Even though this week's clash between Ohio State (8-0) and Penn State (5-2) won't have the same national impact it's had at other points during the rivalry, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are both on a roll, and it should make for a terrific game.
The Buckeyes aren't eligible to participate in a bowl game this season, and that disappointment grows with each passing victory. They would be in a promising BCS position if not for the ban. It also means Ohio State has to search elsewhere for motivation.
Penn State deserves a lot of credit as well. Following an offseason full of turmoil and losses in their first two games, it would have been easy for the Nittany Lions to let the season spiral out of control. Instead, they have fought back to win five straight games.
One long winning streak will come to an end on Saturday. Let's take a glance at the key information for the matchup followed by some things to watch for and a game prediction.
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.
When: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN and ESPN3.com
Listen: WBNS 97.1 FM (Ohio State) or WPPA 1360 AM (Penn State)
Betting Line: Even (Vegas Insider)
Injury Report (via USA Today)
Ohio State: Braxton Miller (questionable, head) and Jordan Hall (questionable, knee)
Penn State: Mark Arcidiacono (questionable, foot)
Key Storyline: Can Ohio State survive another tough road test?
Only two of Ohio State's victories have come on the road, and both came by narrow margins. The Buckeyes knocked off Michigan State by one and Indiana by three. They'll have to elevate their level of play to escape Beaver Stadium with another win.
Penn State started the season with a home loss to Ohio, a team that has parlayed the victory into a long unbeaten run, but has played a lot better since. Its most impressive victory came on home turf against Northwestern a couple of weeks ago.
The Buckeyes clearly have their sights set on an undefeated season now, but they have three tough games left, including the one on Saturday. If they don't bring their A-game, the strong run will come to an end prematurely.
Top 25 Implications
Ohio State currently checks in at No. 9 in the AP poll, which is still ranking the Buckeyes even though they aren't eligible for a bowl game. A win over Penn State might be enough to move them up another spot, but that's about it barring some major upsets.
The story is similar for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have already started to feel the sanctions put in place by the NCAA over the summer, including a four-year bowl ban. That leaves the AP poll as their only avenue of recognition.
Beating Ohio State would give them a good chance to crack the Top 25, a great accomplishment when you consider how much of comeback that would be from where they stood after two weeks. So it's still a key game for both sides.
What They Are Saying
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman immediately told his players they needed to get better despite last week's victory over Purdue, according to Bob Hunter of the Columbus Dispatch. Herman said:
Walked in yesterday, and (said), "Hey, boys, congratulations, hell of a job. You guys found a way to win and continue to do so, but you didn’t play good. You just didn’t, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. … I didn’t coach good enough. Our coaches didn’t coach good enough. You didn’t play good enough."
Emily Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien likes the direction his team is heading as the season enters the home stretch. O'Brien said:
It's not always pretty but I couldn't be happier for the guys in that locker room with the effort in which they played. They know, at the end of the day, there's only five games left. So what are you going to do? If we play flat today, the last four we'll get it up again?
Ohio State Player To Watch: Braxton Miller
Miller has been one of the nation's most exciting players all season. Even though he's listed as questionable on the injury report, ESPN's Austin Ward states he's been cleared to practice and is on track to play as it stands right now.
That's terrific news for the Buckeyes. While backup Kenny Guiton did a nice job leading the comeback charge against Purdue, Miller brings a complete different dynamic to the table when he's in the game. He's simply unstoppable at times.
The athletic sophomore has thrown 11 touchdown passes and run for 10 more. He presents the type of matchup that gives opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. As long as he's healthy, he will wreak havoc again on Saturday.
Penn State Player To Watch: Allen Robinson
Robinson has established himself as the top receiver for Penn State, a spot that's more important under the new coaching staff. He has 47 catches for 563 yards and eight touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories.
The most impressive part of his season has been the weekly consistency. He's not the type of player that has one huge game and then disappears for a couple of weeks. He puts up numbers each and every week, which has really solidified the offense.
Ohio State ranks 11th in the conference in pass defense, meaning there should be some holes in the secondary for Robinson to exploit throughout the game. He must take advantage of them for Penn State to come out on top.
Key Matchup: Buckeyes rushing attack vs. Nittany Lions run defense
Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing at nearly 250 yards per game. Penn State ranks second in run defense, holding opponents to just over 110 yards per game. Something will have to give on Saturday, and it will have a major impact on the outcome.
The combination of Miller and starting running back Carlos Hyde has been outstanding. They have combined for over 1,500 rushing yards with 19 touchdowns. Penn State should be prepared for a steady diet of both on Saturday.
Although the game is expected to go right down to the wire, the tone will be set it the first quarter. If Ohio State is moving the ball effectively on the ground, it has the edge. If Penn State slows the Buckeyes down, the advantage flips to the Nittany Lions.
Ohio State 24, Penn State 21
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