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5 things to watch for between Ohio State and Penn State

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Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett sprained his MCL in the first half of an Oct. 25 game against Penn State, but stayed in to lead the Buckeyes to a 31-24 double-overtime win. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Then-redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) runs with the ball against Penn State during the Buckeyes’ 31-24 victory over the Nittany Lions on Oct. 25. 
Credit: Lantern file photo

No. 1 Ohio State looks to continue its winning ways on Saturday at 8 p.m., as the Buckeyes are set to face off against Penn State at Ohio Stadium.

The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz sling out five things they will be watching for throughout the game.

Bosa vs. Nassib

Offensive lines will have their hands full on Saturday, as two of college football’s premier defensive ends will be suiting up opposite them: OSU’s Joey Bosa and Penn State’s Carl Nassib.

Although his numbers might not jump off the page, Bosa is returning to the dominance he displayed in 2014. Last week against Maryland, the junior was constantly in the backfield, as he recorded four quarterback hurries and his first solo sack of the year.

Bosa, who recorded a sack on the game’s final play against Penn State in 2014, said he sees a player on film that is “night and day” different than as a sophomore.

For Nassib, his name is less familiar with the fans, but opposing quarterbacks know it well. The true senior, and former walk-on, has a nation-leading 10 sacks — all solo — and five forced fumbles through six games.

The 6-foot-7 West Chester, Pennsylvania, native, saw the field in a reserve capacity last season, but he has solidified himself as a force to be reckoned with in his first six starts.

Expect both Bosa and Nassib to be in the opposing backfields often and put pressure on the offensive lines all game long.

Repeat performance in the red zone?

Last week, the Buckeyes appeared to have located the cure for their woes in the red zone by inserting J.T. Barrett at quarterback when the team got near the 20-yard line.

The redshirt sophomore guided OSU across the goal line on all five of the possessions he was used as a red zone quarterback.

OSU coach Urban Meyer said during the week that he thinks Barrett will continue to be used in this capacity — as long as it proceeds to produce points.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the stat sheet indicates they should be able to have similar success against Penn State as they did versus Maryland.

The Nittany Lions have impeded opposing offenses with much success in 2015, as they rank 10th in the nation for total defense.

However, when the opposition is able make its way into the red zone against Penn State, the Nittany Lions have struggled to stop it from scoring. Through six games, Penn State’s opponents are scoring 91 percent of the time it gets in the red zone, which is 106th in the nation.

Meyer made it sound like as long as Barrett engineers trips into the end zone, he will continue to use the red zone package. Saturday’s matchup appears to be another good chance for Barrett to build off last week’s success with finding the end zone.

Does Braxton solidify himself as a playmaker?

Redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller had a huge day in the season opener, with 140 all-purpose yards and two scores. But after that, he was seemingly absent for the next four games.

Against Maryland last week, however, Miller reemerged. The quarterback-turner-receiver had five catches for 79 yards— along with three rushes for 11 yards — and one touchdown. It was his first trip to the end zone since the opener.

Meyer said this week that Miller got the targeted amount of touches against the Terrapins and that he continues to deserve the football.

But after disappearing for a few weeks following the Virginia Tech game, there is reason to wonder if Miller can routinely have explosive performances or if they will come and go.

Against the stout Nittany Lions defense, the Buckeyes will need all of their playmakers to get separation and make guys miss once they get the football.

Whether Miller, who said this week he fully feels like a receiver now, makes his presence felt could have a big impact on if the Buckeyes’ offense builds its momentum from last week.

OSU’s secondary vs. a pocket passer

OSU’s secondary has been one of the best in the nation this season, allowing just 147.5 passing yards per game, which is the ninth fewest in the country.

Big passing plays have been few and far in between, quarterbacks have been uncomfortable in the pocket and have had little time to work before the pass rush closes in.

Yet the Buckeyes have not done as good of a job of stopping opposing quarterbacks as they could have this season because of the damage the mobile quarterbacks opposite them have done on the ground.

In the last two weeks, OSU gave up runs of 75 and 79 yards to Maryland’s Perry Hills and Indiana’s Zander Diamont, respectively, as each of the fleet-footed quarterbacks picked up more yards running than throwing.

Against Penn State, it is not likely OSU will deal with the same problem. Penn State junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg, as his positive runs through six games have only picked up 74 yards, including a long run of 22 yards.

In OSU’s six games, it has only faced one quarterback characterized as a pocket passer: Hawaii’s Max Wittek.

Wittek had one of the worst games of his life without the threat of running the ball, completing just seven of 24 passes for 67 yards and two interceptions. He did rattle off a 17-yard run, but still finished with a negative rushing total thanks to four sacks.

OSU’s secondary can be death on pocket quarterbacks, and Hackenberg is just that. It could be a long night for the junior trying to find openings downfield.

Offensive line penalties

A recurring theme that Meyer has been displeased with this season has been the number of penalties the team has committed.

Against Maryland, that area improved with just six penalties overall — but four were on the offensive line.

Three false starts and a holding penalty did no favors to the offense. Though the offensive line has improved immensely throughout the season with regards to creating holes for running back Ezekiel Elliott to burst through and creating protection for the quarterbacks, discipline might still be an area of concern.

Given how rapidly Meyer has attacked previous areas of concern — such as turnovers and red zone struggles — it would be surprising to see him allow a deficiency like that continue for another week, especially when the number of major issues on the team to be preoccupied with is dwindling by the week.

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