2020 Game Preview: Ohio State vs Penn State

This game might have lost some of its luster with Penn State losing on the last second to Indiana in overtime, but they still have a chance to take control of their destiny by beating the Buckeyes in this game, and hoping Indiana loses a game down the road. This game has a eerie feeling of 2016 flashbacks, but with a nearly fanless stadium on Halloween night, will Penn State be able to capture the upset and put a dent in the Ohio State goals of going for its 4th overall College Football Playoff. 

The Buckeyes come into this game with a more confident feeling, after defeating the Cornhuskers 52-17, but Happy Valley has always been a tough place to play, and their last 3 trips have been 1 possession games. With a win here, the Buckeyes will have a 95% chance of winning the Big Ten East, and an even better chance to make it to the College Football Playoff.

Even though this game wont be as pretty as ESPN may have hoped, they still chose this location for this weeks game of the week, and it is easy to understand why. Ohio State fans will help draw viewership, and with a limited amount of games ESPN gets to cover for the Buckeyes, this one has always been on the radar. That and coupled with the fact this weekend does not have many exciting games, this top 20 showdown has the makings of a great one. 

The last 6 years for this rivalry has been close. This game has come down to 1 possession games 4 of the last 6 match ups, 2 of those were Buckeye victories by 1 point. The winner of this match up has represented the Big Ten East in the Big Ten Championship game, and have claimed the conference title. A lot is at stake for this game, and it is one the Buckeyes can not take lightly. 

Head Coach: James Franklin
2020 Record: 0-1
Location: Happy Valley, PA
Conference: Big Ten

Ohio State Preview: Ohio State did not need to play a perfect game to beat Nebraska, and still won by 5 touchdowns. They will need to get all three phases performing at a high level in order to come out of Happy Valley with a victory, but there should be small adjustments needed to help them get to that level. Ryan Day has high prasies for Penn State, and knows what type of team the Buckeyes are going to go against. Not to take anything away from Nebraska, but there is a good chance the Buckeyes have been scheming for the Nittany Lions as much as if not more than they did for the Cornhuskers once the third and final schedule was revealed. 

The Buckeyes have been able to beat almost every team in the Big Ten with relative ease, but Penn State always plays up to Ohio State, and fans know how even with an early lead does not mean that the game is over. Ohio State will need to play a complete 4 quarters and control the middle 8 of the game (The last 4 minutes of a half, and the first 4 minutes of the second half). Last week they were able to go from a 17-14 lead to a 31-14 lead against Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers were not able to regain any sort of momentum.

Justin Field solidified his Heisman position with just one game, and showcased his throwing ability having made tremendous improvements from last year to this year. He went an impressive 20-21 with 276 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also has 54 yards rushing and touchdown on 15 carries, 12 of those being scrambling plays. He has an ability to extend plays, and shows his balance as a true dual threat.

Ryan Day indicated he was still going to use a split series approach with his running backs. Trey Sermon leads the running backs in yardage with 48 yards on 11 carries. Master Teague is not far behind with 41 yards on 12 carries, along with a pair of touchdowns. Steele Chambers showed impressive flashes though against Nebraska against their first stringers and had 32 yards on 4 carries. 

On the recievers end, so far, it has been a 2 person show. Garrett Wilson has an impressive 129 yards on 7 catches and a touchdown. Chris Olave has 6 catches for 104 yards after having been injured during the 3rd quarter of the Nebraska game. The next closest receiver is freshman Julian Fleming with 1 catch for 13 yards. It will be interesting to see how much Hartline will rotate this position to keep players fresh especially this is their deepest position group.

On defense, they looked out of position for the first drive, but were able to settle down after that, and had 57 tackles, led by linebacker Pete Werner with 7. They have been close to get an interception, but they have forced 2 fumbles, including the one that went for a touchdown by Sevyn Banks. This unit will need to keep track of Sean Clifford who can hurt you with his feet.

Penn State Preview:  Happy Valley is one of the best football environments in the country, and the “White Out” is arguably one of the hardest places to play as an opposing team. With COVID-19, and the Big Ten limiting attendance, the Nittany Lions will have to find their own momentum, and use their talent to frustrate the number 3 team in the country. One time Big Ten coach of the year James Franklin, who is now in his 7th season as the head coach with a 56-24 record in that span, had a lot to say about the Buckeyes in his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

He praised the talent level of the Buckeyes and expressed that the receivers are a dynamic group. He spoke highly of Justin Fields, who Franklin had recruited at one point, before eventually signing with Georgia and then transferring to Ohio State. He did point out though that their team is one of the few teams to have beaten the Buckeyes, which didnt prevent the Buckeyes from making the Playoff that season. He did mention though that Penn State will be without running back Noah Cain, who will miss the rest of the season due to injury. With the talent loss so far of running back Journey Brown, and All American linebacker Micah Parsons, the Nittany Lions will need to limit turnovers and control the game for all four quarters to have a shot of taking down the Buckeyes.

Sean Clifford started off slow the first half against Indiana last week, but finished with 24-35 with 238 yards passing with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. With the lack of depth at running back, he made plays with his legs, and leads the team in rushing with 119 yards on 17 carries and 1 touchdown. He will need to limit mistakes this week, unlike he was able to against Indiana and even last year when Penn State played the Buckeyes in Columbus. 

Carrying the load now at running back, and second leading rusher on the team is Devyn Ford, who has 69 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes are right behind Ford with 35 yards on 6 carries, and 16 yards on 5 carries, respectively. 

Clifford will have some help on the receiving side of the ball. Junior Jahan Dotson leads all receivers with 94 yards on 4 catches and a touchdown. Clifford’s favorite target and one of the top Tight-Ends in the country is Pat Freiermuth, who has 7 catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. The next highest yardage receiver is Daniel George, who has 29 yards on 3 catches.

Penn State’s defense was solid last week, holding Indiana to only 211 yards, and an impressive 41 yards rushing. Their run defense will be the strength of this team as they try to contain Fields from breaking off for big plays, and trying to box in Teague and Sermon. They will have to limit their penalties though, as they was one of the factors of the loss the previous week, where they had 10 penalties for 100 yards, which neutralized the effectiveness of the Nittany Lion defense.

Buckeye Spotlight: Trey Sermon/Master Teague. One of these backs has to emerge as the lead rusher for this team after Justin Fields ran for a team high 15 carries last week. With some holes on the Nittany Lion defense, these two should get the running game on track and fill the shoes that were left by JK Dobbins. Penn State only gave up 41 yards rushing last week to Indiana, and the key for Ohio State’s offense is to be balanced.

Nittany Spotlight: Sean Clifford. It was an easy choice for the limited weapons left on this Penn State team. He was able to pass for 3 touchdowns last week, but also through 2 interceptions. He will need to play a near perfect game to keep Penn State in it. Otherwise, this one might get ugly fast. He might still be bitter after getting benched last years game in Columbus.

Water Cooler Stat of the Game:  20-14. Since joining the Big Ten, Penn State has been the biggest challenger to the Buckeyes since that span, with Ohio State claiming 20 wins, and on a 3 game win streak. Bad memories of Scarlet and Gray fans enter their minds after the 2016 game, but with an empty stadium for what would normally be their “White Out” game, will Penn State build its own momentum to try and upset the Buckeyes?

Prediction:  Ryan Day will have his team ready for this one after a first week game where there where several opportunities for the Buckeyes to grow, but it is hard to be disappointed with a 5 touchdown win against a conference opponent. Justin Fields will need to be every bit as good as he was this last week, as Michael Penix Jr for Indiana exposed the weakness of this Penn State team, the secondary. Ohio State receivers will have another big showing, and expect a lot of rotation at the wide receiver position to keep their starters fresh. Someone will have to emerge as the go to guy between Master Teague and Trey Sermon, and both should have a chance in this game. Penn State will head into this game emotional after such a close loss, but they still have their goal ahead of them. Unfortunately, they are going against an Ohio State team who is on a mission, and looking to make another statement win. This game should give them a comfortable lead in the Big Ten East until potentially their final game against Michigan.

Ohio State 42 – Penn State 17


Photo Credit to ESPN News Room

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