Penn State Preview: Ohio State

Penn State @ Ohio State (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Nittany Lions head to The Horseshoe on Saturday for a Top-10 battle with the Buckeyes. Photo credit: Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: at Ohio Stadium, noon kickoff, broadcast on FOX.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 43 degrees, partly sunny and chilly.

The line: Penn State +18

Last week: Penn State outlasted Indiana 34-27, while Ohio State continued its unbeaten season, clobbering Rutgers 56-21.

All-time series: Ohio State leads 19-14.

Last meeting (2018): Ohio State clipped Penn State for a 27-26 victory at Beaver Stadium.

Throwback classic (2008): In a matchup mirror Saturday’s showdown, the Nittany Lions upset the Buckeyes in battle of Top-10 teams. Penn State then won the Big Ten and appeared in the Rose Bowl.

Overview: A late-November game in Columbus with the Big Ten East Division on the line. This is what fans have been looking forward to — and the players and coaches working toward — all season. The Buckeyes have stood near the top of the national rankings all season, not missing Urban Meyer. First-year coach Ryan Day and QB-transfer Justin Fields have the Buckeyes looking as good as they have over the last few decades, making Penn State at least two-touchdown underdogs in most scenarios.

The Nittany Lions are finishing up a brutal stretch, playing their fifth ranked opponent in six games. Win Saturday, and Penn State will go into the Big Ten championship as the favored team to win the conference title and head to either the College Football Playoff or Rose Bowl.

In a season where nine or 10 wins seemed like the ceiling, Penn State seems to be ahead of schedule — next year looked to be the year that at the CFP was in focus. But the team has been shattering expectations since James Franklin arrived, so don’t be surprised if Saturday’s game is competitive well into the fourth quarter.

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions can dramatically slow down Fields. The former Penn State commit transferred to the Buckeyes before the season, leading arguably the best team in the nation — LSU and Ohio State are clearly the top two teams. The Nittany Lions’ pass defense has been worrisome the past two weeks, with the secondary looking downright confused at times. Whether it’s blown coverage, bad angles, or missed tackles, both Minnesota and Indiana moved the ball throughout the game.

Ohio State wins if: the Buckeyes force at least two turnovers. Lately, Sean Clifford has had a tendency to give away the ball, something which he rarely did earlier in the season. Indiana stunted a promising drive last week with a sack-fumble combo, for example. Penn State does have some margin for error. Though it’s difficult to see the Nittany Lions winning while also making a handful of mistakes. Penn State doesn’t have to play perfect, though close.

Keep an eye on: Yetur Gross-Matos and the defensive line. One of the most disruptive d-line groups in the country can be the difference Saturday, not only for pressuring Fields but also for helping the secondary. If Fields gets comfortable in the pocket, there probably isn’t a secondary in the country that can stop him.

Trivia tidbit:  While both programs have played in 49 bowl games — ranking in the Top 10 nationally all-time — Penn State holds the advantage in postseason winning percentage. The Nittany Lions hold a 29-16-2 mark, while the Buckeyes are 24-25.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Ohio State 34, Penn State 24

Vince Lungaro: Ohio State 35, Penn State 24

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