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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Preview: Penn State at Ohio State
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar




- Saturday October 26, 2013

- Ohio Stadium - Columbus, OH

- Penn State (4-2, 1-1) at Ohio State (7-0, 3-0)

- 8:00 p.m. ET

- TV: ABC -

OSU PSU2The Buckeyes welcome the Penn State Nittany Lions to the Horseshoe this weekend for their third nationally televised night game in four Big Ten contests. The first two resulted in closely-contested wins for OSU, and the Bucks will head into November with an unblemished mark if they can get past the Lions to register their 20th straight victory under Urban Meyer.

Ohio State is ranked 4th in both polls, and hope remains that a berth in the BCS championship game is achievable, as long as they continue to post W’s, and a couple more of the unbeatens have an off day sometime between now and the conference championship games in early December. OSU backers have long since conceded that they will not climb over any of the other unbeatens on style points, because the strength of their schedule will not permit it. So it’s 13-0 or bust, and Penn State represents nothing more or less than the next hurdle in that race.

The oddsmakers have installed the Buckeyes as 14.5 point favorites in this one, possibly on considerations of the home field, the raucous crowd, the prime-time kickoff, and the momentum of the OSU offensive machine over the last couple of games. But the Nittany Lions are coming off a bye week, and before that, a confidence-building victory over Michigan. They will surely have the second most talented team on the field Saturday night, but you can bet (along with 14.5 points!) they will be well-coached, disciplined and fundamentally sound as they try to make their season with a big upset.

OSU leads the all-time series with Penn State 15-13, and the Bucks are 13-7 against the Lions since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993. In Columbus, the Buckeyes hold a 9-7 edge, but PSU has won two of the last three games at the Horseshoe, including their last visit in 2011.  Last year OSU went into Happy Valley and came away with a 35-23 win, pulling away from a 7-7 halftime tie on a pick-6 by Ryan Shazier and two dazzling touchdown runs by Braxton Miller.

State of the Bucks

Miller PSU2012Ohio State is three wins short of the team record for consecutive victories (22, from 1967-69) and the OSU sports information office last week dug into the record books to discover that Urban Meyer is the first coach ever to win 20 or more games in a row, three times. Meyer won his last game at Florida to give him 20 straight going into Saturday’s game.

The Buckeyes perfected the art of scoring fast in the early part of the season. They repeatedly ran out to big 1st quarter leads, and the time of possession became an afterthought in the later stages of those games. But after Iowa dominated the clock in the first half last week (18 minutes to 12 for OSU), the Bucks came out in the 3rd quarter and proved they could score slowly just as well. Iowa ran just seven offensive plays in the quarter as OSU devoured the clock, putting together three straight long touchdown drives, the last one ending early in the 4th quarter.

By the time the game was over, OSU had possessed the ball for 23 of the game’s final 30 minutes. One way to stop a ball control offense like Iowa’s is to deny them the ball altogether. (Playing the entire 60 minutes without punting the ball to them helps too.) The same kind of deliberate, grinding offensive strategy could help a lot this week as well, as Penn State brings an offensive approach similar to Iowa’s, with an emphasis more on moving the chains and less on generating big plays.

The Buckeyes are healthy going into this one, with the continuing comeback of Braxton Miller progressing nicely. Miller played by far his most complete game of the year against Iowa, burning the Hawkeyes on several of the signature Miller runs that we hadn’t seen since last season. The dual threat is back, and many followers of the program are predicting a breakout game for the junior QB. (What was last week? 22-27 passing, 2 TD, 103 yds rushing)

Coach Meyer tried to put to rest this week some of the speculation and questions about why more of his highly-touted freshmen aren’t seeing the field yet, and figure to be red-shirted this season. The explanation was uncomplicated. They’re not ready to play yet in situations that matter, and it’s not worth costing them a year of eligibility to get them a couple of snaps in garbage time. It doesn’t mean that Jalin Marshall and Mike Mitchell are not going to have fine careers at OSU. Patience.


Penn State: Key Personnel

PennStHelmetThe Nittany Lions have the best passing offense in the Big Ten, with true freshman Christian Hackenberg (278.7 yds per game) at the controls. Hackenberg is a big kid with a big arm, and Coach Bill O’Brien has turned him into the leading passer in the conference through six games under the same pro style possession passing game he implemented with great success with the New England Patriots. .

Hackenberg has two outstanding tight end targets in sophomores Jesse James and Kyle Carter, and an All-Big Ten wide receiver in Allen Robinson, who led the conference in receptions and receiving yards a year ago with 77 catches for 1,013 yards. He is averaging 117.5 yards per game in 2013, and already has 43 catches for 705 yards and 5 TD’s this season. On the other side is senior Brandon Felder, who has contributed 22 receptions for 232 yards this season.

Hackenberg1The running game is less explosive, with converted fullback Zach Zwinak (92 att., 393 yds, 8 TD) the primary ball-carrier, and the speedier Bill Belton (70 att., 369 yds, 2 TD) as more of an outside threat. The Lions have two new starters on the offensive line, perhaps a factor in allowing 2.5 sacks per game, one of the worst marks in the conference.

The Nittany Lion defense has been generous at times this season. They gave up a total of 993 yards in their two losses (UCF and Indiana), 624 of those coming through the air. On average, they have allowed 218 yards passing, and 336 total yards per game.

Glenn Carson (6’ 3”, 235 lbs) looks and plays like a middle backer right out of Penn State linebacker central casting. He leads the team in tackles with 49, including 4 TFL.  On the defensive line, the players to watch are tackle DaQuan Jones (39 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks) and end Deion Barnes, last year’s conference Freshman of the Year on defense.

The secondary returns just two starters, and Adrian Amos has moved from corner to safety. The inexperience there, as well as the drop-off in sack numbers by Barnes, help account for this team’s susceptibility to the pass so far this season. Placekicker Sam Ficken has gone from a liability in 2012, to an asset in 2013. He has kicked 11 field goals to rank second in the conference.


Armchair Analysis and Idle Speculation

OSU PSU6The way Iowa moved the ball against OSU last week was cause for concern about the threat Penn State poses for the Buckeyes this Saturday. The PSU offensive design is similar, but the Nittany Lions have significantly better players, especially at quarterback and wide receiver. I don’t expect the Lions offensive line to dominate OSU’s defensive front like Iowa did, but they could put up close to the 24 points the Hawkeyes scored.

Until Ohio State either a) puts more consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback, or b) does a better job covering receivers in the secondary, there will be legitimate concerns about this defensive unit as one worthy of a championship of any sort. Doran Grant put together a pretty solid game at corner against Iowa, and Bradley Roby will presumably be out there for all four quarters after being ejected in the first quarter last week. Clearly the embattled Roby’s matchup with Penn State’s Robinson will be a key to the game’s outcome.

The extra week to prepare, and the quality of the Penn State coaching staff doing the preparing are both worrisome factors for OSU fans. Northwestern used the extra week to plot their best game of the year against OSU. They haven’t looked nearly as good since.  

If the Buckeyes’ pass defense had looked even marginally competent against most opposing passers this season, I could see calling this one as a relatively easy win. But they really haven’t. It’s easy to say that getting great pressure on the freshman quarterback will be the key to stopping Penn State’s offense. OSU fans have been begging for more press coverage in the secondary and fewer three-man rush schemes by the line.

That system is designed to prevent big plays in the passing game. But it hasn’t. If the Buckeyes send the house after Hackenberg, he’s likely to make some mistakes...maybe some big ones. It’s also safe to say that Bill O’Brien will have his team ready to counteract the heavy pass rush he must be expecting from the OSU defenders.

Buckeye fans keep waiting for the defensive coaches to make adjustments and slow down opposing passing games. It’s worth noting though, that the Buckeyes are still ranked 14th in total defense nationally (333.1 ypg), and have yet to give up a rushing play of more than 20 yards. So it’s not as if the whole house is burning down. Oh, by the way, the team is averaging 45.0 points per game. That goes a long way toward covering up a flawed defense.

As noted above, the gamblers like the Bucks by more than two touchdowns. Many of the beat writers I respect also forecast a relative blowout. The consensus of the Buckeye Sports Bulletin staff is for a 42-19 OSU win. Bucknuts Editor Steve Helwagen has it only slightly closer at 38-21 Buckeyes. These guys are much closer than I am to the “vibe” of the team. Still, I can’t help thinking it will be closer than that.

History tells us it’s rarely the team you expect that steps up and knocks Ohio State from the ranks of the unbeaten. In 1998, it was heavy underdog Michigan State….in 2007, it was a loss to lightweight Illinois...both times at home! Until Urban Meyer loses a game as the coach at Ohio State, he deserves the benefit of the doubt, but I have looked at this game for several weeks now as a game with a chance to be the ONE in a 12-1 regular season. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then neither did Illinois six years ago.

I will stop short of predicting Meyer’s first loss, but I look for a tighter game than most others foresee. Something like 33-27.


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