Defying The Odds: Penn State’s Chances Against No. 2 Ohio State
Ohio State is currently a 19.5 point favorite over Penn State for Saturday, so what the hell do we have to be optimistic for?
Well, believe it or not, Ohio State is a beatable football team. Wisconsin nearly did it last week, and Penn State nearly did it in 2014. Let’s not forget, Ohio State is coming off an emotional, tough, overtime win against Wisconsin in Madison, and it wasn’t very evident that the Buckeyes were the better team. Wisconsin showed that despite Ohio State’s great success this year, this is a team that can be stopped — especially when placed in such a hostile away environment. A night game White Out is one of the most hostile environments you can get in college football. Obviously, Penn State will have to play the game of its life to pull off the upset, but it is feasible — albeit marginally.
First thing Penn State needs to do is play strong defense. The unit has certainly had its troubles this year, especially against the rush. This is mainly due to handful of departures to the NFL and numerous injuries. However, it’s slowly getting healthier and better, as proved against Maryland. Grant Haley, Malik Golden, and Evan Schwan have all returned to starting and made serious impacts against Maryland. Jason Cabinda looks to return this week and Brandon Bell will be available as well, meaning the Lions will have two of their three starting linebackers in — a notion that can surely change the outcome of a game.
Wisconsin shut down the Ohio State tailbacks last week, holding Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber to 46 yards each. This made J.T. Barrett throw the ball more than he would’ve liked, which seemed to unsettle him given his penchant for keeping the ball and making plays with his legs. Barrett only threw one interception, but throughout the game you could clearly see he struggled throwing in the hostile environment and against a very strong Wisconsin defense. No player on Ohio State totaled more than 58 receiving yards; only Samuel kept the unit afloat.
This is the key for the Lions. Now, Penn State has struggled a good deal against the run, meaning the Buckeyes should tailor its gameplan around the ground game. Barrett certainly impacted the game with his legs, and the formidable duo of Weber and Samuel figure to provide a different look each time they carry the ball. If the Lions can keep Ohio State at bay and force Barrett to test the secondary, we might have a different ballgame.
Next key to an upset is a balanced offensive attack. There’s no question that Ohio State will significantly prepare for Saquon Barkley after what he did to them last year rushing for 194 yards. Penn State needs to call a smart game, but the key will be keeping Barkley as the focal point and using Trace McSorley’s legs as a complement. In the win over Maryland, the Penn State offense did a great job of using the option. Just as the Buckeyes figure to do to the Lions, Penn State should dish it right back. Inclement weather is expected, meaning we could be watching a ground oriented battle.
As I said, balanced attack is key, so the passing game needs to be powerful come Saturday. Ohio State will be prepared for a strong rushing attack, but can’t forget how dangerous Penn State’s receiving corps can be. McSorley needs to spread the ball around and test the secondary deep. Last week, defense was what kept Wisconsin in the game. Penn State isn’t at Wisconsin’s level defensively, meaning the onus is on the offense to provide balance and give Pry’s unit some relief.
There is no way Penn State wins this game without the magic of the White Out crowd. There is something special about Beaver Stadium under the lights, and with an opponent like Ohio State, the atmosphere figures to be electric. Fans and students will have to be louder than ever Saturday night. The Lions know how to play on White Out night, and they’ll have to bring their best on Saturday if they are to pull off the improbable upset.