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Penn State’s Defense Faces Toughest Challenge Yet In Lethal Ohio State Attack

Coming off one of its most disappointing losses in recent memory, No. 20 Penn State football is in for a battle this weekend in Columbus against No. 5 Ohio State.

Against Illinois, the Nittany Lions allowed 357 yards on the ground, by far the largest amount given up all season by Brent Pry’s defense. That sky-high figures came against an Illinois squad that ranks toward the bottom of the Big Ten in rushing yards per game.

Now, Penn State faces the Buckeyes, who not only have a prolific rushing attack but a dominant, high-powered offense across the board.

Ohio State leads the nation with 559.7 yards per game and 49.3 points per game. The Buckeyes sit at second in the country with 8.44 yards per play, just behind Coastal Carolina (8.54 yards per play).

The Buckeyes’ offense is led by redshirt freshman quarterback CJ Stroud. After a slow start to the season, Stroud has been lighting it up lately with 14 touchdowns and 1,002 passing yards over his last three games. Penn State head coach James Franklin has seen Stroud’s growth over the course of the season and credits running back TreVeyon Henderson as the catalyst.

“CJ Stroud is playing with tremendous confidence,” Franklin said. “He’s getting better every single week. Obviously, he’s surrounded with a bunch of explosive players. TreVeyon Henderson has really changed him since his role has grown in the offense.”

Henderson has seen his role in the offense expand ever since his 277-yard, three-touchdown performance in Ohio State’s week-three win over Tulsa. For the season, Henderson has totaled 693 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns (11 rushing, three receiving). He’s averaging 8.8 yards per carry, which is pretty, pretty good if you ask us.

After Penn State’s pathetic rush defense last week, the team is sure to have its hands full with Henderson and the rest of Ohio State’s backfield. Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie is anticipating a battle of two physical fronts Saturday night.

“They are a physical group up front,” Ebiketie said. “And I believe we are a physical group up front, so it definitely should be a good matchup and it will be a physical game.

“They are a really good offense. They are a really good team,” Ebiketie continued. “On our hands, we’re going to try to do our part to stop them. The goal is always to stop the run and earn the right to pass rush. I’m sure as long as we stick to our mindset, everything is going to go well.”

While Stroud and Henderson headline Ohio State’s lethal offense, the buck certainly doesn’t stop there. The Buckeyes have three wideouts with more than 25 receptions and 500 receiving yards under their belts. Garrett Wilson leads the group with 36 receptions for 605 yards, while Chris Olave has snagged a team-leading eight touchdowns.

“Obviously, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are all receivers that can catch the short pass and take it the distance, or have the ability to beat you over the top from the beginning,” Franklin said. “So, very, very explosive.”

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, as Franklin mentioned, is that third receiver in Ohio State’s offense. While Olave and Wilson may get a lot of the recognition, Smith-Njigba has put together an impressive season with 29 catches for 551 yards and three touchdowns.

Additionally, if their matchup nightmare at receiver wasn’t enough, the Buckeyes boast talent at tight end with senior Jeremy Ruckert. The Lindenhurst, New York native has hauled in 16 receptions this year worth 186 yards and three touchdowns.

Veteran cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields said he views Saturday’s game as an opportunity for Penn State’s defense to show what it can do.

“They have talented receivers all around the board,” Castro-Fields said. “Guys who can make plays with the ball in the air and also make plays when they have the ball in their hands. It’s definitely going to be a great opportunity for us to prove ourselves and test ourselves.”

When you play a team like Ohio State, there are so many things you have to prepare and look out for. What’s the biggest challenge Ohio State presents a defense with? Well, the Buckeyes can do just about everything.

“[It’s] just how balanced they are,” Castro-Fields said. “They can run the ball, they got great receivers all around that can make plays, and I think that’s overall what’s going to be the biggest challenge. Just trying to be stout in the run game but also we got to do our job as a secondary and cover. So, I think that’s the biggest challenge.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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