Ohio State and Penn State will meet up in the Big Ten’s second week. The Buckeyes are coming off a decisive win against Nebraska, while the Nittany Lions are coming off an upset loss.
One of the most exciting games of the week was the overtime thriller between Penn State and Indiana. Michael Penix Jr. stretched out and took down Penn State on a call that could have gone either way. Now, the Nittany Lions will host the Buckeyes with one loss already in this young season.
The Ohio State versus Penn State game is typically a Big Ten East championship game. With Penn State’s loss to Indiana, this is a potential elimination game. A two-loss Penn State would have to overcome immense odds to reach the Conference Championship, and even more immense odds for a playoff appearance.
It’s do or die for Penn State.
Ohio State vs. Penn State Preview
On offense, the Buckeyes need to protect Justin Fields, and Fields needs to be smart. Most of the sacks that Fields takes are when he holds onto the ball too long and tries to do too much in the backfield. With the number of talented receivers Ohio State has, you would think that coverage sacks can’t happen against the Buckeyes. Yet it happened several times against the Cornhuskers last week.
The player to watch out for is defensive end Shaka Toney. He had seven tackles and two sacks against the Hoosiers last week. If one player stands out, it’s Toney.
On defense, the line has to play better than they did against the Cornhuskers.
Penn State struggled to run the ball outside of quarterback Sean Clifford. Running backs carried the ball 35 times for 131 yards, which averaged out to 3.7 yards per carry. The whole team averaged 4.9 yards per carry a week ago. Devyn Ford and Noah Cain also had worse averages against Indiana than they did last season.
Penn State already lost Journey Brown for the year, and have now lost Cain. Ford is going to have to the ever-thinning running back room.
Clifford, however, was actually more effective against Indiana than he was on average last season. Against the Hoosiers, Clifford ran 17 times for 119 yards and a touchdown.
Their offensive line play contributed to the decreased effectiveness of the running backs, and the increased threat from Clifford. They failed to dominate Indiana at the line of scrimmage, so their running backs couldn’t find holes to run through. Due to the amount of pressure, Clifford called his own number frequently and ran some quarterback draws. The longest run of the game for the Nittany Lions was a 35-yard scramble for a touchdown. Clifford often used the pressure to his advantage and was the teams’ leading rusher.
The pressure also forced him to throw two silly interceptions.
Putting pressure on Clifford will be key. Ohio State’s defensive line didn’t perform well last week, outside of Haskell Garrett. They have a chance to show that the last game was a fluke. Getting to the quarterback and stuffing the running backs will be crucial. That’s what Indiana did, and that’s how they hung around all four quarters.
At the second level, the Nittany Lions are going to keep the Buckeye linebackers busy.
For starters, Tuf Borland is going to have to spy Clifford. Between the called draws and the improvised scrambles, Clifford averaged seven yards every time he ran. Borland has to keep an eye on him, and make sure he doesn’t break off any other long runs.
Pete Werner, the Buckeyes’ best coverage linebacker, will have his hands full with tight end Pat Freiermuth. Much like Mike Gesicki of years past, the tight end is the most dangerous receiving threat on Penn State’s team.
Last week, Freiermuth led the team in receptions and would have led the team in yards if not for Jahan Dotson’s 60-yard touchdown. Werner needs to take away Clifford’s favorite receiver. There is only a two-inch, 15-pound difference between the two, so it’s not a ridiculous matchup to overcome.
On special teams, there is another weakness the Buckeyes can try to exploit. Penn State kickers missed all three field goal attempts against Penn State last week.
Ohio State might try a bend-not-break approach on defense and let the game rest at the feet of Pinegar.