Penn State vs. Ohio State: Are the Nittany Lions in over Their Heads?

Tim Tolley@@TimTolley_BRContributor IOctober 24, 2013

Oct 5, 2013; Bloomington, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) passes the ball against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The phrase "Any given Saturday" is used to describe the landscape of college football as a whole. It means that every game is played on the field rather than on paper, and each one of those games can be won by either team, depending on the circumstances.

In 2007, Stanford crushed USC's national championship aspirations as a 40-point underdog when the Cardinal beat the undefeated Trojans at the Coliseum. 

Just last Friday (Any given Friday!) the UCF Knights went into Louisville and beat the undefeated Cardinals, despite being nearly a double-digit underdog. 

The Nittany Lions have even felt the joy of "Any given Saturday" in Columbus. In 2011, their last trip to the 'Shoe, Penn State came in a touchdown underdog and beat the Buckeyes, 20-14.

So, when you ask can the Nittany Lions beat Ohio State this Saturday, the answer is yes. They can. But it won't be easy.

Big Ten Rankings
Scoring Off.Scoring Def.Rushing Off.Rushing Def.Turnover Margin

Penn State will travel to Columbus on Saturday night to face the undefeated Buckeyes, and it'll enter the game as a two-touchdown underdog. Many people in Columbus and across the country have all but written the Nittany Lions off and are assuming Ohio State will roll to a second straight undefeated season. 

Are those people right? Are the Nittany Lions in over their heads this weekend?

In a word, no. But it's never that simple.

Penn State is still the team that lost to Indiana and struggled against Syracuse. Three times this year this team has failed to reach 85 yards rushing in a game, and there are holes in the secondary.

But Ohio State has flaws of its own.

Against Wisconsin, Ohio State allowed wide receiver Jared Abbrederis to catch 10 balls for 207 yards, both season highs. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter completed 12-of-12 passes against Ohio State a week later. Most recently, the Buckeyes gave up 10 receptions, 167 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Iowa's tight end duo of Jake Duzey and C.J. Fiedorowicz.

Penn State can use all of those things to game-plan and attack the Buckeye defense.

Defensively, the Nittany Lions could be in for a struggle.

The good news is Penn State is tied for second in the Big Ten in giving up big passing plays, allowing just three passing plays of over 40 yards. That is a good matchup against a Buckeyes offense that has had just five completions in that category. 

OSU Passing Offense vs. PSU Passing Defense
Plays of 20+ YardsPlays of 30+ YardsPlays of 40+ Yards
OSU Offense1975
PSU Defense1883

Also, the defensive front has been stingy against running backs, allowing just one to go over 100 yards on the season. Unfortunately for Penn State, Michigan's Devin Gardner exposed a weakness by rushing for a season-high 121 yards from the quarterback position just two weeks ago.

In Braxton Miller, Ohio State may possess the best running quarterback in the country. As always, he's the X-factor.

If you take away the quarterback, Ohio State looks extremely average.

The Buckeyes have a good running game, some solid receivers and an under-performing offensive line. On defense, they have a good, young front seven, but they've given up at least 24 points in their last four games against FBS opponents. Their secondary has been a liability.

Then you add in Miller. You take a pretty good team and inject the Big Ten's most dynamic playmaker both running and passing the football. And you get a dangerous Ohio State team that has won 19 games in a row and will be favored for the rest of the 2013 season.

While Ohio State may have played in close games with each of its last three opponents, the key is that it won all three. The Nittany Lions may not find themselves in over their heads on Saturday night and they are even capable of playing a tight game against the Buckeyes, but they'll need to get awfully lucky to do anything but keep pace.

On any given Saturday for any number of reasons, some team is going to beat Ohio State, rather than just keep it close. 

For Penn State, they hope that this Saturday is any given Saturday.

All stats courtesy of


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