The four matchups that will decide the Penn State-Ohio State game
The hype began to build at the end of spring practice. By the time preseason magazines hit the shelves of grocery stores in the summer, the anticipation was growing even more. Finally, the time has arrived: It’s time for Penn State at Ohio State.
These are aruably the two best teams in the Big Ten, as the Nittany Lions are No. 2 in the nation, while the Buckeyes are No. 6. The winner will be in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten East and advance to the league title game, where a shot to earn a playoff bid probably will be on the line.
“This has College Football Playoff implications, it has Big Ten Championship implications, OSU wideout Terry McLaurin told the media this week. “This is why you come to Ohio State to play in these big games.”
Last year, the Nittany Lions were the only team to beat Ohio State in the regular season, shocking the No. 2 Buckeyes, 24-21, after Grant Haley ran back a blocked field goal 60 yards for the winning TD late in the fourth quarter. Before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU. The Nittany Lions went on to take the Big Ten title, but the Buckeyes got the bid to College Football Playoff.
The stakes this year figure to be just as high when the game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET in Columbus this Saturday.
Here are the four matchups that will decide the game.
1. Ohio State defensive line vs. Penn State offensive line. Ask any coach, and he’ll tell you that the game is won in the trenches. Yes, the skill guys make the headlines, but it’s the big fellas who determine the outcome. And this will be a pivotal clash. The Buckeyes have perhaps the best defensive front in the nation. D-line coach Larry Johnson does a great job. And his unit is paced by ends Nick Bosa and Tyquan Lewis. The Penn State offensive line has been a work in progress for a few years. Nittany Lions offensive line coach Matt Limegrover has developed a strong front. And the unit did well vs. an athletic Michigan front last week, as Penn State ran for 224 yards (6.4 yards per carry).
2. Penn State linebackers vs. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett. Since that clunker vs. Oklahoma–when Barrett completed 19-of-35 passes for 183 yards with no TDs and a pick and ran 18 times for 66 yards–the senior has hit 99-of-137 passes (72 percent) for 1,351 yards with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. Barrett also has run 39 times for 232 yards and four scores, averaging 5.9 yards per tote. He will be a handful for the Penn State linebackers led by Jason Cabinda. Safety Marcus Allen also will need to be active in spying Barrett to make sure he doesn’t gash the PSU defense for big runs. The key: Keep Barrett in the pocket and force him to make decisions and pass the ball.
3. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley vs. Ohio State linebackers. There is no disputing the fact that Barkley is the front-runner for the Heisman. The junior has been spectacular in 2017, pacing the nation in all-purpose yards (211.1 ypg). Barkley ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing (108.1 ypg) with 117 carries for 757 yards. And he is No. 5 in the league in receptions (4.6 cpg) with 32 grabs for 448 yards. Buckeye ‘backers Jerome Baker and Dante Booker need to shadow Barkley, to try to limit his weekly long run(s) and impact as a receiver. OSU must make Barkley and the Nittany Lions earn their points on multiple-play drives.
4. Ohio State secondary vs. Penn State wideouts. The Buckeyes had to rebuild a secondary that saw three players get drafted in the first round of last spring NFL’s draft. So far, so good, as players like Denzel Ward and Damon Arnette have excelled. But they will be tested like they haven’t been before this season vs. a terrific collection of Nittany Lions pass-catchers led by receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson and tight end Mike Gesicki. No doubt, the OSU secondary needs the help of a good pass rush. Still, whoever wins the battles on the perimeter and in space will have a good shot to win this game.