Previewing The Enemy: Penn State vs Ohio State
By: David Abruzzese and Ethan Kasales
The undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes enter Beaver Stadium as the No. 2 team in the country hell bent on returning to the College Football Playoff. The 4-2 Nittany Lions have a unique chance to play spoiler and completely change the trajectory of their season with a win. Take a look at what Penn State is up against on Saturday.
Ohio State Offense
It should come as no surprise that the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes feature a juggernaut offensive unit that ranks among the best in the entire nation.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett has firmly entrenched himself in the thick of the Heisman race with Cardale Jones off to the NFL. The junior has 1,207 yards with 16 touchdowns to four interceptions and a 63.2 completion percentage. Though a solid quarterback, Barrett thrives with the football in his hands regardless of the situation. He kills teams with his legs having rushed for 434 yards and six touchdowns with a 4.8 yards per carry figure. The key to stopping this offense is containing his legs and forcing him to use his arms not his legs.
Barrett’s backfield mates are among the nation’s elite. The Buckeyes are led by redshirt freshman Mike Weber, who has 612 yards and four touchdowns while picking up 6.5 yards per carry. He’s the team’s go-to back, but his complement is making a Heisman case of his own. H-back Curtis Samuel has taken the nation by storm with his eye-popping production at multiple offensive positions. Not only does he lead the Buckeyes in receptions (29) and receiving yards (403), he’s gone ahead and revolutionized the H-back position and how effective it can be. He can line up in the slot or from the backfield and have an equal impact. He epitomizes the type of player who, regardless of how he gets the ball, can make plays at any spot. He’s a dynamic ballcarrier, and makes defenders pay with even limited amounts of space. He’s a weapon that can alter the outcome of a game — and he could do just that against the Nittany Lions.
Up front for Ohio State, star lineman Pat Elflein leads the group as the most accomplished member. He was a second-team All-American last season, and was named a midseason All-American by USA Today. He’s been integral to the unit’s success on the ground, and he’ll make it tough for anybody to get remotely close to Barrett in the pocket. The rest of the line is significantly younger than past lines, but it doesn’t lack in strength or athleticism.
Barrett’s targets aside from Samuel are just as effective with senior Dontre Wilson — who’s also a threat on the ground — and sophomore Noah Brown combining for 32 catches for 445 yards and 10 touchdowns. Four of Brown’s six touchdowns came during his breakout game against Oklahoma that saw him haul in a score while pinning the ball to the back of an Oklahoma defensive back. They’re the immediate threats the Lions should be worried about — especially the 6-foot-2, 218 lb Brown. He’ll serve as a mismatch against the much shorter John Reid. Penn State’s secondary — despite injuries that have plagued the front seven — is extremely talented and ready for the task. Safeties Malik Golden and Marcus Allen should be plenty busy throughout Saturday night’s contest.
Ohio State Defense
It all starts with the linebackers. Sophomore and Cleveland native Jerome Baker leads the way with 39 total tackles, while adding a fumble recovery and a 68-yard interception return. Juniors Raekwon McMillan and Chris Worley are second and third on the defense with 36 and 30 tackles, respectively. They’ll be tasked with setting the edge for Saquon Barkley, allowing a deep arsenal of Ohio State pass rushers to focus on attacking the Nittany Lions’ reworked offensive line.
Sophomore safety and New Castle, Pa., product Malik Hooker has evolved into one of the Big Ten’s most feared ballhawks, reeling in four interceptions through the first half of the season. Damon Webb, a high school teammate of running back Mike Weber at Detroit’s Cass Tech, and fellow corner Marshon Lattimore will have a tough task locking down Penn State’s versatile receiving corps, but don’t expect them to shy away from the challenge.
Former Nittany Lion defensive line coach Larry Johnson boasts one of the most talented rotations in college football, highlighted by Sam Hubbard and Joey Bosa’s younger brother Nick – a freshman defensive end. Not to mention Tyquan Lewis, who leads Ohio State with four sacks and two forced fumbles this fall. He paced the Buckeyes with eight sacks in 2015 despite being overshadowed by Bosa, San Diego’s third-overall pick.