After losing five defensive starters—including two of the best linebackers in school history—question marks surrounded Penn State going into 2008.
However, eight games into the season, the number-three ranked Nittany Lions have that very defense to thank for their current standing.
Like the 2007 New York Giants, Penn State is not made up of superstars. Very few players are considered in the top-five at their position in the nation, yet they continue to succeed without a compilation of All-American’s.
Rather than playing for themselves, Penn State has embraced the “team-first” attitude that led Big Blue to a Super Bowl XLII victory. And that attitude is exactly what they’ll need to have going into a very important game this weekend against the ninth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes—a game that has National Title implications for Joe Paterno & Co.
Coming off an impressive 45-7 rout of the then 20th-ranked Michigan, egos are running high in Ohio. It was the first time all season that the team really clicked, and the first time all season that the Buckeyes put together a full 60-minute effort. It’s something they’ll want to continue against Penn State as they also look to take control of the Big Ten Conference.
What the game will come down to is moving the immovable object. It will be Ohio State's high-powered offense, led by Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor, against Penn State’s physical and dominating defense.
It’s a rock and a hard place, but something will ultimately have to budge.
They key for Penn State is a simple one: Put pressure on Pryor and force him to make mistakes.
While Pryor has a ton of skill and the means to become the next Vince Young, he’s still young and prone to make negative plays. And if Penn State’s front seven can put some pressure on the true freshman and keep him contained, it would go a long way in securing their ninth win of the season.
Now I know what everyone is thinking: “What about Beanie Wells?”
There is no doubt that Wells causes major match-up problems, and there is no doubt Penn State will be focusing in on him. However, unlike the previous five teams that have attempted to slow him down to no avail, the Nittany Lions have a much quicker, disciplined, and sound defense.
Perhaps it’s being oversimplified here, but Penn State is still drastically underrated.
The Buckeyes have coasted along all year, barely hanging on against several inferior opponents, while Penn State has systematically destroyed every team they’ve come across.
It’s been a long time since they’ve been able to say it, but right now, they are a better overall team than Ohio State.