Penn State vs. Ohio State: 10 Keys to Watch as Embattled Big Ten Foes Face Off

Bob Bajek@bobbajekAnalyst IIINovember 18, 2011

Penn State vs. Ohio State: 10 Keys to Watch as Embattled Big Ten Foes Face Off

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    The Penn State Nittany Lions and Ohio State Buckeyes will face off Saturday in a Big Ten showdown that is important for all the wrong reasons.

    The Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) are in the midst of a horrible scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly sexually abusing and raping young boys while Penn State's administration covered it up.

    Legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and college president Graham B. Spanier are no longer with the university.

    The Buckeyes (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten), meanwhile, have had a down year due to players suspended from selling memorabilia. Losing 26-23 to the Purdue Boilermakers last Saturday effectively ended their six-year run of outright winning or sharing a Big Ten title.

    With both programs in flux, here are 10 keys to watch during Saturday's game.

How Will Ohio State Buckeyes Fans React?

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    Last week, the Nittany Lions were at Beaver Stadium when they played the Nebraska Cornhuskers in their first game after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke.

    They had the support of their loyal fans.

    The Lions will now travel to Ohio Stadium to take on the Buckeyes in a classic Big Ten showdown.

    Dealing with a hostile crowd is an ominous reality for Penn State. America as a whole is still trying to come to grips with the Sandusky scandal and rooting against the Nittany Lions almost feels like an obligation to some.

    Ohio State University and its student groups are imploring Buckeyes fans to be respectful to the opposing athletes and their fans.

    We'll see if these initiatives will be followed or not. 

Is Nittany Lions' Coaching Staff More Acclimated?

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    With Joe Paterno and wide receivers coach Mike McQueary off the team, the Penn State coaching staff had to assimilate many rapid changes.

    Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is now the interim head coach with Jay Paterno taking over for McQueary.

    Defensive assistants Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson Sr. also inherited some of the play calling from Bradley.

    The coaching shuffle contributed to the Nittany Lions' 17-14 loss to Nebraska.

    With another week under their belt, Penn State's coaches should be more acclimated to their new roles.

WR DeVier Posey Returns for Buckeyes

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    Ohio State has the third-worst passing game in the Nation.

    A major reason why is the thin wide receivers corps that's plagued the squad all year.

    There have been key injuries, inexperienced freshmen taking leadership roles and a 10-game suspension for senior DeVier Posey.

    Posey's suspension finally ends and he will see the field against the Nittany Lions.

    Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller will have a more reliable target at his disposal.

    Penn State needs to make sure Posey doesn't beat them.

Nittany Lions' RB Silas Redd Might Be Affected by Injury

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    Silas Redd makes the Penn State Nittany Lions roll on offense.

    The sophomore running back has 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Redd suffered a sprained joint to his collarbone/chest area.

    Redd is expected to play against the Ohio State Buckeyes, according to coach Tom Bradley.

    If Redd is dinged up, he will see a reduced running load and senior backup Stephfon Green would get more touches.

    Green had 17 carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns against the Cornhuskers.

Andrew Sweat, Johnathan Hankins Most Likely out for Buckeyes

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    The Ohio State Buckeyes' defense has struggled this year, but it could be in bigger trouble without the services of senior linebacker Andrew Sweat and sophomore defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

    Both players are important parts of the Buckeyes' defense who received significant injuries against the Purdue Boilermakers.

    Sweat, who leads the Buckeyes with 68 tackles, suffered a concussion and missed the entire second half.

    Hankins, who has 53 tackles and three sacks, twisted his knee and had to be helped off the field.

    Freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier played well in Sweat's absence and might be called again this Saturday. Shazier had seven tackles and a sack against the Boilermakers.

    Freshman defensive tackle Darryl Baldwin would fill in for Hankins. Baldwin has three tackles and a sack.

Nittany Lions Might Throw More on a Struggling Buckeyes' Secondary

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    The Ohio State Buckeyes' secondary didn't have a good game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

    They dropped many possible interceptions from Cornhuskers sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez that kept Nebraska in the game.

    The Penn State Nittany Lions are not proficient in the pass, ranking 87th with 195.7 yards a game. Junior quarterback Matthew McGloin, though, might pass more against the struggling unit.

    One player McGloin might target is Buckeyes junior safety C.J. Barnett, who had a horrible game last week.

    The Buckeyes' secondary ha  to step up if they want to win the game.

Buckeyes' Offensive Line Needs to Step Up

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    The Ohio State Buckeyes' offense line has struggled the past two games.

    Against the Indiana Hoosiers, the line gave up six sacks. The unit was much better in run protection as freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, sophomore running back Carlos Hyde and senior running back Dan Herron each had over 100 yards rushing.

    Against the Purdue Boilermakers, the Buckeyes gave up four sacks to a weak defensive line. The run game also had 163 yards on 47 carries, which was a 3.5 yard average.

    Senior right tackle J.B. Shugarts has been out with a knee injury and might not play against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

    Sophomore Jack Mewhort, who is listed as a co-starter at right tackle, could replace Shugarts.

    With the Buckeyes' offensive line struggling, looking for Penn State senior defensive tackle Devon Still to take advantage of the situation. Still has 47 tackles (14 for loss) and four sacks.

Game Will Be Decided with the Run Game

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    Like many Big Ten matches, this contest will be decided by the run game.

    The Ohio State Buckeyes have a potent running attack (200.2 yards a game) while the Penn State Nittany Lions have a great run defense (119.5 yards a game). 

    The Buckeyes will attack with senior running back Dan Herron and freshman quarterback Braxton Miller. Sophomore running back Carlos Hyde will be a wild card, as the Buckeyes' coaches either use him a lot or not at all.

    The Nittany Lions have a stout defensive line led by senior defensive tackle Devon Still, a candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Penn State allowed 3.5 yards a carry and has given up only eight rushing touchdowns.

Buckeyes Playing for Pride

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    While the Ohio State Buckeyes will most likely not win the Big Ten Leaders Division, they still have their pride on the line.

    The Buckeyes are facing a hated rival in the Penn State Nittany Lions for their Senior Day. Twenty-five seniors, like running back Dan Herron and left tackle Mike Adams, will be playing their last game at Ohio Stadium.

    Look for emotional performances from the Buckeyes' seniors.

Nittany Lions Still Playing for Big Ten Title, Rose Bowl Berth

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    Despite all the controversy surrounding Penn State, the Nittany Lions still lead the Big Ten Leaders Division.

    If they beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, only the Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) stand in the way for a trip to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.

    The Nittany Lions will play their hardest to win against the Ohio State Buckeyes because a trip to the Rose Bowl is at stake.

    Bob Bajek is a writing intern at Bleacher Report. He is also a freelance reporter and can be followed at Patch.com and Twitter.