Ohio State-Penn State Preview: Who Will Take the Showdown at the Shoe?

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Ohio State-Penn State Preview: Who Will Take the Showdown at the Shoe?

It's been discussed from just about every angle possible everywhere. But the showdown at The Shoe is just about a day and a half away, so I decided that it was my duty to you, the loyal college football fan, to throw my clichéd two cents in on Saturday's game, when the third-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions come to Columbus to face the ninth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at 8PM on ABC.

Note that I'm taking a break from my Ohio State series, but the sixth installment of that series is in progress, and I should have it up later as well today. Enough said on that, and back to the present task at hand.

Today I'll give you a positional tale of the tape of these two fine football teams, my analysis, and who I ultimately feel will walk out of The Shoe this Saturday with the inside track on the Big Ten championship.

With all that said, let's get down to business...

 

QUARTERBACK

Both teams enter this contest with rising stars at quarterback who have surprised the "experts" with the amount of success they've had to this point. Daryll Clark and Terrelle Pryor come from complete opposite ends of the spectrum (Pryor a true freshman, Clark a fifth-year senior), but both quarterbacks share the commonality of not having a whole lot of real game experience.

Questions for both quarterbacks entering the contest...

How will Clark handle his first big game on the road in a Columbus night game atmosphere? How will Clark handle the speed of the Ohio State defense, and will he be able to win the game with his arm if the Bucks take away Evan Royster as a factor?

For the Buckeyes, can Pryor make plays when he is forced to throw the football (because he ABSOLUTELY WILL HAVE TO), and can he make better decisions with the football against the best team he will have started against thus far in his college career?

I think both quarterbacks struggle, and I honestly don't think either will be the difference in this football game...but Clark has been involved in his program for five years now, as opposed to TP's six games.

ADVANTAGE: Penn State

 

RUNNING BACK

This game has always been about who can control the tempo of the game on the ground and whose defense can be more aggressive and impose its will on the other offense. Granted, you might see a big play or two in the passing game, but once again, I don't think that will be the difference in the game.

I do think that offensively the battle will come down to Wells vs. Royster and the respective offensive lines.

With all due respect to Evan Royster, who I think is a very good college running back, he is not Beanie Wells, who will likely be a Top 15 pick in the NFL Draft this coming April. Beanie carried the Buckeyes to a 37-17 victory last season with 133 yards on 25 carries in Happy Valley last year, and he's finally getting healthy going into the meat of the Big Ten season.

Royster will get his touches and have some success in this game, but I think you see a big heavy dose of Beanie, and he will have a very good game against a Penn State defense that looked a bit susceptible last weekend against the Wolverines in the running game.

ADVANTAGE: Ohio State

WIDE RECEIVER

To me, this matchup is the biggest mismatch on the field between the Nittany Lion wide receivers and the Buckeyes unit. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood are the strength of the Penn State offense, all bringing terrific speed and vertical threats in the passing game.

Opposing them is a wide receiver corps that has been much maligned this season for missed opportunities and dropped passes. Granted, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline both had solid games against the Spartans...but Ray Small has become the invisible man in the passing attack, and the Buckeyes' boundary men have been anything but consistent.

It's clear to me that Williams, Butler, and Norwood have to make big plays that they haven't made in this series for Penn State to win. They haven't in the past, and the Buckeyes have found ways to win. That unit HAS to be the X-factor. But this, to me, is the clearest advantage one way or the other...

ADVANTAGE: Penn State

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

Which one of these units will force their game on the other? That's the big question. For Penn State, how will they as an offensive line deal with the most talented and deepest defensive line they've seen all year long? Will they continue to be as dominant up front as they've been up to this point?

I know that A.Q. Shipley is a helluva center, probably Penn State's best offensive lineman, and a probable All-Big Ten player.

For Ohio State, the question is this simple: Will they show up and play with fire, urgency, and aggressiveness? Until Michigan State last weekend they hadn't, and even though they did last weekend, will they start to take some pride in themselves as a unit and initiate the fight?

Also, how will the Buckeyes fare against the most talented ends they've seen all year in Maurice Evans and Aaron Maybin in pass pro? 

Talent-wise, across the board I feel Ohio State is the more talented offensive line. But they have to prove it! I think they follow up Michigan State with some passion, fire, and energy. I think they will be ready to deliver a complete performance.

ADVANTAGE: Ohio State

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

Once again, I think you are looking at strength vs. weakness. This defensive line for Penn State, to me, is the best unit on their football team.

Aaron Maybin has been an absolute nightmare for opposing offensive tackles, registering 10 sacks to this point. Maurice Evans I still feel is the best defensive lineman on this team and part of the reason Maybin has been so successful. Jared Odrick is also very solid and has seemingly been at State College since the Reagan administration.

They are all fast, physical, and aggressive—the Buckeye O-line is going to have their hands full with this unit. But my main question to that great unit will be, can you stop the run? Because the Wolverines found some holes in the first half of their contest.

For the Buckeyes, this has been their Achilles' heel. This front four HAS NOT been able to pressure opposing quarterbacks without blitzing. When the Buckeyes haven't blitzed, quarterbacks have basically camped for the weekend in the pocket.

It concerns me even more that Penn State is now running that HD Spread, and that they have a more mobile quarterback in Daryll Clark. It's spelled disaster in the past for this Buckeye unit, and I truly am most concerned in the game about this matchup.

If I'm Penn State I play basically the whole game in the HD spread and force Ohio State's front seven stop it. If I'm Ohio State, I play the four best pass rushers on the field at the same time (which to me are Williams, Gibson, Rose, and Worthington...with Cam Heyward rotating in for all of them) and do everything I can to contain, pressure, and bother Clark.

Either way...

ADVANTAGE: Penn State

LINEBACKERS

The debate rages on...who is truly "Linebacker U"?!?! Well sorry, Penn State fans but Ohio State is! This year is no different. If Ross Homan went pro at the end of the year, all three of the linebackers would be first day NFL Draft picks with Lil' Animal going Top 10, and Marcus Freeman possibly a late first rounder as well.

But debates aside, both of these units are tremendous and year in and year out produce outstanding talent. Navorro Bowman and Tyrell Sales are both tremendous talents at middle and outside linebacker and have held the unit together after the loss of All-Big Ten player Sean Lee in spring ball to an ACL.

Looking at both of these units, there isn't a whole lot more to say other than they are both gonna try to knock your lights out when you get the ball. So sit back, try to zero in on those units when you are watching the game, and enjoy two of the fastest and most linebacker corps in all of college football.

ADVANTAGE: Ohio State

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

I think when you look at both of these secondaries you don't see a whole lot of "stars."  You just see two units who are pretty smart and solid. They keep things in front of them and try to play the ball when it comes their direction.

With Penn State you have a veteran unit on the field. All of the starters (Davis, Sargent, Scirrotto, and Rubin), are all three-year varsity seniors, so they have all been part of the program for years and know the schemes because DC Tom Bradley has been there forever as well. You can bet they are going to play good assignment football.

I think you look at the same thing from the Buckeyes as well. Kurt Coleman, Anderson Russell, Donald Washington/Chimdi Chekwa, and Malcolm Jenkins are all very experienced, know what their roles are, and do what is asked of them very well.

A couple of factors to keep in mind...

- Will the new HD spread look cause defensive breakdowns for the Buckeyes in the pass coverage? Those were certainly issues in defeats to Florida, Illinois, LSU, and USC.

- How will Penn State's secondary hold up with the pressure of not only Wells, but Pryor now as well? Will they be able to maintain their assignments in the pass game and still have an eye on that two-headed monster?

In the end I think there is only one STAR in either of these defensive backfields this year, and that is Malcolm Jenkins. He has been the leader of this 2008 Buckeye team and has led with his fire and big play skills. Remember, he's intercepted and returned it for six in the last two games between these two teams. Jenkins is the difference.

ADVANTAGE: Ohio State

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Ohio State has been spotty on field goals and kick returns this season. Penn State has been solid and efficient in all categories, and Derrick Williams proves his true worth more in the special teams game and is the triggerman of this unit. The Buckeyes need "special" performances out of Ray Small and Aaron Pettrey. No doubt to me who has the edge here... 

ADVANTAGE: Penn State

 

Official Scorecard...                   Ohio State                           Penn State

Quarterback                                                                                   X

Running Back                                   X

Wide Receiver                                                                                X

Offensive Line                                  X

Defensive Line                                                                                X

Linebackers                                      X

Defensive Backs                               X

Special Teams                                                                                 X

 

Regardless of any opinions of advantages at any one position, this should be a great contest between two very good teams with the winner being in the driver's seat for the Big Ten championship. No doubt The Shoe will be rocking on Saturday night, and I can't wait to see you guys there.

My prediction for the game: 24-21 Ohio State.

Please feel free to leave comments, thoughts, and your game predictions as well! Thanks for reading.

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