While the undefeated Ohio State football team is hoping to make it to the BCS National Championship Game this season after being banned from postseason play last year, Penn State will be forced to watch from home again.
Penn State (4-2, 1-1) is in its second year of a four-year postseason ban administered by the NCAA stemming from the child sexual assault case involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Despite the bowl ban, the team remains motivated for its opportunity to end the nation’s longest winning streak (19 games) when it plays the Buckeyes Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
“I talk to our guys about playing 12 one-game seasons,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said during the Big Ten Teleconference Tuesday. “Ohio State, 100,000 people in the stands, in the Horseshoe, I don’t know of many bowl games that are better than that, other than the national championship game.”
OSU is ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings, released Sunday for the first time this season.
Playing the Buckeyes for the 21st consecutive year, Penn State is trying to be the first squad to beat the Buckeyes since Urban Meyer took over the reins. Last season, OSU beat the Nittany Lions 35-23 in State College, Pa.
If the Nittany Lions are going to score the upset win on the road, though, junior wide receiver Allen Robinson said they need “everybody to play their best level of football.”
“Games like this (are) why you came to Penn State,” Robinson said. “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily about the win streak, even if they had a loss or a couple losses, this is definitely still a game that you want to get. It’s Penn State-Ohio State, it don’t really get much better than that.”
Part of the challenge for Penn State will be stopping junior quarterback Braxton Miller and the OSU offense, who rank seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season with an average of 45 points scored per game. In last year’s matchup against the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes put up 377 total yards. Miller accounted for all but 100 of those yards, passing for 143 yards and one touchdown while running for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
Although Miller missed two games this season with a knee injury, O’Brien said Miller has been an integral part of the Buckeyes’ success this season.
“You don’t get to 7-0, No. 4 in the country without (having) an excellent quarterback,” O’Brien said. “That’s what he is.”
Miller is a “very explosive player” with his abilities to both pass and run the ball, Penn State redshirt-senior linebacker/safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said.
“He can make the play at any time, regardless of if you feel like you got him like one-on-one,” Obeng-Agyapong said. “He has the ability to make you miss, so we have to corral the ball when he has it.”
Another explosive threat on the OSU offense Penn State is preparing for is senior running back Carlos Hyde, who’s run for 317 yards and five scores in the past two games.
“(Hyde) gets a lot of attention from us, I can tell you that,” O’Brien said. “He’s a downhill runner, you better wrap him up … he’s obviously one of the better backs in the country.”
Obeng-Agyapong said the OSU offensive line could give the Nittany Lion’s a hard time too.
”Their offensive line are monsters up front … they like to be physical at the point of attack,” Obeng-Agyapong said.
The Penn State defense ranks 17th nationally, allowing an average of 23.7 points per game.
“I think (Penn State’s defensive success) is a trademark of their tradition there,” OSU co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. “They’ve always had good line play and good linebacker play … Their defensive schemes are sound.”
When the Penn State offense is on the field, the matchup to watch could take place on the perimeter, where Robinson is expected to square off against OSU redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby.
Both players were first-team all-Big Ten selections in 2012, while Robinson was named the Big Ten’s Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year last season and Roby was a second-team AP All-American.
While Meyer described Robinson on Tuesday as a “very fast, talented guy that goes up and high-points the ball,” Robinson said Roby is one of the best cornerbacks in college football.
“He’s real instinctive,” Robinson said. “If he reads (a play), he’s going with his read and he’s very aggressive with what he wants to do with it and how he plays out there.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Robinson added. “Something that, as a receiver, you kind of get excited to play for. But I just take it each game at a time, and just treat it like it’s any other game. You can’t do too much looking at the certain particular matchup.”
Robinson caught five passes for 68 yards in last year’s loss to OSU, when he was matched up against Roby the majority of the game.
The quarterback leading Penn State offense and throwing the ball to Robinson this season has been freshman Christian Hackenberg, who has thrown for 1,672 yards and 11 touchdowns and has thrown six interceptions in six games.
OSU junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said Hackenberg looks “pretty poised in the pocket” as a passer, but said the Buckeyes will try to take advantage of his inexperience by bringing pressure.
“Like any freshman, (we are) just going to have to try to get to him, and try to get him rattled,” Shazier said.
Going up against an offense that ranks 26th nationally with an average of 283.7 passing yards per game, Meyer said he is counting on Roby and the OSU pass defense to be a strength of the team Saturday.
“(Roby’s) got to play well, the whole back end’s got to play well and we haven’t had our best game yet (in the secondary),” Meyer said. “It’s about time.”
Seeking its first win against OSU under second-year head coach O’Brien, Penn State could become the first team to beat the Buckeyes since Florida defeated OSU, 24-17, in the Gator Bowl Jan. 2, 2012.
How the Nittany Lions could perform their best, redshirt-senior guard John Urschel said, would be to “manage the game” and “try to make good plays.”
“Ohio State is a very, very good team, they’re very talented,” Urschel said. “You don’t win that (many) games in a row without having a great football team, a great coaching staff, and if we want to play the type of game we know we’re capable of, we just have to all perform our best.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 8 p.m.