With at least a share of the Leaders Division title on the line for the Penn State Nittany Lions, they have a tough task ahead of them as they travel on the road to face the Ohio State Buckeyes amidst the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal as well as news of former head coach Joe Paterno being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Both teams enter this game following disappointing conference losses in Week 11 of the college football season. The Nittany Lions fell short of a comeback victory against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 17-14, after a week full of drama and distraction. Ohio State—who faced their fair share of distractions in the offseason—continued their rough Big Ten season with a 26-23 overtime loss to the Purdue Boilermakers.
Neither team has shown a phenomenal offensive attack this season, while their defenses—two of the best in the Big Ten Conference—have done their very best to keep their team above water.
So much is going on off the field for the Nittany Lions that it could be a tough game for the Leaders Division-leading squad to focus on as the Buckeyes hope to keep themselves in the conversation for the Big Ten Championship game. The Buckeyes are on the outside looking in though behind both Penn State and Wisconsin in the Leaders Division, and a loss to Penn State would ensure their elimination from contention.
The Penn State-Ohio State game always showcases some outstanding competition. For years the Buckeyes have held the edge over the Nittany Lions, but who holds the edge in this season’s matchup?
Penn State’s passing game, or lack thereof, has been the biggest thorn in the Nittany Lions’ season and is largely responsible for their lack of success on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Matt McGloin’s inconsistencies and constant struggles with accuracy are a threat to every Penn State drive.
Against Nebraska, Penn State’s receivers had a hard time getting open and when they did, McGloin couldn’t hit them. Outside of Derek Moye’s touchdown reception, there was much else the Penn State pass offense did do—the Cornhuskers secondary was just too much to handle.
Ohio State’s pass defense is not quite as good as Nebraska’s, but are still a very talented bunch. The Buckeyes’ starting cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Robey have five interceptions on the season. Last season, Howard took a McGloin pass in for a big score.
Factor in the most gruesome front four the Nittany Lions have faced all season and it could be a rough afternoon for McGloin and Penn State.
Advantage: Ohio State
Silas Redd is among the best running backs in college football today. Through 10 games, the Sophomore running back has amassed 1,059 yards on the ground—good enough for 16th in the nation.
Unfortunately, Redd has been needed to carry much of the load for Penn State and it appears his tires may finally be wearing thin. Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum have done their best to spell him, but they are no Silas Redd.
With the lack of a passing game, Penn State’s rushing attack is the focal point for opposing defenses. Penn State’s one-dimensional offense does little to benefit them and against a strong defensive unit like the Ohio State Buckeyes it just isn’t enough to ensure a victory.
Advantage: Ohio State
Like Penn State’s pass offense, the Ohio State Buckeyes field one of the worst units in college football today. The Buckeyes rank 118th in passing offense, averaging 117.1 yards per game.
Freshman signal-caller Braxton Miller has struggled in the passing department, though his game on the run has really helped to spark the Buckeyes’ offense. The only positive for Ohio State is that stud receiver, DeVier Posey, returns from suspension this week.
With talents like Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino in the secondary for Penn State, it’s unlikely Miller will find any success through the air yet again even with the addition of Posey.
Advantage: Penn State
Perhaps the best battle of this game will be between Ohio State’s gang of running backs and Penn State’s trademark linebacker corps.
Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall have done great for the Buckeyes when Boom Herron has been unable to play, and Herron himself is always a treat to watch dash down the gridiron. That trio has helped to rank as the nation's 28th-ranked rushing offense.
The Buckeyes also boast an All-Conference offensive line that should be able to open the game up some for the Bucks on the ground.
Thanks to a sub-par Bucks’ passing game, the Nittany Lions will be able to focus much of their gameplan on the run. With Penn State’s defensive line on top of their game and a linebacker corps stacked full of men who can stuff the run in Gerald Hodges and Nate Stupar. The Buckeyes should not be able to run the ball as well as they did last season against this Penn State defense.
Advantage: Penn State
While Chaz Powell and Justin Brown have done well in the return game for the Nittany Lions, football is a game based on field position and kicker/punter Anthony Fera has not been as consistent as they would like him to be. Fera is 1-of-4 on kicks outside of 40 yards and has been less-than-stellar in the punting game in recent weeks.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has one of the better kickers in the nation in Drew Basil. Basil has been successful on 13 of his last 14 field goal attempts, hitting each of his last four field goals between 40-49 yards.
The Buckeyes punter, Ben Buchanan, averages 41 yards per punt. That should factor into the field position game in this defensive battle inside “The Shoe”.
Advantage: Ohio State
Both head coaches are more a victim of circumstance than anything else.
Luke Fickell was originally intended to be the interim head coach during former coach Jim Tressel’s suspension, but when Tressel stepped down, Fickell was implemented as the head coach for this season. He has done well under all that has gone on in the past year with Ohio State, leading the team to a 6-4 record, but some would argue the Buckeyes could have earned that merely on talent.
Penn State’s interim head coach, Tom Bradley, has filled the role for Joe Paterno a few times before, but never in such a distractive instance for the Nittany Lions. Despite that, Bradley appears to have done the best job he can to keep his team focused on football and they nearly marched back from a 17-point deficit against a very good Nebraska football team in Week 11.
Penn State will need Matt McGloin to have his best game of the season if they wish to succeed on the road against Ohio State. McGloin’s mistakes have been harmless in most games because Penn State’s defense is so good, but the Buckeyes have a defense that love to turn costly turnovers into points.
If the Nittany Lions can successfully run the football and McGloin’s stays out of trouble, Penn State should be able to handle Ohio State’s offense and pick up a very big win.
Ohio State is much more physically talented than Penn State could ever dream of being. They will need to take advantage of this on both sides of the ball, forcing the Nittany Lions into foolish turnovers and utilizing their playmakers’ speed for some devastating blows on the offensive side of the ball.
Look for Ohio State's athletes like Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, and Braxton Miller to try and spark some life into a usually dreadful Buckeyes offense and punish the Penn State defense.
This game between Penn State and Ohio State should be another classic Big Ten battle between two of the conference’s greatest programs. A lot of change will appear on the sidelines for both teams, but the play on the field will be much of the same every Penn State and Ohio State fan has come to love.
There will be little as far as offense goes at Ohio Stadium, but the defensive battle between these teams should bring forth a very exciting, close game to watch. In the end, it will come down to special teams and turnovers and which team is able to capitalize on the opportunities they are given.
Prediction: Ohio State 17, Penn State 13
Follow Lou on Twitter