Penn State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Ohio State
With all of the hype surrounding this weekend’s matchup between Notre Dame and Oklahoma, there is a bit of a shadow being cast over Penn State’s game against Ohio State.
Don’t get me wrong. Both Nittany Lion fans and Ohio State fans alike understand the importance and implications that Saturday’s game will bring.
Some people are going so far as to call this weekend a battle between the two best teams in the Big Ten.
Whether or not this is true is moot due to the fact that neither team is eligible to win the B1G Championship or go to a bowl.
Nonetheless, this is one of Penn State’s biggest games this season. The Lions are playing against a perennial powerhouse guided by one of the best coaches in the nation.
The game will undoubtedly be hard fought, and with a “white out” planned by the students the atmosphere will be electric.
Bill O’Brien’s team can win this game and they are by no means outmatched. But to do so, Penn State will have to bring their best game.
Here are five things that the Nittany Lions must do to come out of Beaver Stadium with a win on Saturday.
Establish a Run Game
Reese Strickland-US PRESSWIRE
For most football teams, establishing a run game opens up the passing game, and Penn State is no different.
As much as quarterback Matt McGloin has done this season improving his decisions and throws, he has done the best when Penn State was able to run the ball.
In McGloin’s two best games of the season thus far, Temple and Iowa, the Nittany Lions rushed for over 150 yards on the ground in both games.
Ohio State’s defense only gives up 121.6 yards a game on the ground, making this task even more important.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier will be all over the field adding to his 76 tackles, but Penn State needs to find their run game on Saturday.
If Penn State can successfully run, McGloin will be able to sit back and pick apart the Buckeye defense that has given up 11 touchdowns through the air and 271.8 yards passing per game.
This simple, old-school mentality of grinding it out on the ground can be key for O’Brien’s team.
Contain Braxton Miller
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
I think this is pretty obvious. Miller is the Buckeye offense, leading the team in rushing with 959 yards and 10 touchdowns, and has thrown for 1,384 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But teams have already shown that Miller is not invincible, and the running has obviously taken a toll with the quarterback being knocked out of last weekend’s game.
With Penn State’s mediocre secondary, I wouldn’t say they should try to make Miller beat them with his arm, because he can do it.
The Penn State defense needs to contain Miller both through the air and on the ground, and more specifically prevent big plays.
Miller has broken runs for as much as 72 yards and his longest pass of the season has gone for 72 yards.
If Ted Roof can get his defensive line to wrap up Miller and rush him into making bad decisions, the Ohio State offense will sputter.
This task is by no means easy, but it can be done. And if Roof’s defense can do this, the Nittany Lions will win the game.
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
It’s official; Beaver Stadium has sold out for Saturday’s game.
With all that has gone on in the offseason in Happy Valley, it seems hardly necessary to include being focused as a major key to this game.
But this is Penn State’s biggest game so far this year against arguably the best team in the Big Ten.
Students will be camping out in “Nittanyville” and getting ready for a “white out” of the stadium on Saturday.
Meyer was quoted as saying that his coaches told him Beaver Stadium is the loudest place to play in the conference, and Saturday will be no exception.
With all this excitement though, the Lions will need to keep their head and not get too down or excited.
Ohio State’s offense has players with serious big play abilities, and Penn State cannot take themselves out of the game mentally.
Most specifically, the seniors—such as Michael Mauti and Matt McGloin—must step up and keep everyone in check.
These two guys have been the heart and soul of the team so far this season and will need to keep many of the young players’ heads in the game.
McGloin Needs to Prove Himself
Matthew Holst/Getty Images
McGloin has transformed into one of the most improved players in the Big Ten conference. No one has shown as much growth as he has both mentally and on the field.
He has been making the right throws and calling the right audibles all season, and has shown that he is a real leader on the offense.
Although he still has that confidence and swag that so many people talk of, this season he has used it to his advantage and has gotten his confidence to rub off on the offense.
But Saturday is McGloin’s biggest test so far this season, playing against a top team with a fast defense.
He will be forced to make reads a little faster and put balls right on the money, and he is very capable of doing that.
Where he will be challenged the most, though, is mentally. Last time McGloin played a team coached by Meyer he threw five interceptions, and led the Nittany Lions to a losing effort in the Outback Bowl.
The quarterback will have to have a short memory on Saturday and be able to come back from mistakes.
The past two years McGloin hasn’t shown that he can win the big game, and Saturday is his chance to prove people wrong.
Make Shazier a Non-Factor
Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE
Sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier is a force in the middle of the Buckeye defense.
At 6’2” and 230 pounds, Shazier has collected two sacks, either deflected or broken up 18 passes and is currently fourth in the Big Ten with 76 total tackles.
Penn State may be known for their linebackers, but this man can straight up play.
Both O’Brien and McGloin will have to be very aware of where this guy is at all times during the game.
It’s imperative to Penn State’s success that they successfully slow down Shazier and give their running backs room.
Ohio State’s defense has 16 sacks on the season, while the Nittany Lions have only given up eight.
If Penn State’s offense line can keep Shazier away from McGloin and force other players to tackle Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, their offense will move the ball.