Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Penn State Nittany Lions Complete Game Preview
Rivals will reunite in Columbus, Ohio this Saturday when the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes host the Penn State Nittany Lions for a prime-time Big Ten matchup.
The Buckeyes (7-0) are coming off a 34-24 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Braxton Miller was brilliant, completing 81 percent of his passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns while adding 102 yards on the ground.
The Nittany Lions (4-2) had last week off, which gave them time to come down from the high of beating Michigan in a quadruple-overtime thriller in Beaver Stadium.
Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will look to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 20 with a win over the Nittany Lions. A victory will also keep Ohio State in the thick of the national title race.
Bill O'Brien is hoping to continue the Nittany Lions' surge despite the NCAA sanctions that have crippled their scholarship numbers and banned them from postseason play.
A lot will be on the line this Saturday in Columbus. Get all the details with this complete game preview.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 26
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Place: Ohio Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
Spread: The Buckeyes are favored by 14.5 points, according to Vegas Insider.
Ohio State Keys to Victory
Execute the Zone Read
In last year's matchup, which Ohio State won 35-23, Penn State's defense contained the Buckeyes offense for much of the first half.
After gaining just 70 yards through the game's first six drives, Urban Meyer and Ohio State went basic, running the zone read to perfection in the second half.
That decision, and Ohio State's execution, broke Penn State's defense.
The Buckeyes should look to get the run game going in similar fashion Saturday. If Braxton Miller is reading the defense correctly, it will put Penn State's defense on its heels, which will also open up the passing game.
Cover the Tight Ends
Ohio State struggled covering Iowa's tight ends last week, giving up 10 receptions, 167 yards and two touchdowns to the Hawkeyes.
Penn State's tight ends are widely considered one of the best groups in the country, and Urban Meyer said that preparing for that group has already begun.
"Started already. We better be ready," Meyer said, according to Greg Pickel of Penn Live. "They're a little bit better throwing team than Iowa, and Iowa hurt us."
Penn State's tight ends have combined for 35 receptions, 410 yards and a touchdown this year. If the Buckeyes struggle covering the tight end position like they did last week, Penn State will have a huge advantage.
Penn State Keys to Victory
Forcing turnovers on defense and avoiding them on offense needs to be Penn State's top priority this Saturday.
The last time the Nittany Lions were on the field, they forced three Michigan turnovers, which produced two of their three first-half touchdowns. Forcing similar mistakes from an efficient Ohio State offense would be a huge momentum swing, especially on the road.
Avoiding turnovers will be just as important. In six of the last 11 matchups between these two teams, Ohio State has returned an interception for a touchdown. The Buckeyes have won all six of those games.
Get the Passing Game Going
Ohio State hasn't been good at defending the pass this year. The Buckeyes are giving up an average of 240 yards per game, which is tied for No. 78 in the country.
That's something Christian Hackenberg and the Penn State offense will need to exploit. The freshman quarterback has been spectacular this year and is on pace to throw for more than 3,200 and 22 touchdowns.
Hackenberg has a number of weapons on offense to hurt Ohio State at every level defensively. If the Nittany Lions can get things going in the passing game, especially early, it will make pulling off the upset much easier.
Players to Watch for the Buckeyes
Ohio State's All-American cornerback Bradley Roby has struggled this year, and last Saturday against Iowa, he was ejected after being flagged for targeting after leveling a Hawkeye tight end.
The Buckeyes suffered without him as replacement Armani Reeves gave up two touchdown catches.
Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will need Roby at his best against a potent Penn State passing attack. The Nittany Lions are averaging 283 passing yards per game, which ranks No. 26 in the country, and that's where Bill O'Brien will look to do most of his damage.
Running back Carlos Hyde has paced the Buckeyes against their Big Ten opponents, and that won't change Saturday.
Over the last three games against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa, Hyde has run for 402 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers are solid, but they're even more impressive when you factor in the Badgers and the Hawkeyes both boast top 20 rush defenses.
Hyde's blend of power and speed make him a nightmare to defend, and when he's paired with Braxton Miller in the backfield, Ohio State's offense becomes one of the most dynamic in the country.
Penn State's defense only allows 117 rushing yards per game, good for No. 21 in the country, but Hyde will be the Nittany Lions' stiffest test.
Players to Watch for the Nittany Lions
Allen Robinson has been the most consistent wide receiver in the Big Ten since the start of last season, and through six games this year, he ranks second in the conference with 117 receiving yards per game.
Robinson will be locked up against Bradley Roby most of the night in what should be the biggest head-to-head matchup of the game.
Robinson caught five passes for 68 yards against the Buckeyes last year, but he'll be looking for more against Roby on Saturday. Earlier this year, Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis caught 10 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown with Roby in coverage, so Robinson knows that his opponent can be beaten.
If Penn State wins, Robinson will likely be a big reason why.
Middle linebacker Glenn Carson has anchored Penn State's defense for a long time, and on Saturday, he'll be tasked with shutting down Ohio State's high-powered offense.
He won't be asked to do it alone, obviously, but it starts with him.
Carson leads the team with 49 total tackles, but he also makes plays in the backfield, registering four tackles for loss and a sack. The Nittany Lions will need him to play at a high level, especially if the Buckeyes go to the zone read like they did in last year's matchup.
"He's a tough guy," Bill O'Brien said of Carson, according to Bob Flounders of Penn Live. "He's improved, he's quicker, he's faster, he's stronger. He loves playing for Penn State."
What They Are Saying
Per Rob Ogden of The Ozone, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien compares playing in Ohio Stadium to a bowl game, "Ohio State, 100,000 people in the stands, I don't know too many bowl games that are better than that."
According to ESPN's Austin Ward, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer doesn't think Bradley Roby is playing as well as he did last year, "I think he did set a high standard [last year], and he sets a high standard for himself. He's not playing at the same level he did a year ago. At times he plays fantastic, but when there's a mistake at the corner position, it's glaring."
Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant thinks the defense needs to get going early, according to the Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated). "We have to start fast. The defense is at our best when we start fast, and we feed off the momentum. We didn't do that today and we didn't put it all together until the second half - and that can't happen."
Bill O'Brien says there's no way to prepare freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg for Ohio Stadium, according to Patrick Maks of Buckeye Grove. "What are you going to do? You can't put 90,000 people around your practice field cheering against you."
Ohio State 38, Penn State 21
The Buckeyes have struggled in the first half in their last two games, but that won't be the case against Penn State.
Ohio State will score the game's first two touchdowns—the first by way of a long touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to Devin Smith, and the second via an 80-yard drive that's capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from Carlos Hyde.
Penn State will get on the board at the beginning of the second quarter with a 35-yard strike from Christian Hackenberg to Allen Robinson. The Buckeyes answer quickly, though, as Braxton Miller leads another long touchdown drive to make it a 21-7 game.
The Nittany Lions will score to start the second half, but that's as close they'll get. Ohio State will add 10 points to close the third quarter, and both teams will score in the fourth as the Buckeyes close out a 17-point victory.
Unless noted otherwise, all stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.