Ever since the loss to Virginia Tech on September 6th, Ohio State has been rolling offensively. Proof? Ohio State has averaged 56 points a game over its last four opponents (Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, and Rutgers). Granted, none of those opponents are considered to be college football juggernauts, but it would be fair to state that Ohio State has exorcised the demons (I figured Halloween is right around the corner, so why not be a little colorful with the analogies?) that plagued them as the 2014 college football season began.
Conversely, Penn State seems to be going in the opposite direction. Penn State began the season with a stirring last second victory over Central Florida (26-24) in the season opener, and the Nittany Lions concluded the first month of the season with a 4-0 record. The positive momentum was surprisingly blunted by visiting Northwestern (27-6), then Penn State lost at Michigan (18-13). Considering Penn State had a bye that preceded its visit to Ann Arbor, and still lost to a struggling Michigan team, had to be disconcerting to Penn State coaches, players, and fans. For what it is worth, Penn State is coming into this game with Ohio State off another bye week.
Here are the three areas I will concentrate upon as the kickoff begins at 8pm EST on ABC:
1. Can Penn State's Defense Slow Down Ohio State's Offense? - Penn State's defense has been keeping the team in games, ranking 6th in the country at points allowed (average 15 points a game). The strength of the Penn State defense is the run defense, while Ohio State prides itself on a powerful running game. With those statistics in mind, keep in mind that these are the opponents Penn State has played up until this point - Central Florida, Akron, Rutgers, Massachusetts, Northwestern, and Michigan. Penn State defeated Rutgers 13-10, largely behind five interceptions of Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova; Ohio State just thrashed Rutgers 56-17.
2. Will Penn State's Offensive Line Be Able To Protect Christian Hackenberg? - Even Penn State coaches and fans recognized going into the 2014 season that the Penn State offensive line was the decided weak link of the team. It would be generous to say that Penn State has struggled to run the ball; Penn State ranks 121st in the country at rushing the ball. Against Michigan, Christian Hackenberg was continually under siege. Ohio State's defensive line, led by stalwart Joey Bosa, may be extremely difficult to slow down, let alone stop. Will Penn State head coach James Franklin move Hackenberg out of the pocket in order to keep the Ohio State defensive line in check?
3. Ohio State Gets A Sizable Lead; Send In The Backups? - As stated up above, Ohio State has averaged 56 points a game over its last four victories. While it has been rewarding to witness the continuing maturation and development of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, it has also been somewhat disappointing that the Ohio State coaching staff has not been giving backup players such as backup quarterback Cardale Jones more playing time. Perhaps I am concerning myself too much on possible negative consequences, but Jones is literally only one play away from having to run the Ohio State offense, yet has had little to no playing time this season. Will Ohio State play its backups and rest its starters if the Buckeyes get a commanding lead over Penn State?
Penn State Head Coach James Franklin will be using the night game atmosphere to his advantage, relying upon the 106,000 fans in Beaver Stadium to impact and disrupt Ohio State with as much noise as possible. As stated up above, Penn State had a bye weekend, so perhaps Coach Franklin has figured out a few things that will keep Ohio State off balance defensively this game. Then again, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have installed the Buckeyes as 13.5 point favorites, and I always believe there is a reason why there are new buildings and casinos continually being built out there by these individuals. I have it Ohio State 56, Penn State 17.