I don’t know if you’ve heard, but while there are 12 pretty trashy teams in the Big Ten, there are two teams that might actually be national title contenders! And they play one another this weekend!
Yes, this Saturday afternoon the Ohio State Buckeyes will play host to the Penn State Nittany Lions in the rematch of a game you all have spent the last 12 months arguing about. Now, with a virtually-clear path to the College Football Playoff pending the result of this game, the winner will vault themselves into national title talk.
We kept this pretty simple*: I asked all four of our writers from either Penn State or Ohio State to help me preview the showdown between the second-ranked Nittany Lions and sixth-ranked Buckeyes.
*Simple minus my inability to share a Google doc correctly like a fucking adult. Sorry about that, guys.
Give us a general overview of how you're feeling about this game. Obviously it's revenge to Ohio State and proving yourself once and all for Penn State, but--besides being a virtual College Football Playoff play-in--does this game take on added meaning for you?
James Snyder: Well, all the pundits are predicting a Penn State pummeling, which makes me particularly pensive.
Aaron Yorke: This game is all about showing the Buckeyes who’s boss. James Franklin didn’t come to the Big Ten to finish a respectable third behind Urban Meyer and JIm Harbaugh every year. He came to prove that he’s one of the top coaches in college football. He took one step towards that goal with a decisive victory over Michigan last week, and now he’s got his eyes set on the Buckeyes and a game he’s seemed destined to lose ever since the Lions escaped with a narrow victory at Beaver Stadium last season. Beating Meyer and an experienced quarterback like J.T. Barrett in Columbus would be the best win of Franklin’s career and proof that these Lions are legitimate national title contenders.
GF3: The game? Who knows. It’s not going to be pretty. I figure the worst possible outcome is a big PSU win because it will validate all the fapping over a coach who still has no real track record to validate his internal hype, and the frothing masses will view one victory over OSU due to gameplan and coaching (not perfect bounces and uncalled PI) as incontrovertible evidence of their juvenile scumbag coach’s guaranteed greatness. I do chuckle at the PSU Human Centipede’s pre-emptive “REFS! Cheated us!” campaign on Twitter this week.
Let's talk when Ohio State has the ball. Penn State is allowing under 4 yards per play and has the 9th-best (total) defense in the nation, but the Buckeyes bring a 6.0 ypc average and an elite rushing QB to the mix, the latter of which the Lions haven't had to deal with. Who wins this side of the ball and why?
JS: I expect Penn State to load the box and force Ohio State to beat them through the air. JT Barrett has struggled in big B1G games, especially when the weather is bad. I am sitting about 10 minutes from the stadium and it’s freezing. I don’t think anyone is just going to line up and smash it down Penn State’s throat, so Barrett is the key. While I don’t expect him to have a career day, I do think Barrett will have a good enough game to score 28.
GF3: Everything OSU’s offense has seen in the past 4 weeks has been preparation for Penn State. Teams have decided that Barrett couldn’t beat them with his arm and tried to stack the box. Pry is going to stick with his preferred defensive set, which is a 4-3 over, and will look to stick a man in every run gap (that’s 8 for those of you keeping count). Penn State’s D-line is good, not great. Their best role is to soak up blockers so the linebackers are free to crash down on runs or keep speed to the edges. They do a very good job of this, and it highlights the linebackers’ talent margin over the D-line. This will only be exacerbated by OSU starting Demetrius Knox at guard in place of the injured Bowen. OSU will need to make good use of the TE and HB in blocking schemes to negate some of that mismatch. Most experts are expecting quarters or Cover 3 out PSU so the safety can play a big role in run support when needed (which will be often).
Aaron: Barrett has had trouble passing the ball against Penn State in the past, so I agree with Jimmy about Penn State loading the box. The difference in this game could be J.K. Dobbins, a dynamic tailback who has flown under the radar since his sterling debut at Indiana. Together with Barrett, Dobbins gives the Buckeyes a more dynamic rushing attack than the one Penn State just faced against Michigan. If Ohio State is able to churn out five-yard chunks on the ground, it could allow Barrett to ramp up an aerial assault that has been nearly unstoppable for the past month. I don’t see the Buckeyes scoring at will in this game, but I do see them getting enough first downs to control the clock and field position.
And we turn to Joe Moorhead and everyone's favorite subject, the Penn State huck-it-or-give-it-to-Saquon Barkley. With the Buckeyes giving under 3 ypc, does Trace McSorley get forced into making a few more individual plays? Does Penn State keep its offensive prowess intact, or does Ohio State expose their flaws?
JS: Ohio State will mostly shut down the Nittany Lion offense but there will be big plays. There are just too many superstars on that side of the ball for Penn State.
GF3: I beg to differ. PSU will find success in both elements of the game. Stopping Barkley requires a big commitment not unlike what I just described for PSU vs. Dobbins & Weber. The result is that OSU’s secondary--which has been proven to be just good enough and not outstanding thus far--will be fighting for their lives against the PSU passing attack, playing lots of Cover 0 (ugh). I expect to see Barkley score at least one TD on a wheel route out of the backfield where he beats his cover man (which will likely be a linebacker). Maybe Schiano dials up some special wrinkles in the nickel package to account for the threat. Either way, PSU is putting up points. Last week should tell you that.
Aaron: During the first two drives of the game against Michigan, Barkley rushed for 89 yards on three carries to put the Lions up by two touchdowns in a blink of an eye. Afterwards, the Heisman candidate managed just 19 yards on 12 carries. So how did Penn State find the end zone four more times in the game? Trace McSorley took advantage of the defense’s attention on Barkley and called his own number 11 times while rushing for 76 yards and three scores. The junior quarterback also did a great job taking advantage of one-on-one situations for Barkley and DaeSean Hamilton in the passing game.
I think Ohio State has the athletes up front to limit Penn State on the ground; we’ve seen lesser defenses do the same. However, the key to this game will be the Buckeyes getting pressure in the backfield with Nick Bosa and Tyquan Lewis, and turning that pressure into big losses and turnovers. McSorley went just 8-for-23 through the air last year against Ohio State, but the important thing was that he didn’t throw any interceptions. In fact, he only threw five in regular season play that season. This year, he’s already thrown five, and that number could go up if he doesn’t keep an eye on Damon Webb.
In a nutshell, I think Penn State will score some points, but also turn the ball over a couple of times in the tough road environment.
Give us a prediction. Be as graphic as you'd like.
JS: I think it’s going to be an old fashioned Big Ten slugfest, with home field advantage being the key. Ohio State wins 28-21.
Aaron: J.T. Barrett moving the chains on offense and keeping Penn State’s attack off the field will be key. Ohio State wins 28-20.
GF3: PSU comes into the horseshoe and leaves smiling, 35-24. The OSU secondary is what loses the game for the Buckeyes, yielding big plays and interfering on key 3rd downs to sustain drives for PSU.
Thanks to James Snyder, Aaron Yorke, and GoForThree for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope Townie’s been sacrificed to an Incan sun god. Be sure to vote in the poll and give us your picks for the Big Ten’s marquee game of the season!
Rest of the picks:
#2 Penn State Nittany Lions at #6 Ohio State Buckeyes (-6)
2:30pm || FOX
SU: Ohio State, 11-3 || ATS: Ohio State, 8-6
Thump: This is the unquestioned game of the year in the Big Ten, and I think the Buckeyes have too much firepower for even this explosive Nits offense to keep up with. Buckeyes by 7.
BRT: It's 2017 and everything is terrible, so I suppose PSU will win. Because Trump in the White House wasn't enough of a curse on the nation.
CM: Buckeyes win big and James Franklin will annoy the living shit out of me.
AK: whoa nelly, we got a big one here. Bucks win but I'll take the points.
MNW: BRT’s right. What a fucking stupid year. Buckeyes, 24-21.
This poll is closed