Saturday night will be what Big Ten football is all about: a determined Penn State team eager for a signature win, as they host Ohio State; a team that is looking more like the team to beat in the conference. Saturday’s game will also be a unique window into the leadership, attitude and development of each team.
Ohio State hasn’t experienced an environment like the one they will see on Saturday night. It’s important Ohio State doesn’t underestimate Penn State. Their players remember the seismic butt kicking they received in Columbus last season; and they will use that as a rallying point. The longer the Nittany Lions are able to hang with the Buckeyes, the more confidence Penn State will gain and the lower the margin of error for Ohio State will become.
This means it’s imperative Ohio State starts quickly to take the fans out of the game. In their last four games, the Buckeyes have outscored opponents 72-10 in the first quarter. They’ll need a hot start again on Saturday to take control of the game early and deliver the knock out blow before Penn State sees what hits them. To accomplish this, Ohio State needs solid communication among their offensive line and J.T. Barrett. If they can remain poised and communicate effectively despite the crowd noise, they should have success.
A unique test
Penn State enters this contest as the sixth ranked team in the country in total defense. Meanwhile, Ohio State is currently ninth in total offense. On paper, this seems like a dynamic matchup, but it’s important to note that Penn State hasn’t seen an offense anything close to one resembling Ohio State’s versatility. Similarly, the last time the Buckeyes faced a stout defense was Virginia Tech; and that game still gives Buckeye Nation indigestion. With these factors in mind, are both teams as good as their rankings indicate? Saturday night should give us a better idea.
The one area where Ohio State has an almost unfair advantage is when their defensive line goes against Penn State’s offense line, which is about as stable as a house of cards. Penn State ranks 116th in the FBS in sacks allowed a game, so expect Joey Bosa and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg to meet several times. If the defensive line can apply consistent pressure on Hackenberg, he may continue the Penn State tradition of their quarterbacks throwing pick-sixes to Ohio State’s defenses.
This is an interesting test for Ohio State’s young team. If they remain poised and execute early, they can impose their will and take the fans out of the game. While Penn State isn’t a bad team, the Buckeyes are playing on another level right now. With a ton of momentum on their side, Ohio State should be able to win this one comfortably.