2018 Game Preview: Ohio State vs Penn State
Ohio State Preview: Buckeye Nation, this is a big game. You can be sure that Ohio State players are getting that message, you know Urban is getting his team prepared as best as he can for this big game. Last two times Ohio State traveled to Happy Valley, they won in double overtime 31-24 in 2014 after leading 17-0 at the half, and lost 24-21 in 2016, on a blocked field goal that turned the tide of the game. For the second time this season, ESPN’s College Football GameDay is making an appearance to an Ohio State game, and will be staying in Happy Valley for the 7:30pm kickoff. This is the biggest regular season game of the season outside of conference championship games in terms of playoff implications.
If Ohio State were to win this game, their percentage of making the playoff would be 71%. If they lose, they would have a 31% chance of making the playoff.*
*- Information based on ESPN Analytics and Seth Walder
Based on how the Big Ten is performing so far, the winner of this game is in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten East, and would need to lose twice for the loser to have a chance of making the Big Ten title game. Arguably, Wisconsin clinched their defacto Big Ten West championship with a late game win against Iowa last week.
Urban Meyer’s return went as well as can be expected. The game was never in question against Tulane, and the starters only played the first half. Mike Weber was hurt in the second quarter and that might have been the trigger for Urban to make the decision to pull the starters earlier. He knows he needs his team as healthy as possible for this upcoming game. Buckeye Nation showed their appreciation for Urban throughout the game, cheering his name, and sounds of approval as the team took and left the field. The experience made the game environment feel like football Saturday’s again, and not with the aura of unease with the suspension.
Dwayne Haskins will have a seat waiting for him in New York if he keeps up his passing brilliance. As noted in the recap from the Tulane game, he is completing over 75 percent of his passes, has 1222 total yards, and has 17 total touchdowns and 1 interception in 4 games this season. For perspective, Troy Smith, who won the Heisman in 2006 had 888 total yards, and 8 touchdowns in his first 4 games, He will have one more opportunity this week against Penn State. If he is able to complete the same percentage and yardage he has been the past 4 games, Ohio State not only has a great chance of winning, but Haskins being one of the top 2 players to win the Heisman. Now, I know it can be taken away as quickly as it is earned, which we learned with JT Barrett last year after his late heroics against Penn State last year, and then his meltdown against Iowa the following week. Let’s hope that is never a concern for him this season!
Tate Martell did have a big drive to help seal the game in the first half, leading the offense down the field to a JK Dobbins rushing touchdown. Martell also delivered a nice fake handoff in the 4th quarter where he scrambled to the right side for a touchdown, giving Ohio State it’s last score of the game and the 49-6 lead. It should be noted that Martell did not see the field against TCU. I am not sure if he wasn’t put in because of the close nature of the game, and Ohio State wanted to keep Haskins in as their go-to guy, but as per the previous games, Martell came in the 5th series. This week should be interesting to watch because Martell does give a different dynamic to the offense like Braxton was able to add or JT Barrett, but if it is close, I expect Haskins to be on the field from start to finish.
Parris Campbell, who was a little quiet the first two games, emerged back to his former self, coming up big against TCU, and then hauling in 2 touchdowns this week against Tulane. I am not sure what his ripped jersey would go for on eBay, but it might be worth some money. He led all receivers last week, and KJ Hill continues to be a pillar of stability. In a combination with leadership and what I feel is the coaching ability of Brian Hartline, the receiving corp has been an area of pride this season. I believe with the ability Haskins has of throwing, and the separation the receivers have been able to get this season, this is one of the strongest groups in the nation.
The defense will have the biggest task this week. Tulane scored on one possession mostly due to some offside calls and penalties that negated an interception for the Silver Bullets. Even without Barkley, Penn State has been able to put up similar numbers to last season, and will test the growing defense. A few plays, our linebackers were out of position again, but the corners seem to be working on the bubble screens because they were able to stop those plays early. Robert Landers, as well as Nick Bosa, was out for the first team defense, so there were some newer faces in the mix last week, but Landers should be back this week. Bosa’s return is not as certain as he had abdominal surgery the previous week after an injury he received in the TCU game. Nick’s father did comment that Nick will be re-evaluated in November, so potentially back in time for the Michigan State game.
There are some opportunities this week for Ohio State to clear up the defense as well as the committed penalties. They need to get those fixed and fast or it will hurt them against a good team like Penn State.
Penn State Preview: James Franklin leads an undefeated team back home after an early game scare against Illinois. He is already actively on social media calling for his fans to show up for this game, which will be the annual “white out” game. Even without a lot of the build up, you know Penn State has had this game circled on their calendar since losing by 1 point last year, going into that game undefeated with Big Ten title and playoff hopes.
Trace McSorley has been his usual playmaker self. Passing, he has 763 yards for 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. On the ground though, he has been dangerous, running for 235 yards and 6 touchdowns. Ohio State will need to find a way to keep on him to keep this game in check. So far, McSorley has been able to lead his team to an overtime win against Appalachian State, and 3 tune up games in preparation for this game against Ohio State.
Saquan Barkley declared early for the NFL Draft, and was selected number 2 overall by the New York Giants. Many felt his departure would create a gap in the offensive production, but that hole has been filled by Miles Sanders. For the year, Miles Sanders has 495 yards and 5 touchdowns. He is also involved in the passing game, with 7 receptions for 56 yards. Behind him though is another talented running back in Ricky Slade. He has 147 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a 61 yard run against Illinois last week.
The Penn State receiving corp has been balanced, with 5 receivers over 100 yards, and 8 receivers above 50 yards. McSorley has been able to spread the ball around with they talent at receiver, so their isn’t an emphasis on one go to player. Leading the receivers though is KJ Hamler, who has 170 yards and 3 touchdowns. Juwan Johnson leads all receivers with 12 receptions, and also has 141 yards and a touchdown so far this season.
As noted before, the defense has been good so far, but has given up a lot of plays as well. They were able to limit Pitt and Kent State, but they have given up 38 points to Appalachian State, and 24 points to Illinois. Like Ohio State, they are replacing depth in the secondary and linebackers, so this could be an area of attack for the Ohio State offense.
Buckeye Spotlight: Tuf Borland. I feel confident in the offense, and Penn State has given up some big plays on defense, but the area of concern for me is the defense. Tuf Borland is the anchor of the defense, he was voted a captain as a sophomore, so you know he has the respect of his teammates, but the linebackers will need to make sure Trace McSorley will make the play to break the game open. I think if he and our linebackers stay in position, they will make this game a little more one sided in favor of the Buckeyes.
Nittany Lion Spotlight: Trace McSorley. He is the key player for the Nittany Lion offense, and can extend plays that are broken. He has not had to have as much pressure on him this season thanks to Miles Sanders carrying the load at running back, but he is still the impact player for Penn State. Last year in Columbus, the game plan was to force McSorley to make or break them after keying on Barkley.
Water Cooler Stat of the Game: 13-5. Since 2000, Ohio State is 13-5 against Penn State, including a win in 2010. Overall, Ohio State leads the series 18-14, but the series really hasn’t been that close since the 2000’s. The games have impacted a bit more since it seems Ohio State’s seasons have been hurt because of those losses, including the 2016 season, but ultimately, these are two of the top 10 teams in the country for the past 3 years.
Prediction: This game will definitely be a clash of the titans, as both teams looks good offensively, but both teams need work defensively. James Franklin will have his team ready for the home crowd, and it will be a lot of energy at the beginning of the game, but I think as the game wears on, Ohio State will be able to make enough plays on offense behind Haskins to make a difference, and seal himself as the September Heisman favorite. Ohio State wins this game in a close one, one of the potential games of the year, and waive the banner as the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten.
Ohio State 38 – Penn State 31
Photo credit to theodysseyonline.com