Ohio State’s biggest home game of the 2023 takes place on Saturday when the Buckeyes host Penn State. Ryan Day’s team is coming off an easy 41-7 win in West Lafayette over Purdue where Ohio State was in charge from start to finish.
A highly entertaining series
This week figures to present a stiffer challenge for the Buckeyes. In the series with Penn State, 35 percent of the matchups between the teams have been decided by a touchdown or less. This game marks the seventh consecutive meeting where both teams enter the contest ranked, and it is the 24th time in 39 all-time games.
Since the 2020 game against Michigan was cancelled, the 31 straight seasons the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes have met make the series with Penn State the longest consecutive active series, at least until 2025 when the teams aren’t scheduled to meet in Big Ten play.
Last year’s game in State College featured a classic performance from Ohio State’s J.T. Tuimoloau. The defensive end created four turnovers in the game, forcing a fumble, tipping a pass that led to an interception, and picking off two passes, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Tuimoloau also had two sacks in the game, which will go down as one of the greatest individual defensive performances in a game in college football history.
Not only did Tuimoloau have a game for the ages, there was a couple of other amazing feats in last year’s 44-31 thriller. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. caught 10 passes in the game, with all his catches resulting in first downs. The teams combined to score 45 points in the final quarter after scoring just 30 points in the first three quarters.
Finding their groove
Marvin Harrison Jr. continued to work his way up the Ohio State record books after catching six passes for 105 yards and a score against Purdue. Not only did Harrison record his fourth 100-yard game of the season, he is now tied with Chris Olave for second-most 100-yard receiving games in history, just three away tying David Boston’s school record of 14 100-yard receiving games. The junior also became the 12th Buckeye to reach 2,000 career receiving yards.
With Emeka Egbuka on the sidelines due to injury, tight end Cade Stover was an even bigger part of the passing offense last week. Stover finished with four catches for 53 yards, finding the end zone twice against the Boilermakers. Now Stover is two catches shy of tying Bruce Jankowski for fifth all-time amongst Buckeye tight ends. Stover is second on the team with 23 catches and 359 yards.
An area where Ohio State was thin heading into the game last week was at running back. Not only did TreVeyon Henderson miss his second consecutive game, Miyan Williams also was unavailable for the game due to injury. Then early in the game Chip Trayanum was injured, leading Dallan Hayden to shoulder most of the running load not long after head coach Ryan Day said the play for Hayden was to use the running back’s redshirt this season.
Last week Kyle McCord continued his strong play, throwing for 276 yards and three touchdowns in the rout of Purdue. While McCord has cemented himself as the starting quarterback of the Buckeyes, Ryan Day threw a wrinkle into the offense when he introduced backup quarterback Devin Brown into a red zone package. Brown ran for a two-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, and would have had a second score had he not fumbled the football as he was heading into the end zone in the second quarter. The biggest impact of Brown taking some red zone snaps is it gives Penn State a new look to prepare for.
JTT & friends on defense
Not only has J.T. Tuimoloau has been playing better of late, last week Jack Sawyer recorded his first sack of the season, as he was credited with a sack and a half against the Boilermakers, Tuimoloau matched Sawyer’s sack output, registering a sack and a half for the second consecutive game. Tuimoloau now has three sacks on the season, which is a team-high. Tyleik Williams is the leading tackler on the defensive line, with the defensive tackle being credited with 27 tackles through six games.
Tuimoloau, Sawyer, Williams, and the rest of the defensive line are going to have to work hard to create pressure on Saturday since they’ll be going up against a Penn State offensive line that has allowed just four sacks this year. The most impressive offensive line Ohio State will have to try and solve is left tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu, who has yet to allow a sack so far this season. Redshirt senior Caeden Wallace will man the other tackle spot, while 34-game starter Hunter Nourzad is the center for the Nittany Lions.
Ohio State’s secondary continued their dominant play last week, only allowing Purdue to complete 14 of 35 pass attempts. Cornerback Denzel Burke leads the Big Ten with nine pass breakups, and his 25 career PBUs is currently tied with Shawn Springs for sixth-most in school history. Jordan Hancock and Davison Igbinosun have done a great job in trying to match what Burke has been doing, while Josh Proctor, Sonny Styles, and Lathan Ransom have been making waves at safety.
At linebacker, Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers have a lock on the starting positions, but Cody Simon has been making an impact over the weeks. Last week Simon tied for the team lead in the win of Purdue, with both linebackers making eight tackles. The senior is now just 11 tackles from tying his total from 2022 of 32 tackles. The play of Simon also has kept highly touted linebacker C.J. Hicks off the field after it was assumed heading into the season that Hicks would play a bigger role than he has so far this year.
Penn State so far this year
While going on the road and beating Notre Dame was a huge win for Ohio State, the Buckeyes are going to face an even bigger challenge when they take on Penn State on Saturday. The Nittany Lions have set a school record with each of their 11 straight wins being by a least 14 points. The Nittany Lions also have scored 30 points in 13 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the country.
Last week Penn State had no problem in their game against UMass, beating the Minutemen 63-0 in State College. The win mark the second time the Nittany Lions have scored 63 points in a game this year, as they also reached that mark in their win over Delaware. The win last Saturday was highlighted by Daequan Hardy, who became the first Penn State player to return two punts in a game for touchdowns.
The Nittany Lions on offense
Leading the Penn State offense is quarterback Drew Allar, who has been even better than advertised. The Ohio product is not only the only quarterback in the country with at least 150 pass attempts and no interceptions, he is the first Big Ten quarterback since 2000 to attempt at least 180 passes and not throw an interception. Dating back to last year’s game against Maryland, Penn State quarterbacks haven’t thrown an interception over the last 10 games.
Along with what Allar gives the Nittany Lions throwing the football, Penn State also has a trio of impressive running backs. Kaytron Allen, Nicholas Singleton, and Minnesota transfer Trey Potts all have at least 1,200 career rushing yards. Allen is currently the team’s leading rusher, rolling up 375 yards this year. Singleton sits just 13 yards behind Allen, and is leading the Nittany Lions with six rushing touchdowns so far this season. The running game has been a huge reason why Penn State is second in the country with an average time of possession of 34:36. In the shutout of Iowa, the Nittany Lions held onto the football for 45:27.
Every year it feels like Penn State has a receiver that picks apart the Ohio State secondary. The leading candidate to do that this year is KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who has caught 31 passes for 402 yards and three touchdowns so far this year. Lambert-Smith is the only Penn State receiver with multiple catches of at least 80 yards.
Partnering with Lambert-Smith is Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren, who each have 16 catches so far this season. Warren has been a prime target of Allar when Penn State nears the end zone, as he has hauled in five touchdown passes this year. A sleeper candidate to make some plays on Saturday could be Kent State transfer Dante Cephas, who has yet to make much of an impact after joining the Nittany Lions in the transfer portal.
A roaring Penn State defense
Unlike Ohio State, Penn State hasn’t had much trouble generating pressure so far this season. The Nittany Lions have 19 players that have made at least one tackle for loss this season, and 15 players that have recorded at least one sack so far this year. As a team, Penn State has 27 sacks through six games. Leading the team is sacks is defensive end Adisa Isaac, who has five sacks this season. Lining up on the other end of the defensive line will be Chop Robinson.
In the backend of the defense, Penn State has a pair of Kings that will be all over the field. Hybrid defender Kobe King has four tackles for loss this season and a forced fumble, while cornerback Kalen King has 11 tackles and a pass breakup. Rounding out the secondary will be safeties Jaylen Reed, Kevin Winston, and cornerback Johnny Dixon. Daequan Hardy also has two interceptions this season and should see some time at corner during the game.
Since the Nittany Lions are so good at holding onto the football, the tackle totals for the linebackers aren’t nearly as high as what has been seen from Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers. Curtis Jacobs leads the team with 23 tackles, while also registering three tackles for loss. Dominic Deluca is tied for second with 16 tackles, and has an interception, two forced fumbles, and three pass breakups in the season’s first six games. Abdul Carter is also a linebacker the Buckeyes will have to keep tabs on in Saturday’s contest.
Saturday’s game has the feel of being another game between Ohio State and Penn State that comes down to the wire. Both teams have questions heading into the game. The Buckeyes are dealing with injuries to TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, and Emeka Egbuka. Luckily Ohio State has depth at both positions which has allowed them to deal with injuries at some of their key positions over the last few seasons.
The Nittany Lions will be facing their first true test of the season. The toughest teams Penn State have played this year have been West Virginia and Iowa, with both of those games coming at home. While the Hawkeyes have a tremendous defense, they have one of the worst offenses that college football has ever seen. Saturday’s game against Ohio State will show whether the Nittany Lions are for real, or if a good amount of their success this year has because they have been playing lesser competition.
To win on Saturday, Ohio State is going to have to do something that nobody has been able to do so far this year. Rattle Penn State quarterback Drew Allar. This will be the first true road game Allar has had to try and navigate, since games at Illinois and Northwestern didn’t have anywhere close to the hostile environment that he will see in Columbus on Saturday. If the Buckeyes are able to force Allar into throwing an interception early, it will be interesting to see how the QB responds to throwing his first pick of the season.
This showdown is going to come down to the trenches. Last year J.T. Tuimoloau was the difference since he was able to put constant pressure on quarterback Sean Clifford. It will be tough for the Buckeyes to put pressure on Allar since the Penn State offensive line is so good, but it’s not impossible. A key for Ohio State will be if Jack Sawyer can build on his performance from last week, since Tuimoloau will certainly receive a lot of attention.
On the other side, Ohio State’s offensive line will have to be at their best on Saturday, since the Nittany Lions have been able to create pressure from all angles so far this season. If the Buckeyes can give Kyle McCord time to evaluate his options, or the running backs some holes to run through, it greatly improve Ohio State’s chance of winning this battle of undefeated teams.