With just four games on the B1G slate this week, PSU/OSU looks like the belle of the ball. Ohio State and Nebraska are the only nationally ranked teams in action, and Nebraska is in Minnesota. I wouldn't be shocked if that game turned out to be more competitive than our featured game, but hey, Penn State is exciting now that its last game played was a four-overtime thriller to take down a (traditional) conference heavyweight.
We could have also covered Northwestern vs. Iowa (just a four-point spread on that one!), but we've just about had enough of the disappointing Wildcats. On with the show.
Ted Glover says:
Ohio State is riding a 19 game winning streak, they're ranked fourth in the BCS, they have a high powered offense that can switch gears on a dime from old school smash mouth to track meet, and they're coached by a rock star who just happens to be one of the two or three best college coaches in America.
By contrast, Penn State has a freshman quarterback, with a second year coach who is going through his first stint as the top guy, leading a program that is handcuffed by NCAA sanctions that's fielding a defense that's middle of the road in just about every measurable statistic.
So why does this game worry me so much?
I don't know. The Buckeyes have improved by leaps and bounds on offense, and they're one of the most explosive offenses in the country. With Braxton Miller back at 100% against Iowa, he looked and played like the explosive, pre-season Heisman candidate we expected. On defense, at least statistically, everything points to the Buckeyes being from Lake Wobegon-strong, good looking and above average.
Yet, in a lot of ways, they don't pass the eye test. Other than the ‘throw-out-the-results-because-it-was-and-FCS-team' shutout against Florida A&M, the Buckeyes defense can either be run on, thrown on, or both, with a fair amount of regularity. In just about every game save the A&M one, Ohio State's defense has been average or below average for good parts of either the first half or second half. Buffalo moved the ball and made it close early, Cal pummeled the OSU secondary, as did Wisconsin. Yes, the Buckeyes stopped the Wisconsin ground game, but they let Joel Stave play pitch and catch with Jared Abbrederis all night long.
Northwestern did what they wanted, for the most part, for almost the entire game against the Buckeyes, and it seemed like the coaching staff was a step behind in making adjustments the whole night. Against Iowa, the Hawkeyes just lined up and played some old school, between the tackles running in the first half, and OSU couldn't stop it.
This week, they get a phenom freshman quarterback throwing to an All American wide receiver, and if recent results are any indication, Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson are going to have big nights. Ohio State must find a way to neutralize that connection. If they can, they should be able to control the game. Penn State can't run the ball effectively, but I have doubts as to whether or not OSU can just neutralize Robinson.
And other than Meyer, I think Bill O'Brien is the best coach in the conference, other than maybe Gary Andersen or Mark Dantonio. He has Penn State ready to play every week, and when you look across the sidelines, you know you'll face a team that's fundamentally sound, mentally prepared, and as well coached as anyone in the B1G.
That said, barring a turnover fest by the Buckeye offense, I'll take Braxton Miller vs. Christian Hackenberg at home seven days out of seven. I still like the Bucks to win, but I have a feeling this game will be another high wire act, and won't be decided until the final minutes.
Aaron Yorke says:
For Penn State to have a chance in this game, either C.J. Olaniyan has to repeat last week's career-best performance or Deion Barnes has to emerge from whatever doldrums are dogging him. If not, Penn State's mediocre pass rush will doom them to a pounding at the hands of the Buckeyes. The back seven just isn't good enough to slow down talented passing games.
Three weeks ago, Nate Sudfeld threw for 8.4 yards per pass attempt en route to a big Indiana win. Two weeks ago, Devin Gardner ripped the Lions for 8.6 yards per pass despite a pair of interceptions that helped the Lions jump out to an early lead. At least in those games Penn State was mildly successful at slowing down the opponent's rushing attack. The combination of Miller and Hyde should provide a unique challenge this week, and if the Lions can't slow them down, there will be some big holes open in the secondary.
At least Miller still isn't an expert at throwing the ball, but it will still be tough for PSU's corners to keep up with Philly Brown and Devin Smith unless they find a way to get pressure on the quarterback.
On offense, Hackenberg took a big step from the Indiana game to the Michigan game, and Allen Robinson is one of the best players I've ever seen take the field for PSU. However, Hackenberg still takes a while to get through his possessions, and a potent pass rush could force the ball out before its ready to be thrown. The freshman is also turnover prone, and he's still due for a handful of cringe-inducing passes each game. This isn't a game in which Penn State can afford to turn the ball over, so hopefully the Buckeyes will fail to take advantage.
Ohio State is favored by around 15 points in this game, but I see it as a 31-20 game. For the Lions to win, they must first slow down the Ohio State running game. That's a possibility from what we've seen out of the front seven so far. The hard part will be keeping Miller and the passing game in check, especially considering he can buy time with his legs. I'm not sure Penn State's pass rushers are athletic enough to keep up, and the team can't afford to leave its corners in coverage for very long.
Hackenberg will make some plays in this game, but hoping for a turnover-less performance at the Shoe is wishful thinking. He probably loses the ball two times, and that will be too much for the Lions to overcome.