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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Central Ohio Chapter offers blue-and-white oasis in Buckeye state

Central Ohio Chapter_group photo

The Central Ohio Chapter will host an alumni mixer Friday night, which is an opportunity “to put Penn State in a positive spotlight,” said Chapter President John Eveland (third from left).

John Eveland searched everywhere for something that reminded him of his Penn State days.

It took him a while, though he did find that blue-and-white connection.

Finally.

Eveland grew up in rural Pennsylvania and attended two Penn State campuses, first enrolling at Hazleton before earning his College of Engineering degree from University Park.

He made the most of his college days and waned to reunite with like-minded alumni, a fairly straight-forward goal.

So, why did Eveland’s search take longer than you’d expect. Simple. He lives near Columbus.

Growing up, Eveland saw Penn State everywhere. Then, it was all about the Buckeyes once he moved to Ohio. As Eveland said, he wanted to hear about the Nittany Lions.

He stopped by a Central Ohio Chapter watch party, and found what he was looking for: a sense of Happy Valley amid a sea of scarlet and grey.

“After a few more game watches, I started attending board meetings and wanted to learn more,” Eveland said. “Staying connected was important. I know it’s important to a lot of other alumni, and the chapter is a great way to keep that connection.”

Eveland, a 1992 Penn State graduate, first got involved with the chapter about a decade ago. He recently saw an opportunity to help even more when a leadership position opened up; so Eveland decided to step up and accept the role as chapter president, beginning his new role in August.

It was also a natural next step for someone who maximized his time at Penn State.

“I got a great education while I was there, and the people and the experiences I had outside of the classroom were also really important to me,” Eveland said. “I was coming from a little town, so there weren’t a lot of people moving in and out of my life. When I got to the Hazleton campus, that all changed.”

Central Ohio Chapter_John Eveland.jpg

“Our chapter is here to provide support to Penn State alumni and their families,” Chapter President John Eveland said. “Anyone who comes in from out of town, we want them to feel welcome.”

Eveland then transferred to University Park, and his social circle expanded. He met new people, enjoyed ever-broadening activities, all while completing his college days in a meaningful way.

“Staying connected to Penn State reminds me of those experiences and keeps me open to having more of those experiences,” he said.

This weekend will be an exciting time for the chapter, Eveland said, with Penn State and Ohio State set for a Top-10 battle at The Horseshoe on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon on FOX.

The chapter will host an alumni event Friday night at a local restaurant, with the event drawing 300-plus attendees in recent years. It’s a chance for Eveland and his group “to put Penn State in a positive spotlight,” he said, with the added bonus of meeting new folks who might be learning about the Central Ohio Chapter for the first time.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for the chapter, with hosting watch parties, though there are also happy hour events and THON fundraisers for members to participate in year-round. There’s even an annual canoe or kayak trip in the spring, along with the yearly student sendoff picnic. Eveland said the chapter also looks for ways to volunteer for local charities.

This weekend’s event will also benefit the chapter’s Franklyn C. Ingram Spirit Scholarship, which benefits an incoming deserving freshman from the area. All the scholarship funds come directly from the support of local alumni and friends.

That type of thoughtfulness and caring are hallmarks for Eveland’s group. Even for something as simple as asking for a good place to grab dinner or something to do before or after the game, the Central Ohio Chapter has you covered.

“Our chapter is here to provide support to Penn State alumni and their families,” Eveland said. “Anyone who comes in from out of town, we want them to feel welcome and that they have somewhere go and be around other Penn Starters. In this town, that can be hard.”

There are nearly 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups, spanning geographic regions, academic colleges, and shared interests. You can view a full list and connect with Penn Staters anytime at alumni.psu.edu/groups.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

No. 9 Penn State got back to winning ways on Saturday, holding off Indiana, 34-27.

The Nittany Lions used an 18-play, nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter to secure the win and now turn their attention toward the juggernaut that is No. 2 Ohio State.

Looking Back

Star of the Game: RB Journey Brown

With Noah Cain banged up, Journey Brown has seized the role of lead back in the Penn State offense. On Saturday he eclipsed 100 yards for the second straight game and (literally) carried the Nittany Lions to their ninth win of the season.

He finished with 100 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. His score in the third quarter pushed the home team’s lead to 27-14 and played an integral part in the previously mentioned 18-play drive to seal the win.

Moment of Magic: Levis, Clifford convert key fourth downs

Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Will Levis has played sparingly in 2019, appearing in blowout wins early in the season. But he picked up a huge 4th down on the game-clinching series for Penn State. Facing a 4th-and-short, and having just been stopped short of a first down a play earlier, Levis burrowed his way through his offensive line and the Hoosiers’ defensive line to extend the drive inside Indiana territory.

A handful of plays later, Sean Clifford converted a 4th down attempt inside the two to give the Nittany Lions a 10-point cushion with less than two minutes to go. It was some tough, but crucial, running from each of the two quarterbacks.

Looking Ahead

Buckeyes blowing everyone out

Ohio State has been dominant so far this season. How dominant? The Buckeyes closest game of the season was in Week One against Florida Atlantic — a game the Buckeyes won by 24. In Big Ten, Ohio State has outscored opponents 352-72. Its defense has surrendered more than 20 points only once in conference play — 21 to Rutgers last week.

Recent thrillers

The last three games between Penn State and Ohio State have been must-see TV. In 2016, the Nittany Lions’ upset of the then-No. 2 Buckeyes started the program’s magical run to the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

In 2017, Penn State led for most of the game, only to see Ohio State mount a furious rally led by J.T. Barrett. Last season, the Nittany Lions again led in the fourth quarter but couldn’t close it out and lost 27-26.

Dobbins: “Why do they have to be four-quarter games?”

The Buckeyes have heavily beaten every team they’ve played so far. In a lot of those games, starters like JK Dobbins haven’t had to even play at all in the fourth quarter as the blowouts rolled along.

When asked about upcoming games against Penn State and Michigan, which on paper will provide a stiffer test than the previous 10 games for Ohio State, Dobbins responded by asking “Why do they have to be four-quarter games?”

It’s safe to say he and his Ohio State teammates are extremely confident heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Penn State Preview: Indiana

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: No. 9 Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten), noon kickoff, broadcast on ABC. 

Venue: Beaver Stadium 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 39 degrees and partly cloudy. 

The line: Penn State – 14.5 

Last week: Penn State lost at Minnesota, 31-26. Indiana had a bye week

All-time series: Penn State leads 21-1 

Last meeting (2018): After two gut-wrenching losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, respectively, Penn State rebounded for a 33-28 win in Bloomington. It was not a perfect display by any means, with Indiana out gaining the Nittany Lions on the day, 554-417. Still, it was a much-needed victory given the nature of the two previous defeats that season for Penn State.  

Throwback classic (2010): Indiana got paid. Penn State got the win. The Hoosiers collected a $3 million paycheck to move their 2010 home game against the Nittany Lions to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, only a 200-mile drive from State College. Penn State won the game, 41-24

Overview: Penn State is going to have to move on quickly from last weekend’s defeat to Minnesota, because the Hoosiers are playing with a lot of confidence right now. Coach Tom Allen has put his team in a position to potentially reach double-digit wins, something rarely done in Bloomington. While the Nittany Lions lost an emotional rollercoaster to the Gophers in Minneapolis, Indiana had a bye week, giving the Hoosiers an extra week to prepare for this one. 

Penn State wins if: The defense can return to form. It’s no secret the defense had a rough day at the office against Minnesota. The Gophers used quick passes and screens to negate the effectiveness of the stalwart Penn State front seven and put more pressure on the Nittany Lions’ secondary. I expect the Hoosiers to use a similar formula to that one. 

That being said, I anticipate Penn State’s defense to be motivated to get things back on track. The return of Antonio Shelton, who was suspended against Minnesota, should provide a nice spark. 

Indiana wins if: It exploits Penn State’s defense as Minnesota did. I really think this game comes down to Indiana’s offense vs. Penn State’s defense. As I mentioned before, the Nittany Lions’ secondary was burned repeatedly against the Golden Gophers. If the Hoosiers can put up points, it puts a lot more pressure on a Penn State offense that’s struggled with consistency all season long. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Count On: Pat Freiermuth to have another big day. When Penn State needs a first down, it seems like Sean Clifford always looks for his tight end. He had a career day last week and he’s a matchup nightmare for any opposing defense. Look for him to reach the end zone again Saturday and move atop the all-time touchdowns list by Penn State tight ends. It’s crazy to think he’s only a sophomore. 

Keep an eye on: Justin Shorter. The redshirt freshman has all the physical tools to be a premier wide receiver. He struggled last week with a few drops and hasn’t quite got going in his collegiate career yet. Coach James Franklin has talked about the need for receivers not named KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson to step up and give Clifford another consistent target. 

Trivia tidbit: At 7-2 overall Indiana is off to its best start since 1993. The Hoosiers were off last weekend, but got a nod in the AP poll for the first time since Sept. 20, 1994 and the Amway Coaches Poll for the first time since Oct. 24, 1994.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 35, Indiana 24

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 28, Indiana 20

From The Archives: Penn State V. Indiana (2010)

Penn State v Indiana  (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Derek Moye’s end-around run featured prominently on the cover of The Football Letter that recounted Penn State’s victory over Indiana in 2010 at FedEx Field. Photo credit: Steve Manuel.

Indiana got paid. Penn State got the win.

The Hoosiers collected a $3 million paycheck to move their 2010 home game against the Nittany Lions to FedEx Field, only a 200-mile drive from State College.

As John Black ’62 noted in The Football Letter, “Penn State was happy to oblige because the Lions hadn’t played in front of their huge fan base in the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia area since trouncing Maryland, 70-7, at Byrd Stadium in 1993.”

The Nittany Lions earned a similar result against the Hoosiers, though with a much closer result. The 41-24 final score capped a back-and-forth game that was tied late in the third quarter, until Penn State’s Andrew Dailey blocked a punt “that Jamie Van Fleet scooped and scampered 21 yards to score the turning-point touchdown,” Black wrote.

The game also represented something of a reprieve for fans, whose closest drive at that time was Ohio State, about 320 miles away. Michigan and Michigan State were within somewhat reasonable driving distance, though beyond that, fans needed to book a flight to see the Nittany Lions on the road.

This was years before Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference, so it’s not a surprise that Penn State fans comprised about three-quarters of the stadium, as Black estimated.

Penn State v Indiana  (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Matt McGloin celebrated with fans after Penn State earned a 41-24 victory over Indiana. McGloin posted his first career 300-yard game and threw two touchdowns to lead the offense. Photo credit: Steve Manuel/The Football Letter

Other contributions for Penn State included Matt McGloin posting his first career 300-yard passing game during his redshirt sophomore campaign, completing 22-of-31 passes for 315 yards and two scores. Northern Virginia native Evan Royster—the program’s all-time leading rusher—totaled 48 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and Silas Reed also added a rushing touchdown.

Brett Brackett and Derek Moye caught touchdowns from McGloin, with the lead photo of The Football Letter highlighting Moye picking up 27 rushing yards on an end-around.

Penn State struggled throughout 2010, finishing the regular season at 7-5, yet still garnering a New Year’s Day bowl. The Nittany Lions lost to Florida 37-24 in the Outback Bowl, in a game fans might recall as the last contest Urban Meyer coached for the Gators.

Going back to FedEx field, it was the second time the teams played each other in an NFL stadium, including the old RCA Dome in 2000, as Black noted.

We’re still partial to Beaver Stadium, which will host the teams’ next matchup, and Saturday’s contest should be a good one.

Even with last week’s loss, Penn State remains in the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff standings, and Indiana is ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 1994.

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Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Minnesota/Indiana

I’m not going to say I jinxed Penn State’s unbeaten start to the season with my article from last week detailing its position in the College Football Playoff race. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t think about that a bit as the final seconds ticked away in Saturday’s 31-26 win for Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers fed off of an electric home crowd to capture the program’s biggest win in 80 years.

The Nittany Lions had managed to navigate a challenging run of games, beating Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State in consecutive weeks, but couldn’t sink the boat of PJ Fleck’s now 9-0 Gophers.

Having trailed by 11 at halftime, Penn State had chances to win the game in the second half, but turnovers in the red zone and a few head-scratching officiating decisions on the Nittany Lions’ final drive doomed their defeat.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Back

Star of The Game: Rashod Bateman

It was a day to forget for the Penn State secondary, with missed tackles and blown assignments plaguing the back end of the Nittany Lions’ defense most of the game. Rashod Bateman, arguably Minnesota’s best player, tormented Penn State to the tune of 7 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown. He was inexplicably left open on several occasions, including on the Gophers’ opening possession, which saw him evade an attempted tackle from Garrett Taylor, race down the sideline and ease into the end zone for six. It was the first of many big plays Bateman would make.

Moment of Magic: Red zone turnovers propel Gophers

I don’t think there was one defining play that set the Gophers apart from Penn State on Saturday. Rather, untimely turnovers while the Nittany Lions were marching propelled Minnesota to a win. Penn State’s offense actually moved the ball as consistently as it has all season, but turnovers on the plus side of the field proved costly. Sean Clifford threw three interceptions inside the 20 — to be fair to him, though, two of those could have (should have) been overturned because of pass interference by Minnesota. The Nittany Lions also turned the ball over on downs inside the 10 after an impressive drive stalled midway through the fourth quarter.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Ahead

Penn State dominates series with Indiana

Penn State is 21-1 all-time against the Hoosiers, it’s best record against any Big Ten opponent. James Franklin is 5-0 against Indiana in his time in charge of the Nittany Lions.

Avoiding a hangover

In each of the past two seasons, Penn State has suffered some gut-wrenching losses to other ranked opponents and compounded those losses with defeats in the next game to teams the Nittany Lions were expected to beat. In 2017 and 2018, Penn State lost nail-biters to Ohio State and followed those up by losing to underdog Michigan State teams. They’ll be eager to put that narrative behind them when they take on Indiana at Beaver Stadium. The Hoosiers are playing well at 7-2 and might even be ranked in the latest College Football Playoff poll. Still, you’d expect the Nittany Lions to handle business in this one.

Ramsey’s time to shine

For most of this season, Hoosiers coach Tom Allen has deployed a two-quarterback system with both Michael Penix Jr. and Peyton Ramsey both seeing substantial playing time. However, Penix Jr. suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks ago, meaning Ramsey is now the No. 1 guy in Bloomington. In his first start of the season against Nebraska, Ramsey passed for a career-high 351 yards in an Indiana win.

Penn State Preview: Minnesota

Penn State v. MINNESOTA (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

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: No. 4 Penn State (8-0, 5-0) at No. 17 Minnesota (8-0, 5-0).

Venue: TCF Bank Stadium, featuring a capacity of 50,805.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 39 degrees and mostly cloudy.

The line: Penn State –6.5

Last week: Penn State and Minnesota each had a bye.

All-time series: Penn State leads 9-5.

Last meeting (2016): Penn State earned a dramatic 29-26 overtime win at Beaver Stadium, as Saquon Barkley rushed for a touchdown on the Nittany Lions’ first play in the extra session. The play helped spark an impressive run that included a win over No. 2 Ohio State en route to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance for the Nittany Lions.

Throwback classic (1993): Here’s a good trivia tidbit for fans: Minnesota was Penn State’s first Big Ten opponent, with the Nittany Lions earning a 38-20 victory on Sept. 4, 1993, at Beaver Stadium. The teams combined for more than 100 pass attempts, as Bobby Engram became the first player in program history to catch four touchdown passes.

Overview: Coming into the season, there was a good chance Penn State would have a November showdown against another undefeated team. The smart thinking had the game occurring in Columbus, though, not Minneapolis. Ohio State still looms, though Penn State will need to dispatch the upstart Gophers, having an against-the-odds kind of season that the typically ordinary Big Ten West teams have once a decade or so. Northwestern last season and Iowa in 2015 are two recent examples.

Perhaps the most impressive trait for this year’s Nittany Lions squad is their collective focus. They’ve won big and small, stayed ahead in tough environments, started fast, and have also closed out games. There’s a sense they’re truly battle-tested, so whatever they see Saturday against Minnesota, it won’t be anything they haven’t seen before.

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions hold the Gophers to less than 28 points. Minnesota’s offense has been consistently good all season, scoring at least 28 each game and averaging 41 in its five Big Ten contests. Gaudy numbers, even if against supposedly the weakest division in the conference and Rutgers and Maryland.

Minnesota wins if: the Gophers’ ground game can wear down the Nittany Lions. Based on numbers, Minnesota can win a shootout, though the Gophers will need to sustain drives that’ll test Penn State’s depth along the defensive line and in the linebacking corp. Minnesota averages 205 rushing yards per game, with Penn State allowing only 68. If the Gophers finish Saturday anywhere near the latter mark, their chances of winning are incredibly slim.

Keep an eye on: the offensive play-calling. Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has faced more criticism than you’d think for a team 8-0 and ranked No. 4 — and it’s easy to argue most of that criticism has been unwarranted — and it’ll be interesting to see if he dials up anything unexpected after having an extra week to think over the game plan.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State’s been ranked in the AP poll for 51 straight weeks, the third-longest streak in program history.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 28, Minnesota 24

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 33, Minnesota 20