The Nittany Lions of Penn State will travel to Columbus on Saturday to face the Ohio State Buckeyes in what most Penn State fans consider the biggest game of the year.
The Bucks come in battle-tested, having won their last three games by an average of just nine points. Most recently, Iowa played Ohio State to a tie through three quarters before the Buckeyes rallied to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 34-24 victory.
Penn State got a well-timed bye week following its four-overtime 43-40 win over Michigan two weeks ago.
Ohio State is undefeated, touts the most talent in the Big Ten and is an impressive 9-3 in home night games. However, Penn State has a ton of momentum coming off the Michigan victory and has won two of the last three contests in Columbus, including a night game in 2008.
Ohio State defeated Penn State in 2012 by a score of 35-23 at Beaver Stadium.
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Place: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Radio: Penn State Network Affiliates
Spread: Ohio State opened as a whopping 14.5-point favorite and the line has remained right around two touchdowns, per VegasInsider.com.
Contain Braxton Miller
Sounds easy enough, right?
In the four full games that Miller has played in this year, he is averaging over 275 yards of total offense per game. As dangerous as he is on a regular basis, he is even better when a play breaks down and he gets outside of the pocket. Miller has a knack for moving the chains despite solid execution by the defense. This can be both effective and demoralizing for the opponent. Penn State will need to limit his big plays to keep the defense off the field.
O'Brien calls Braxton Miller one of the top-five players in the country. Hard to dispute after how good he looked at full health vs. Iowa.— Derek Levarse (@TLdlevarse) October 22, 2013
Stay Deep in Coverage
Outside of his running ability, Braxton's deep ball may be his best strength. When he starts scrambling, his wide receivers do a great job of following him across the field and/or going deep. Malcolm Willis and Adrian Amos will have to do a better job of remaining disciplined, otherwise Devin Smith and Philly Brown are capable of scoring at any time.
Run the Ball
The Ohio State defense has been less than stellar at times this year but only when it faces an offense that can keep it honest. Penn State has struggled at times to run the ball and the return of defensive tackle Tommy Schutt won't make it any easier for the blue and white. If the Buckeyes are able to make Penn State one-dimensional, Christian Hackenberg could be in for a long day.
Keep Allen Robinson in Check
Ohio State will bring to the game one of the best corners in the nation in Bradley Roby. However, Roby has struggled at times this year, including a poor performance against Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin. Robinson has been Hackenberg's go-to target this year, and if the Buckeyes don't give him the attention he demands, he'll make them pay.
Running back Carlos Hyde has been a huge factor in Ohio State's last two games, rushing for a combined 317 yards and five touchdowns on 50 carries. The Buckeyes should make Penn State prove that it can stop him before they change their plan of attack.
Jordan Lucas on OSU RB Carlos Hyde: "He's a much bigger back. He makes good cuts and knows how to use his body."— Jeff Nelson (@GoPSUJeff) October 22, 2013
As good as he has been, Christian Hackenberg is prone to mistakes, and Ohio State is equipped with a pair of terrific young defensive ends in Noah Spence and Joey Bosa. Get used to hearing those names as they'll be the ones chasing Hackenberg around most of Saturday night.
RB Bill Belton
Belton had somewhat of a coming out party against Michigan, receiving every Penn State carry in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a fourth-down conversion and the game-winning touchdown. In reality, Belton was a part of the win in Columbus from 2011 when the Nittany Lions revealed the Wildcat. In last year's contest, Belton had 15 touches for 51 yards. He's a veteran among the Nittany Lions when it comes to Ohio State and he could be in for a heavy workload on Saturday.
TE Jesse James
Hackenberg and James combined for six completions, 67 yards and a touchdown against Michigan, and the Nittany Lions should look to utilize James' big frame against a group of linebackers and safeties that aren't known for their coverage.
DT DaQuan Jones
Jones is leading the Big Ten in tackles for loss and is averaging 6.5 tackles per game. He could play a huge part in slowing down Carlos Hyde and the Ohio State ground game.
Full PSU depth chart available HERE.
WR/RB Dontre Wilson
While he hasn't been a huge part of Ohio State's offense, amassing just 158 rushing yards and 114 receiving yards through seven games, it's more about the threat that he presents. If you haven't seen Wilson play yet, you are in for a treat. Though a bit undersized, there are few players in college football with more elusiveness than Ohio State's No. 1.
LB Ryan Shazier
Probably the best linebacker in the Big Ten, Shazier is a throwback player who is a joy to watch. On the season, Shazier has 56 tackles, eight of which have occurred behind the line of scrimmage. In 2012, he had an amazing 17 tackles for loss and scored on an interception against Penn State.
DT Tommy Schutt, LB Cam Williams, CB Armani Reeves, DE Noah Spence
In November of 2011, Schutt, Williams and Reeves were committed to Penn State and Spence seemed like he was on the way. Following the firing of Joe Paterno and the ensuing drama, Urban Meyer provided a safe-haven for the high school recruits. On Saturday, Penn State could face the four of them on the field at the same time for the Buckeyes defense.
Full OSU depth chart available HERE.
O'Brien on Urban Meyer: "He’s a smart guy. He’s a mentally tough guy. He’s won two national championships with different types of teams."— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) October 22, 2013
OSU football coach Urban Meyer on Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson: "Very fast, talented guy who goes up and high-points the ball."— Lantern Sports (@LanternSports) October 22, 2013
OG John Urschel says that if you can't get excited for a game like Ohio State -- then you shouldn't be playing football.— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) October 22, 2013
"You don’t win 19 games in a row, go 7-0, be No. 4 in the country without being an excellent quarterback," O'Brien said of Braxton Miller.— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) October 22, 2013
"This week, it's a prime-time game. Penn State. Great opportunity to show the country Ohio State and Ohio Stadium." - Urban Meyer— Steph Bitto (@nrrztweet) October 22, 2013
A well-rested Penn State team with momentum on its side will face the most talented team in the conference, just hitting its stride.
There are some things that Ohio State struggles with and this team may not be as strong as last year's version, particularly defensively.
However, the Buckeyes rank in the top 22 nationally in rushing yards (11th), points scored (7th) and points allowed (22nd), per ESPN.com. They possess some of the best players in the conference at key positions like QB, RB, LB and CB and surround those guys with a young nucleus of playmakers.
Penn State has been up and down this year, occasionally looking unstoppable, followed by moments of uncertainty.
Will the Christian Hackenberg from the Michigan game show up? Will the defense finally play up to its potential? Can Penn State's lines, both offensively and defensively, mesh to own the trenches?
There are just too many question marks surrounding this Penn State team to assume it can go into Columbus and beat Urban Meyer's undefeated Buckeyes.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 34 - Penn State 20
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.