Ohio State hosts Penn State this week, and they get their first true test of this new and improved defense.
The Buckeyes’ schedule is backloaded, with Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan all coming within the span of five weeks. With Ohio State’s playoff hopes taking a blow with the loss to Oregon, these are all elimination games for the Buckeyes.
Penn State’s playoff dreams were dashed after the nine-overtime loss to Illinois last week. With two straight losses for the Nittany Lions, their Conference title hopes are on life support. Penn State needs a change in momentum before they play Michigan and Michigan State at the end of the season.
Even though Penn State is in the middle of a dip right now, Ohio State needs this win on their record. The Nittany Lions will be, by far, the best team the Buckeyes will have beaten. Right now, Ohio State’s signature win is Minnesota, which would not pull much weight with the CFP committee.
Ohio State vs Penn State Preview
Ohio State and Penn State always keep things interesting. The Buckeyes have the all-time series lead, winning 22 of the 36 matchups. The last Buckeye loss was the heart-wrenching 2016 game when Penn State won the game off of a blocked field goal. That was the first in a run of three straight games between these two in which the score was decided by a single point.
In six of the seven seasons with the current divisional format, the winner of Ohio State-Penn State has represented the East in the conference championship game and won.
This will be the fifth straight game in which both of these teams are ranked. Currently, Penn State sits at No. 20, which is the lowest they have been during this streak.
James Franklin has only won one game against the Buckeyes as a head coach, and none against Ryan Day.
Penn State’s Offense vs Ohio State’s Defense
The big question will be Sean Clifford’s injury. He toughed it out against Illinois in a losing effort. To say the offense struggled is an understatement, given that Penn State only scored 18 points in a nine overtime game. Illinois is only the 11th-ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten.
Clifford said that he expects to be 100 percent for Ohio State. Is that true or is that gamesmanship?
Franklin hopes that Clifford is fine, because the Nittany Lions have the 11th-ranked rushing offense in the conference. They only average 118.9 yards per game, even with some cupcakes on their schedule to help boost the numbers.
But Clifford might not be the one to win the game for Penn State. He has yet to pass for 200 yards against a Big Ten opponent this year. In conference play, Clifford has thrown five touchdowns to three interceptions. Three of those touchdowns came against Indiana, with the other two coming from their three other conference games.
If Penn State wants to win this game, they will need a lot of help from their defense.
Ohio State’s Offense vs Penn State’s Defense
C.J. Stroud has earned his fifth Big Ten Freshman of the Week award this week, and he’s starting to round into form. This is scary for Penn State.
The good news for the Nittany Lions is that their defense is in better shape than their offense.
They have not given up more than 23 points in any game this season. No Power Five team has been able to pass for more than 200 yards against Penn State. Stroud averages 327 passing yards per game and has thrown at least three touchdown passes in every game except one.
Penn State’s passing defense is third in the conference, but Ohio State’s passing offense is number one.
Not only will Ohio State see how good their defense is, so will Penn State. The Nittany Lions have not faced an offense like Ohio State’s, and probably won’t see one again once this game is over.
Should Ohio State choose to run the ball, that could be a successful venture as well. Penn State gives up an average of 145 yards on the ground, so that favors TreVeyon Henderson or whoever will run the ball. The Nittany Lions are fresh off of giving up over 300 rushing yards to Illinois. Granted, Illinois had 67 attempts in that marathon matchup, but still averaged more than five yards per attempt.
Every Power Five opponent Penn State has faced (except Indiana, which has the weakest offense in the division by far) has rushed for over 100 yards. Day will surely want to keep the trend going.
This game will come down to whichever defense can stand up. Odds don’t look good for Penn State, but with division rivals, you never know.