The Ohio State Buckeyes should be on upset alert this weekend in taking on the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Both teams are ineligible for the postseason but are neck and neck with undefeated records in the Big Ten Leaders Division. This is always a heated battle, and Saturday's showdown in Beaver Stadium should be no different.
Considering the matchup problems Penn State presents with its strengths, there a few things in particular that the Buckeyes need to accomplish in order to avoid their first loss of the season.
Here is a closer look at what OSU needs to do and why these specific factors loom so large in the game's outcome.
Win the turnover battle
This almost sounds as obvious as "score more points than the other team." But against Bill O'Brien's disciplined Nittany Lions, it is particularly important that OSU finds a way to accomplish this task.
Penn State QB Matt McGloin has thrown only two interceptions on the season, and OSU has tended to play sloppily for much of the season. The Buckeyes' four turnovers in the Purdue game last week nearly cost them the game at home.
On the road at Michigan State, Ohio State gave up the ball three times to the Spartans' zero and escaped with a one-point victory.
The Nittany Lions are the best all-around opponent the Buckeyes have faced in 2012 to date. It will be difficult for Ohio State to turn McGloin over, which means that Braxton Miller and the Buckeye offense have to be extremely careful with the football.
One encouraging sign is that the Buckeyes have snagged 11 interceptions, but they likely can't count on more than one coming from the arm of McGloin. Penn State is plus-eight on turnover ratio through seven games.
Shore up the secondary
Speaking of the Nittany Lions passing attack, the Buckeyes give up 272 yards per game through the air. They will need to step up in order to stop the most efficient passing offense on the schedule.
Sophomore Allen Robinson is a big, sure-handed target at 6'3". Eight of his 47 receptions have gone for touchdowns, proving his viability in the red zone. But Robinson is also a stellar possession receiver in third-down situations, making him dangerous in double-move routes.
Coming off of a six-catch, 85-yard game at Iowa, freshman tight end Kyle Carter is another player the Buckeyes must stop.
Free safety Christian Bryant must hold down the fort and make sure his unit doesn't get beat deep. He will shade over to help the Buckeye corners in coverage with Robinson, but big plays must be more limited than they have been in recent weeks.
An 83-yard touchdown to begin the Purdue game is unacceptable, as was the performance at Indiana in yielding 352 yards through the air and ultimately 49 points. Taylor Martinez of Nebraska had explosive plays against OSU himself but was done in by three picks.
Ohio State can't afford to be this sloppy on the back end at State College.
A productive passing game
In light of Miller's injury, the Buckeyes should gear their game plan more toward the pass than usual.
Penn State only gives up an average of 110 yards per game on the ground, while OSU runs for nearly 250. Something will have to give, but giving Miller too many carries against such a tough defense could put him at risk.
Taking deep shots against the Nittany Lions' more vulnerable secondary and producing big plays will go a long way in clearing the box and opening up running lanes.
OSU has its own exceptional sophomore wide receiver in Devin Smith, who is without question the team's big-play threat. He should have multiple opportunities to make big plays. Chris Fields may contribute more to the passing game as well after a strong showing last week.
It's all a matter of capitalizing for Miller. The Buckeyes' super sophomore has definitely improved as a passer from his first year but still has a tendency to launch some wild throws.
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