to intermediate routes for Kyle McCord? If ever there was a game for “Farmer Gronk” to emerge, this could be it.

3. Field position is not to be underrated

As I wrote up above, it could be wet and rainy. Ohio State special teams coach Parker Fleming has been heavily scrutinized for his unit’s inconsistent performances, and the special teams may need to come up big in this one. Punter Jesse Mirco is averaging 43 yards per punt, and may want to even punt out of bounds, considering Penn State’s Daequan Hardy returned two punts for touchdowns last week versus UMass.

As for PK Jayden Fielding, he is 7-for-7 on field goals attempts, with only a missed extra point last week at Purdue. It is my suspicion that points are going to be tough to come by against the Nittany Lions, and Fielding may be called upon to put points on the board for the Buckeyes throughout this game.

My belief is that this game is going to be a tough, defensive, low-scoring affair, similar to what Ohio State had on the road at Notre Dame. It remains to be seen if the weather is going to play a factor. If this game was at Penn State, I would probably be picking the Nittany Lions to win it, and I may be regretting predicting such a relatively high score, but I have it Ohio State 28, Penn State 24.