Nittany Lions Look For Another Upset Against Ohio State

The Nittany Lions pulled off the seemingly impossible two Saturdays ago when they upset the ranked and undefeated Michigan Wolverines in four overtimes. If Penn State (4-2, 1-1) wants to stay on track with another victory, it will take a second consecutive upset, this time against an even better squad in the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0). The game kicks off tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio.

According to the NCAA, Penn State hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 1997. In reality, the Nittany Lions last topped the Buckeyes in 2011 in a low-scoring 20-14 game. Both teams should score more points than that on Saturday, but it’s going to take a strong effort, a near-flawless game plan, and some mistake-free football from Penn State to head back to Happy Valley with the win.

There’s no doubt that the most dangerous player on the field will be Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller. The scariest part isn’t how good Miller is, it’s that if you manage to stop him, you need to worry about Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall, one of the best running back duos in the nation. The defensive line will need to play well across the board, from DaQuan Jones on the inside to Deion Barnes on the outside.

Ohio State boasts one of the nation’s best run defenses, allowing only 92.4 yards per game. Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak should be able to gain more yards than that average, but they likely aren’t going to have explosive games against a very disciplined Ohio State front seven. Penn State’s offensive success will almost certainly lie in the hands of Christian Hackenberg and his receiving corps.

Ohio State is going to put up points in this game. The Buckeyes are avergaing 45 points per game while averaging 493.1 yards of total offense. The keys to this game will be limiting Braxton Miller as much as possible and getting the pass game going early.

It won’t be easy, but as they say: Any Given Saturday. Let’s take a look at some Ohio State players worth keeping an eye on.

Braxton Miller #5 — This should go without saying, but Miller is the best player on the Buckeyes and arguably will be the best player on the field come game time. He’s completing 70 percent of his passes this season for 831 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions. On the ground, Miller has added another 335 yards on 75 attempts, but has yet to find the end zone on a rush, which is a bit of a surprise through seven games, although he did miss nearly three games due to a knee injury.

Carlos Hyde #34 & Jordan Hall #2 — This duo is the definition of a split-carry backfield. Hyde has rushed 72 times this season for 443 yards and five touchdowns, while Hall has carried the ball 71 times for 438 yards and eight touchdowns. Hyde is the bigger, bruising back while Hall is the smaller, elusive back. The two seniors have that whole fast and furious thing going for them, and they will be a challenge to stop tomorrow.

Bradley Roby #1 — When you stop gawking at the Ohio State offense, you realize that junior cornerback Bradley Roby is on the other side of the field. Roby hasn’t quite kept up the pace he started last year, but he’s still one of the top defensive backs in the nation. Roby vs. Allen Robinson will be the matchup of the game. He was able to effectively neutralize Robinson for the most part last season. We’ll see if he can do the same tomorrow night.

Some things to watch for from the Nittany Lions:

Hackenberg under pressure — So far this season, you can’t complain about Hackenberg’s play in high-pressure situations. The epitome of the “is he mature enough to handle playing for such a high-profile team” storyline came two weeks ago. In an end-of-regulation drive, Hackenberg was sharp as he drove the Penn State offense down the field for a touchdown that forced the first of four overtimes. The rest is history. So now, the question becomes, “can Christian Hackenberg handle the pressure in the Horseshoe in a game in which he’ll be forced to pass early and often?”

The running back situation — Who is going to get the first snap? How are the runs going to be divided between the backs? Will there be a clear-cut starter anymore? Where does Akeel Lynch fit into the picture after not playing at all against Michigan? This feels similar to the list of questions I had after each episode of Breaking Bad, but the answers will come tomorrow.

Jordan Lucas — The young cornerback has looked better in recent weeks. He also sounds a lot more confident now that he’s seen some on-field success. Can Lucas keep the momentum going and do his part in trying to limit Miller?

It’s been nearly two long weeks of no football, but the Nittany Lions will be back in action tomorrow evening in the Horseshoe. Get pumped.

By the Numbers: Ohio State is scoring 45 points a game and giving up just 19.9. The Nittany Lions are scoring 33.3 points per game while allowing 23.7. The Penn State passing game has been superior to Ohio State’s air attack this year, totaling 283.7 yards a game compared to just 213.6 for the Buckeyes. However, the opposite is the case when it comes to the ground game. Ohio State is rushing for an insane 279.6 yards per game to Penn State’s 157.2.

Blast from the Past: The Nittany Lions took an early lead in a nighttime home game against the Buckeyes last season on a blocked punt in front of 107,818 fans. The game was tied 7-7 going into the half, but a scoring frenzy erupted in the final two quarters.

Matt McGloin threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Braxton Miller threw for 143 yards with one touchdown through the air, adding another 134 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti were all over the field, posting 14 and 13 tackles respectively. In the end, the Buckeyes pulled ahead and won the game, 35-23.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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