This game has been circled on the calendar for weeks, if not months, as both the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes and No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions will take to the field in Ohio Stadium as undefeated squads looking to remain in control of their own destiny for the Big Ten East title, Big Ten conference championship, and a College Football Playoff berth.
Despite their unblemished records, both teams enter the game with concerns, and earlier this week, we asked Ohio State fans which recent issue that they have seen from the Buckeyes was the one that they thought most needed to be addressed in order for their team to come out on top today.
While generally, I agree with the hive mind of these surveys, today, I do not. I believe that the key to victory against the Nits is in getting the defense off the field and making sure Kyle McCord and company have enough opportunities to make stuff happen.
See what your fellow Buckeye fans had to say in the results below, and feel free to share your opinions in the comments at the bottom of the page.
Question 1: What has to happen most for Ohio State to beat Penn State on Saturday?
With all due respect to the collective intelligence of Buckeye Nation, I disagree with the answer on this one. While being able to effectively run the ball would obviously be a huge benefit for the Buckeyes, I do not think that it is necessary. We have seen Ohio State compete with and beat top-caliber opponents with ineffective running games in the past, and that was often without a top-flight defense like the Buckeyes have this year.
The way to win football games is to score more points than your opponents, and while you technically don’t need to have the ball on offense to do that, it sure helps. On offense, Penn State is one of the least explosive teams in the country. They rank 129th (out of 133 teams) in FBS with just 16 plays all season of 20 yards or more, but that does not mean that their offense isn’t dominant.
The Nits are second nationally behind only Air Force with a time of possession of 34:35.83 per game. This means that PSU often goes on extended touchdown drives that eat up huge amounts of clock and tire out opposing defenses; for comparison, OSU’s time of possession is 99th nationally at 28:46.67.
The Buckeye defense has gotten better at stopping opponents on third down as the season has progressed, but they are still just 37th nationally, allowing a conversion on 34.07% of opportunities. The Nits, on the other hand, are converting 48.28% of their third down opportunities on offense.
So, in my mind, if the Buckeyes want to have enough plays to allow their offense to do what it needs to do to win, then I think it will be incredibly important for them to get off the field when they have the chance and not let Penn State extend drives with impunity all game long.
Question 2: What do you think will happen in the Ohio State and Penn State game?
Am I a homer? Yes. Am I ever going to go on record and pick against Ohio State in a game where they are not clearly the lesser team? Absolutely not, and even then, that seems unlikely.
Therefore, I have no fear in admitting that I am predicting what is likely a bit of an irresponsible score as I am going 31-17 in favor of the Buckeyes. I explained my rationale on this morning’s “Land-Grant Tailgate Podcast,” but essentially it comes down to the fact that we’ve been here before with the Nits. They start off a season strong and everyone around the country starts to think that this is finally the year that James Franklin’s team gets over the hump and legitimately competes for a Big Ten title and a CFP berth, only for them to crash and burn when the lights are brightest.
Will that happen again? I don’t know, maybe not. But, given how often it has happened over the years, it might be a little bit “fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.“ Franklin and the Nits are going to need to prove it to me before I start believing that they are capable of taking that long-awaited, always elusive next step.