Why Penn State Can Win This Weekend
In no universe is Penn State better than Ohio State this year. No one in their right mind is going to logically predict a Penn State win this Saturday night in Columbus. Maybe it’s because I’m not in my right mind, or maybe I’m just way too crazy about this school, but I see a Penn State upset on the horizon.
If these teams played ten times, the Buckeyes should win nine of those games. All it takes is one game though. One game to show the world Penn State is a legitimately good team capable of usually beating those beneath them and occasionally pulling off an upset. A few teams have come close to beating No. 1 Ohio State this year. Northern Illinois lost by seven. Indiana, the team Penn State recently dominated, lost by seven. Even Maryland made Ohio State fans nervous for a half.
There is a reason the Buckeyes are the top ranked team in college football. Ezekiel Elliott, the junior Ohio State running back, has ran for 835 yards already this season, averaging an impressive 6.9 yards per carry. For those keeping score at home, he’s on pace for 1,670 yards this season. A bowl game or a couple of playoff games will only increase those numbers.
The controversial two quarterback system Head Coach Urban Meyer employed earlier in the season is still in place. However, Cardale Jones is still being used as the primary starter, as he should be. Last week against Maryland, he went 21-28 for 291 yards and 2 touchdowns. He and quarterback J.T. Barrett have been impressive all year. They will not disappoint on Saturday.
The Buckeyes’ defense has proven to be resilient all season. It hasn’t let up more than 28 points in a game, and even when it does let up a few points, the generally high scoring offense makes up for it. The Buckeyes have survived all year on playing more than enough offense or just enough defense.
We all unfortunately remember what happened the last time the Nittany Lions visited Ohio Stadium. A 63-14 destruction of Penn State is putting it lightly, and Ohio State is more than capable of doing it again. It’s a night game, and no matter what the Ohio State faithful want to believe, it’s a rivalry. It’s a nationally televised game in prime time. Ohio State will wear all-black uniforms for the first time in its history. Although Ohio State could very well pull off a performance similar to the one it had two years ago, Penn State is also more than capable of playing a game much like it did against Ohio State last year.
Penn State may be the most criticized 5-1 team out there, but Ohio State is definitely the most criticized 6-0 team. The Buckeyes have been criticized since their opening game against Virginia Tech. Many questioned whether or not using J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones in a two-quarterback system could work in games against better opponents, and even though Ohio State dominated the game, the question was still there.
In the second week, the Buckeyes shut out Hawaii 38-0, but it didn’t come without some glaring issues, like sloppy offense. Cardale Jones went 12-18 for 111 yards, Barrett went 8-15 for 70 yards, and Ezekiel Elliot went for a season low, although still impressive, 101 yards and three touchdowns. The problems for the Buckeyes’ offense started in this game, and some of those problems still loom over the heads of Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Cardale Jones has only thrown for more than 200 yards three times this year. To put this into comparison, Christian Hackenberg has done it twice and many people have not been impressed with this offense this year. The expectations for Ohio State’s offense coming into the season were significantly higher, and if you ask me, it has failed to meet those expectations if you exclude the play of Ezekiel Elliot.
Going against Ohio State’s occasionally shaky offense is Penn State’s defense, which has proven to be solid all year. Carl Nassib is playing like one of the best defensive ends in the country, leading all players in sacks and forced fumbles. John Reid is having one of the better and maybe most surprising seasons at cornerback Penn State has seen recently. Even after the loss of Nyeem Wartman-White, Linebacker U is showing its depth and talent with guys like Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda coming up large on multiple occasions for Penn State. The defense is stopping the run, preventing too many big pass plays from breaking out, and doing what it needs to win. Even with the potentially explosive attack of Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, and Ezekiel Elliot, I trust in this defense enough to shut them down. Of course the Buckeyes will score some points, but much like last year, this defense has the potential to limit the Buckeyes’ offense.
Penn State also has a big factor who is expected by more than a few people to return this week. His name is Saquon Barkley, and he is nothing short of unbelievable for the Nittany Lions. If he does come back this week, expect to see a battle between him and Elliot. This kid wants nothing more than to shine in front of the whole country, and there’s not a much better way to do it than to show up one of the best backs in college football.
Whether or not Barkley does return Saturday, Offensive Coordinator John Donovan should utilize a few deep passes which have worked well for Penn State over the last few weeks. Against San Diego State, Saeed Blacknall showed off his speed for a few big catches downfield. Last week against Indiana, Brandon Polk and DaeSean Hamilton both caught deep balls for touchdowns. Donovan must capitalize at least a few times on the deep ball. I haven’t stopped trusting Christian Hackenberg, and there’s no reason to stop trusting him against the Buckeyes. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He’s proven he can lead by dealing with issues on the field and on the sideline. He’s been calling more audibles the last few weeks. He’s becoming more confident each week. He’s staying in the pocket more, willing to take a hit to make a play.
Last week, Hackenberg found the turf a few times more than anybody may want to see. However, there was a determination in his play. There was also confidence in every step he took and every throw he completed. The Christian Hackenberg from a few weeks ago wouldn’t have dove at the goal line and taken a big hit as he did. He just wasn’t confident enough. But against the Hoosiers, he wanted to score on that play and did, then scored again later on a bootleg. His confidence is there, and he’s ready to lead this team.
Let’s get to the main point here. What does this all mean for Penn State on Saturday? It means it is more than able to pull off the unthinkable. This team can beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes have struggled all year to find a chemistry suitable for the top-ranked team in the nation. Penn State’s defense is solid, capable of stopping Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliot. John Donovan opened up the playbook last week against Indiana, and he will do it again. Christian Hackenberg is poised to make big passes to guys like DaeSean Hamilton, Geno Lewis, and Brandon Polk. Kyle Carter and Mike Gesicki even got into the play last week, and they can definitely be a factor this week. Saquon Barkley’s probable return will surely spark the Nittany Lions’ offense.
It won’t be easy. It will be a battle. Our hearts will be into it all game. Nobody believes Penn State can win. Nobody should believe. The only thing that matters is this team believes. And maybe with the right play-calling, the right personnel, and a little bit of luck, the Nittany Lions can pull off the upset on Saturday night in Columbus.