Previewing The Enemy: Ohio State Buckeyes
This is the big one, folks.
No. 8 Penn State football (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) will travel to Columbus to face No. 2 Ohio State (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) at noon Saturday. The game will be broadcast nationally on FOX.
The Buckeyes have absolutely rolled through their first 10 games of the 2019 season, and they seem on their way to capture their third consecutive conference title.
Although most of the team’s first 10 games came against so-called “cupcake” opponents like Maryland, Rutgers, and Northwestern, Ohio State has squared off against three ranked teams. It dispatched then-No. 17 Cincinnati 42-0 before thumping Wisconsin — the nation’s current No. 12 team — 38-7 at home. The Buckeyes also took down Michigan State 34-10 while the Spartans were still ranked in the AP poll.
Ohio State hasn’t lost since October 20, 2018 — the day that Purdue railroaded Urban Meyer’s side under the lights in West Lafayette. The Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat under first-year head coach Ryan Day, who inherited the team from one of the sport’s most legendary figures in recent history.
Day is 10 games into his debut season as Ohio State’s head football coach. He got three games of head coaching experience last season when Urban Meyer was suspended for mishandling domestic abuse allegations levied against former assistant coach Zach Smith.
Day spent two seasons as the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator after a brief NFL stint. He was the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterbacks coach in 2015 before taking on the same role with the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. He made the leap to the pros after serving as the offensive coordinator at Temple in 2012 and Boston College in 2013 and 2014.
Naturally, the offensive guru has led one of the nation’s most dynamic units when it comes to scoring and putting up yards, but Ohio State’s defense has well and truly suffocated its opponents so far this year.
Ohio State’s offense is the only unit in the nation to average more than 50 points per game this season. Its 51.5 points-per-game total leads the country by a longshot, and the Buckeyes’ rushing attack ranks fourth in the nation with an average of more than 288 yards per game. Their passing attack ranks 45th with an average of 254.3 yards per game, but that number doesn’t come close to telling the passing game’s whole story.
Sophomore Justin Fields — a transfer from Georgia and a former Penn State commit — has been one of college football’s best signal-callers this year. Fields has completed 69.1% of his passes for 2,164 yards, 31 touchdowns, and just one interception. As a dual-threat quarterback, Fields has also burned defenses on the run for 377 yards and 10 touchdowns on 84 carries. He garnered lots of hype throughout the recruiting process, and that potential is coming to fruition in the form of a Heisman-worthy 2019 performance.
Fields has done well to spread the ball around to multiple targets, as five of Ohio State’s wide receivers have recorded at least 15 receptions this year. Chris Olave has burst onto the scene as the Buckeyes’ top passing option with a team-leading 584 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Olave is second on the team with 36 receptions behind KJ Hill — the speedy slot receiver who scored the game-winning touchdown in last year’s White Out victory over Penn State.
Binjimen Victor also scored in the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes’ 27-26 comeback win last year, and he’s producing again. The wideout has hauled in 26 passes for 459 yards and six touchdowns — the latter stat is tied with Hill for the second-most scores on the team. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson has also put together a good year with 229 yards and four scores on 19 grabs.
Meanwhile, star running back JK Dobbins is second in the Big Ten with 1,289 yards on the ground this year. He’s found the end zone 15 times — twice on passing plays — and has had 183 carries this year. In addition to having one of college football’s best names, Master Teague has served well as Dobbins’ backup with 744 yards and three scores on 114 carries.
The Buckeyes’ offense has been held to fewer than 40 points twice this season. Ohio State can make plays at will against defenses that aren’t on their A-game, so Penn State has a tall task ahead.
Defense & Special Teams
Ohio State’s defense is the only unit that’s allowed opponents to score an average of fewer than 10 points per game this year. It has allowed the fewest passing yards per game (126) and the second-fewest rushing yards per game (90.8) behind Penn State.
The Buckeyes’ defense is anchored by Chase Young. The junior defensive end was a legitimate Heisman contender before being suspended by the NCAA for accepting a loan from a family friend, but he’ll be back on the field against Penn State.
Young dominated against the Nittany Lions last year while filling in for the injured Nick Bosa. He finished the 2018 White Out with six tackles, two sacks, and the game-sealing stop on Miles Sanders in the fourth quarter.
This season, Ohio State has gotten more of the same from Young, who has 13.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss of yardage. More than half of Young’s 29 total stops have resulted in offenses moving backward, and the Buckeyes don’t keep his position static. He lines up in a number of different positions on defense, so Penn State will always have to be wary of where he is on the field.
Elsewhere, linebacker Malik Harrison leads the Buckeyes with 52 total tackles this year. The senior is in his third year as a starter on Ohio State’s defense, and he’s second on the team behind Young with 12.5 stops for a loss this year.
Ohio State’s pass defense is truly elite and projected top-10 NFL Draft pick Jeffrey Okudah has led the Buckeyes’ secondary this year. He’s picked off a team-leading three passes in 2019 and forced a fumble. Safety Jordan Fuller and linebacker K’Vaughan Pope have also picked off two passes, and six other Buckeye defenders have intercepted an opposing quarterback this year. Sean Clifford has done a good job of limiting turnovers for most of this season barring Penn State’s loss to Minnesota, but Ohio State’s pass defense will present a challenge unlike any other he’s seen this year.
Placekicker Blake Haubiel has drilled all 67 of his extra-point attempts this year while going 8-for-10 on field-goal tries. Drue Chrisman, who got engaged at Ohio State’s spring football game, is 10 games into his third season as Ohio State’s starting punter. He’s only had to punt 31 times this season.
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About the Author
James Franklin is here to stay.
ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg reported that Rahne is “in the mix” for the head coaching job at Old Dominion, which was left vacant by Bobby Wilder’s resignation on December 2.
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