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. 10 Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs.Rutgers (2-9, 0-8 Big Ten), 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on Big Ten Network.
Venue: Beaver Stadium
Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 37 degrees with a wintry mix possible
The line: Penn State – 40.5
Last week: Penn State lost at Ohio State. Rutgers lost at home to Michigan State
All-time series: Penn State leads 27-2
Last meeting (2018): Behind a stellar performance from the Penn State defense, Trace McSorley became the winningest quarterback in program history with last year’s 20-7 victory over Rutgers. McSorley threw two touchdowns to Pat Freiermuth in the win.
Throwback classic (2015): We caught up with longtime editor of The Football Letter, John Black, to help recount Penn State’s first Stripe Out game, a 28-3 win over the Scarlet Knights.
Overview: Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes are all but over, but there’s still plenty to play for when the Nittany Lions host the Scarlet Knights this Saturday. Checking in at No. 10 in the latest Playoff rankings, Penn State is in a great position to play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Rutgers, meanwhile, limps to the finish line once again, having already fired head coach Chris Ash earlier this season.
Penn State wins if: The Nittany Lions handle business. There’s a reason Penn State is a near six-touchdown favorite. Rutgers has been awful and the Nittany Lions should be eager to put the disappointing loss to the Buckeyes behind them.
Rutgers wins if: We’ve tried to come up with a scenario where the Scarlet Knights somehow catch the Nittany Lions sleeping in this regular season finale, but it’s just not going to happen. The best Rutgers could hope for is to keep it relatively close until halftime.
Count On: A lot of emotions for Penn State seniors. Senior Day is always a bittersweet moment for college athletes. These Nittany Lion seniors deserve all the credit in the world. They’ve led Penn State to a remarkable four-year run, which with a win on Saturday, will see the program tally at-least 10 wins in three of the past four years. That’s a heck of an achievement.
Keep an eye on: The Penn State quarterback situation. At his Tuesday press conference, head coach James Franklin said starting QB Sean Clifford would probably be a game-time decision. Knowing Clifford’s competitiveness, he’s going to want to be out there one last time in Beaver Stadium this year. Still, even if Clifford does play, expect Will Levis to get a healthy share of the reps, especially if the Nittany Lions are up big early.
Trivia tidbit: The first matchup between these two programs came all the way back in 1918. The teams met on Nov. 9, 1918, just two days after the German armistice effectively ended World War I. The Scarlet Knights came away with the win at New Beaver Field, 26-3
President Barron enjoyed time with the Alumni Association’s Chicago Chapter earlier this season, when he stopped by to cheer on Penn State during their game against Michigan State. “Everybody was really impressed that he joined us,” Chapter President Caitlin Bencel said, noting that Dr. Barron made time to meet chapter members and pose for a group photo.
President Barron wanted to find a place where he could watch the Nittany Lions with fellow Penn State fans.
Barron was in the Second City during Penn State’s visit to Michigan State in late October, and he stopped by Smoke Daddy, one of the chapter’s designated restaurants for football watch parties. Letterman Mike Dunlay owns the place; he was an offensive guard on the 1982 national championship football team and has supported the Chicago Chapter in various ways.
Dunlay approached the chapter in the last year and expressed interest in hosting Penn Staters, and Barron joined the chapter during the second quarter of the Nittany Lions’ 28-7 victory over the Spartans.
In his customary style, Barron was low-key, not wanting to draw attention to himself; mostly, he wanted to meet local chapter members and enjoy the game. He was offered a table, though opted instead to sit with alumni and friends, with Chicago Chapter President Caitlin Bencel ’07 saying at least five people came up to her and said they couldn’t believe Dr. Barron was there and how cool it was that he shared the afternoon with them.
“So many people described him as being down-to-earth, they didn’t realize who he was until he approached them and was chatting everybody up,” Bencel said. “That was really cool that he was able to fly under the radar, and it wasn’t until he asked if it was OK for a group photo that I introduced him.”
Bencel added: “Everybody was really impressed that he joined us.”
You can check out the group photo at the top of the article, and the image indicates just how popular fall Saturdays are for the Chicago Chapter. The chapter added a third venue this year with the continued interest from local Penn Staters, and even though each one of the watch party locations provides a different atmosphere, Bencel said the goal is for members to have the same experience at each spot.
The chapter features 50-50 raffles that benefit either the group’s scholarship or THON fundraising initiatives, and occasionally local charities. Penn Staters from both the city and the suburbs frequent the chapter’s three locations on fall Saturdays, enjoying an opportunity to make new connections, and learn more about chapter events and volunteer opportunities.
And of course, there’s plenty of time to share in the camaraderie that naturally bubbles up anytime Penn Staters get together to watch football.
As a volunteer leader, Bencel understands how important it is to maintain that connection to her alma mater, and how the seemingly smallest things can transform an ordinary gathering into an upbeat occasion that transports you back to your college days.
That’s the beauty of game day, whether you’re cheering on the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium or elsewhere across the country.
“Chicago is a long way from Happy Valley, so we aim to bring a bit of Happy Valley to Chicago,” Bencel said. “We start with decorating the watch party locations with Penn State flags, pompoms we order from the Blue & White Society, and other items to evoke the atmosphere of being back at Penn State. We also play Blue Band songs and other hype songs you’d hear in Beaver Stadium, give away Penn State swag at halftime, and of course, bring out the cowbell!”
Penn State’s inaugural Stripe Out was a huge hit with fans, who watched the Nittany Lions upend Rutgers 28-3. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel
Even if you’ve been covering Penn State for 40-plus years, as John Black has, you still have an opportunity to see something new.
That’s the beauty of college football, especially in Happy Valley.
Over the years, the pre-game theatrics at Beaver Stadium have intensified, much to the delight of fans. Recruits, also, have taken notice, with James Franklin bringing in highly ranked classes the last few years.
While the atmosphere for home games has always been one of the best in the country, the operations and marketing teams for football has elevated the environment at Penn State into something that is truly, to borrow a phrase, “unrivaled.”
All of this leads us back to Black, the dean of football reporters. As the 1962 Penn State graduated surveyed the scene at Beaver Stadium a few moments prior to kick-off against Rutgers in 2015, he saw something he never had before at Beaver Stadium.
That’s saying something.
Comebacks and blow-outs, amazing plays and unexplainable gaffs, spectacular shows from the Blue Band, weather delays, fans storming the field, and pretty much anything else imaginable.
But a stripe out? Nope. Never.
Meaning, on his way to writing more than 500 consecutive editions of The Football Letter, John Black scratched off another item on his seemingly empty Penn State bucket list in the first month of the 2015 season.
Black had seen a stripe out before, at Iowa in 2012, though this was the first such occurrence at Penn State — the annual game has grown to be one of the most visually striking images each football season.
Count Black among the many fans who’ve embraced the new tradition.
“It gave a very neat effect,” Black said this week, recalling the game at Iowa seven years ago. “I thought, ‘Gee, I hope Penn State does that soon,’ and they did.”
The Nittany Lion version debuted three years later, during a night kickoff against Rutgers in September. Penn State eased to a 28-3 victory with two touchdowns from Saquon Barkley, a score each from Akeel Lynch and DeAndre Thompkins; and a stout defensive showing.
Enjoying his customary view on the west side of the stadium, Black witnessed the stands fill up with coordinated fans intent on willing their Nittany Lions to victory.
“Sitting in their blue-or-white clad sections, the fans themselves were part of the first-ever Beaver Stadium Stripe Out Show, as the last sunset glow faded behind the press box,” Black described in The Football Letter.
Akeel Lynch broke away for 75-yard touchdown run before halftime. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel
Additional details he authored in that issue mentioned Blue Band Director Greg Drane leading the band’s pre-game routine for the first time (the previous week’s game against Buffalo featured heavy rain and the band didn’t have the opportunity to thrill fans before kickoff) and the drum major flips, along with performances from the majorettes and Lionettes.
The types of particulars that alumni and fans have read from Black since 1976. Perhaps overlooked by some, though always top-of-mind for the author of The Football Letter, who knows his audience.
“I don’t know that you would read that sort of thing in the standard commercial publications, but to me, it’s part of the whole experience and a significance part of it,” Black said. “That’s what I’m trying to convey, a special sense of the identity of Penn State alumni and their participation in the whole game day experience; have a part in it, have their presence mean something. So, to me, it’s an important thing.”
“Penn State is so near and dear to our hearts, we couldn’t think of a better place to have this scholarship at”
Deryk and Camille Gilmore are always eager to give back.
They don’t do it for special recognition or personal gain,
though. It’s simply a byproduct of how they were raised.
Deryk, a Penn State football letterman (86-88), grew up most of his life in a single-parent home.
His father, Arthur T. Gilmore, an engineer and one of the first black men to serve in the U.S. Navy, died when Deryk was just four years old.
He looked to his mother for guidance and inspiration, as she
instilled in him a deep sense of faith that he continues to carry today.
Camille lost her father, Dennis H.M. Chang, who once served as
the personal bodyguard for the Jamaican prime minister, when she was a freshman
in college. Her mother, a nurse, was tasked with raising and supporting Camille
and her three siblings.
“I think one of the things we recognized is the blessings that
we have now are because of those who came before us,” Camille, a 1991 Penn
State graduate from the Smeal College of Business, said. “The best way to honor
them was to give back. We knew how hard it was for our mothers to raise kids
from New York by themselves, and we all ended up living pretty darn well.”
To further fulfill that mission of giving back, the Gilmores
have recently donated scholarships to support students at three different
universities across the country.
At Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in Lawrenceville, Georgia,
where Camille served as a board of visitor’s member, the Gilmores provided
funds for a scholarship to the school’s nursing program in honor of her mother,
The second scholarship created by the Gilmores went to the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where Deryk and Camille both received their
MBAs, and where Deryk was a football coach for the Fighting Illini. This
scholarship was dedicated in honor of Deryk’s mother, Yvonne Gilmore.
For the third scholarship, the Gilmores wanted to accomplish two
things: they wanted to give back to Penn State and they wanted to find a way to
honor their fathers in the same mold as they honored their mothers.
“Penn State is so near and dear to our hearts, we couldn’t think of a better place to have this scholarship at,” Deryk, a 1990 Penn State agricultural business management grad, said.
When you talk further with the Gilmores, you learn quickly why
Penn State will always remain a special place for them.
It is, after all, the place where the Gilmores met almost 29 years ago.
Visiting the McDonald’s on College Avenue to grab dinner one
night, they each stepped up to their respective cash registers to place an
“We were both at the counter ordering and we each asked for a
coke with no ice and that was the start of it for us, I guess,” Camille said
laughing. “I ended up going to a party of his later on.”
“And just to prove how
good of a businessman I am, even though I liked her, I still charged her five
dollars to get into the house,” Deryk quickly responded in jest. “And we’ve now
been together 29 years, married for 26. It’s always funny to look back on
This past summer, the
Gilmores committed $25,000 for a scholarship fund at Penn State, which will
offer $5,000 in direct student support through the Penn State BLUEprint Peer
Mentoring Program for each of the next five years.
It was the perfect way to
honor their fathers, while simultaneously give aid to students at their alma
“Our dads just worked so
hard to help people and we wanted them to be recognized as the role models that
they were in their own communities,” Deryk said. “They both worked in careers
that were not common for men of color at the time. They worked and were deeply
The Gilmore/Chang Family Scholarship will be awarded to full-time undergraduate students who
have demonstrated a financial need, meet the academic requirements, participate
in the BLUEprint Peer Mentoring Program, and hold the values of mentorship,
leadership and service.
Deryk said the ultimate
goal of the scholarship is to try and make it easier for someone interested in
Penn State to attend, particularly students of color.
“Being black, we understand it’s hard for students of different backgrounds sometimes to be able to afford college,” Deryk said. “We want to help their path get a little easier. We didn’t want to make it all about grades but about upside. We want to help people who work hard to have a chance. Sometimes you just need that little bump. When students get into Penn State, it’s can be hard to stay there. If we can create avenues to help, let’s do it.”
During their time as undergrads,
the Gilmores themselves were active student leaders and were particularly
involved with several leadership programs for students of color.
In addition to her business degree, Camille was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
She’s propelled her experiences at Penn State into more than 25 years of human
resources leadership for various businesses.
She’s now the vice
president of human resources and global chief diversity officer for Boston
Scientific, a manufacturer of medical devices used in interventional medical
Having worked on promoting
diversity in the workplace for most of her career, getting students from more
diverse backgrounds to Penn State is important to Camille.
“The [BLUEprint] scholarship offers a level of inclusion to say,
‘Hey, we want you at Penn State. We believe in you and who you are. And we’re
going to find a way to keep you here,’” she said. “To me, I hope Penn State can
use this as a pull strategy to attract the best, diverse talent to Penn State.
If this scholarship helps us to get the best and brightest from diverse
backgrounds, that’s exactly what we want.”
Deryk started Incoming
Black Athletes At Penn State (IBAAPS) — the first mentor education program for
student athletes — and was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
He was also a defensive
tackle on the 1986-87 Penn State football team that took down the favored Miami
Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl to capture the program’s second national
The Gilmore’s younger son,
Deion followed in his father’s footsteps, and now plays at defensive tackle for
Manchester University (Indiana), while their eldest son, Dantae’, is a theatre
major at the University of Alabama.
“For me, my experience playing football was all about the
friendships I created and the different skills I used to help me in life,”
Deryk said. “You know, you learn time management skills balancing football and
school. You must learn how to work with expectations, for yourself and for your
group. It’s what helped make me so successful in business.”
As many of Joe Paterno’s former players are asked, Deryk gets
questions all the time about what it was like playing under the legendary
“You know, it was hard but rewarding playing for him. He
definitely challenged me to be a better player and a better person,” Deryk
The biggest thing that’s always stuck with Deryk about Paterno
is how much he cared for his players beyond how many sacks they recorded or
touchdowns they scored.
He recalls the period when he had just graduated from Penn State
and was in the process of looking for a place to start in his career.
Any time he interviewed or applied for a position, he said
Paterno would call the employer and tell them that Deryk was the man to hire.
“He really helped me get my foot in the door, so to speak,”
Deryk said. “He was always more worried about us as a person and the type of
man we would become than he was about how great we were as an athlete.”
Deryk turned his experiences in business and football in to
becoming the founder and
owner of Day 1 Sports and Entertainment, whose clients include Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver
Mike Evans — who Deryk helped negotiate a five-year, $82.5 million contract
extension in March of 2018, the second-highest deal for a wide receiver in NFL
history at the time.
Other Day 1 clients include
La’El Collins of the Dallas Cowboys, Shaq Mason of the New England Patriots and
Mitchell Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs — all of whom have recently
negotiated new contracts or contract extensions.
“You know, I’d say one of
the reasons I got into the agent industry was to impact these young men’s
lives,” Deryk said. “We want to connect them to wealth and teach them the
importance of ownership and being involved in their businesses. We don’t want
them to turn it over to someone that can take advantage of them and lose the
money. I always try to show players that they can be more than the employee.
They can be the owner.”
As they each continue to
excel in their careers, the connection to Penn State is as strong as ever for
Deryk and Camille.
They believe in the impact
of Penn State, Penn State students and Penn State alumni.
“I saw there was an incident earlier this season where someone had written an awful letter to a football player of ours (Jonathan Sutherland), and just seeing how well he responded to it and how we as a Penn State community rallied,” Deryk said. “We had each other’s backs. I think that culture is what makes us, Penn Stater’s, great. And that carries well beyond the student-athletes.”
And above all else, “We’re proud Penn Staters’, we bleed blue and white,” Camille said. “That’s for sure. That’ll never change.”
A 17-point spurt in the third quarter pulled No. 8 Penn State within four of No. 2 Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions couldn’t complete the rally from there in Saturday’s Big Ten showdown from Columbus.
The Buckeyes scored a crucial fourth quarter touchdown and used a smothering defensive line to hold off Penn State, and eliminate the blue and white from Big Ten title contention.
Star of The Game: Chase Young
This award could easily go to Justin Fields or J.K. Dobbins, who both were terrific in the Buckeyes’ win. But defensive end Chase Young was flat out phenomenal. In his return from a two-game suspension, he was a terror from both edge spots. Young finished with nine tackles, including three sacks, and recorded a forced fumble. He effectively shut the game down as the Nittany Lions mounted another comeback in the 4th quarter. He absolutely deserves Heisman Trophy consideration.
Moment of Magic: Fields connects with Olave
With the Buckeyes only up four and the crowd inside the Horseshoe suddenly a bit nervous, Justin Fields lofted up a deep ball to his wide receiver Chris Olave in the end zone. Olave leapt into the air and outmuscled John Reid before hauling in the touchdown. It pushed the Buckeyes’ lead to 28-17 and that proved to be enough as Ohio State’s defense closed the deal down the stretch.
Rutgers in a free fall
Penn State goes from playing the best team in the Big Ten this season to the worst. The Scarlet Knights are a disaster, having fired coach Chris Ash earlier this season and now reports circulating that they couldn’t come to an agreement with former coach Greg Schiano to take over the program. Rutgers is 2-9 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten, outscored 328-45 in conference games.
Parsons named Butkus Finalist
Despite the loss in Columbus, sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons had another stellar day for the Nittany Lions. He finished second on the team with 10 tackles. He also recovered a fumble while forcing another to help turn the tide a bit in the third quarter. Parsons was named a finalist for the Butkus Award on Monday, given annually to the best linebacker in college football.
Penn State-Rutgers at a glance
Penn State is 27-2 all time against the Scarlet Knights and has won the last 12 meetings dating back to 1989. The last four games have been one-sided in favor of the Nittany Lions, with Penn State outscoring Rutgers, 122-16. The Nittany Lions should be in store for another dominant showing on Senior Day.
Lydell Sargeant (10) rushed to recover the fumble caused by Mark Rubin in the fourth quarter of the 2008 game at Ohio State. NaVorro Bowman recovered the ball, igniting the Nittany Lions to a 13-6 victory over the ninth-ranked Buckeyes. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel
Some memories, you never forget. Just ask Lydell Sargeant.
The Penn State letterman and former defensive back for the Nittany Lions provided one of the defining moments for the Nittany Lions during their 2008 Rose Bowl season, when they won the Big Ten championship for the third time.
In the waning moments of the team’s slugfest against Ohio State, he “outleaped Brian Hartline for an interception in the end zone on Ohio State’s final play,” as John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter.
Asked about what continues to stand out to him about that game and if he still recalls specific details, he laughed, just slightly, in a way that suggest he’ll remember them forever.
“Oh, my goodness. I still remember plays from 14 years ago,” Sargeant said, referencing his freshman season at Penn State.
He then summarized the last drive, beginning with, “I can tell you every last thing that happened.”
Sargeant remembered Bowman tipping a pass as the Buckeyes were driving with less than a minute left: “NaVorro made a really good play up the middle. I think if he didn’t tip the pass, it would have drastically changed that drive.”
Then, Sargeant’s versatility shined through. Typically a cornerback, Sargeant would switch to safety when Penn State played nickel in the secondary. As he saw Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s pass sail toward the end zone, he saw he had an opportunity to catch the ball instead of knocking it down. The former was more attractive, since Sargeant didn’t want to let the receiver get in front of him.
The approach worked, as Sargeant hauled in Pryor’s lofty pass right at the goal-line to secure Penn State’s 13-6 victory.
“One thing Coach Paterno always said was, ‘Do you want your name in the paper? When it’s time to make big plays, make them,’” said Sargeant, who also broke up a pass earlier in the fourth quarter, thwarting a potential 30-yard gain for the Buckeyes to midfield.
Sargeant added: “To me, The Horseshoe is the next best thing to Beaver Stadium, with regard to their fan passion and how loud they get.”
Anthony Scirrotto celebrated with fans after the third-ranked Nittany Lions seized the moment and claimed their first win at The Horseshoe since beginning Big Ten play. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel
Ohio Stadium was certainly loud for the Nittany Lions’ visit in the 2008 season, when Penn State (No. 3) and Ohio State (No. 9) met in a battle of Top-10 teams.
It was the first victory for Penn State in The Horseshoe since beginning Big Ten play, and the Nittany Lions shut down Pryor, explosive Buckeye running back Beanie Wells, and their offensive teammates. Ohio State scored 30-plus points in six other games that season, and 40-plus on four occasions.
“We had a rock star defense,” Sargeant said, pointing out teammates and future NFL stars such as NaVorro Bowman, Jared Odrick, Aaron Maybin, and others.
Sargeant was perhaps always destined to attend Penn State, though he had something of a circuitous route to Happy Valley. He grew up in Pittsburgh, and then moved to California in 10th grade, a result of his father serving in the military.
He returned to Pittsburgh the next few summers for a month or so, working out with childhood friend (and future teammate) Justin King, along with current Penn State cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, who was coaching Gateway High School at the time.
There’s a lot of connectivity with that trio. Smith is King’s stepfather, with Sargeant and King serving as ball boys for Smith going back to his days at Duquesne University in the late 1990s. Sargeant originally committed to Stanford (Oregon was his other top choice, along with Penn State), before transferring.
As Sargeant tells it, he and King looked at each other and said, “Hey, do you want to play together?”
The incoming recruiting class helped elevate Penn State out of one of the few down periods in Joe Paterno’s coaching career, with Sargeant saying that guys like Derrick Williams and Sean Lee, who played AAU basketball with Sargeant, also played important roles in the process.
After graduating, Sargeant signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent, though retired from the NFL a few years later because of an injury. Then, he returned to Penn State for an internship that was facilitated by longtime offensive coordinator Fran Ganter, who transitioned into an administrative role after coaching.
Ganter mentored Sargeant, as the former defensive back learned what he was most passionate about in athletic administration. Sargeant earned his master’s in sports management studies from California University of Pennsylvania, then worked at Utah Valley University and Marquette University in development roles.
Currently, Sargeant serves as an assistant athletic director at UCLA, one of the most accomplished and impressive athletic departments in the country. UCLA is second overall in all-time national titles, with 118.
Even though he’s on the other side of the country, Sargeant returns to Happy Valley twice a year, for the Blue-White game and Homecoming. Additionally, he sits on the board of the Football Letterman’s Club and still is tight with King and Smith. He talks every day with King, who earlier this year accepted the position of manager of football operations for the startup XFL after previously working with Penn State football as a recruiting coordinator.
And Smith is as connected as ever to the program as cornerbacks coach after playing as a wideout for Joe Paterno in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Sargeant speaks passionately about his days at Penn State, and asked some questions of his own out of curiosity for how things are going back at his alma mater. Like Smith and King, he has an affinity for Penn State that’ll likely last a lifetime.
He cares, and he has a recognition for the importance that Penn State has played in his life, both during his playing days and now as he helps to oversee one of the most prestigious athletic departments in the country.
“I say all the time: nothing about what Coach Paterno taught was about football,” Sargeant said. “It’s fascinating, because he’s the most winningest coach in college football, and everything he emphasized were things outside of the game.
“As you get older, you start to realize he’s basically giving you the code to society. That shapes you, and you start to understand how successful Penn State guys are and how they’re able to navigate the professional world. There’s less of a deer-in-the-headlights look when you no longer have football. Coach Paterno was a huge factor in preparing us for life beyond football.”
For more on the TheFootball Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.
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.
John Patishnock:Ohio State 34, Penn State 24
Vince Lungaro: Ohio State 35, Penn State 24
For more on the TheFootball Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.