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Scouting Penn State: A look at the 2015 Nittany Lions

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Penn State then-sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) holds the ball during a game against OSU on Oct. 25 in State College, Pennsylvania. OSU won 31-24 in double overtime. Credit: Lantern File Photo

Penn State then-sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) holds the ball during a game against OSU on Oct. 25 in State College, Pennsylvania. OSU won 31-24 in double overtime. Credit: Lantern File Photo

Coming off a victory at home over Indiana, Penn State is set to travel to Columbus to square off against the nation’s top-ranked team, Ohio State.

A shocking Week 1 loss at Temple made it appear like the Nittany Lions were headed for a dreadful 2015 season. But Penn State has responded since being upset, stringing together a five-game win streak that it will carry into Saturday’s game.

Here is a look at coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions.

Christian Sackenberg

Penn State has arguably one of the country’s best arm talents in junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg. However, the former 5-star recruit does not look the part due to his team’s subpar offensive line.

In the Temple game alone, Hackenberg was sacked 10 times. Since then, the offensive line has played better, but the Palmrya, Virginia, native has been sacked nine times over the past five games.

Due to spending much of the game on his back, Hackenberg’s numbers are less than what would be expected out of player who is widely considered to be a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft.

He ranks 96th in the nation for passing efficiency, having completed just 53 percent of his pass attempts for 1,086 yards, while tossing only seven touchdowns in 2015.

OSU junior defensive end Joey Bosa said he knows that Hackenberg can make all of the throws inside the chalk but it’s a matter of him getting the protection to have the time to do so.

However, with the Buckeyes’ defensive line playing well, the Nittany Lion O-line has its work cut out for it. The line will need to provide Hackenberg with time to use his arm to strain the OSU secondary.

That is the first step for Penn State to have a chance at extending its win streak to six games on Saturday.

Back to its roots

Under former coach Joe Paterno, Penn State established a reputation of having top defenses, which earned the school the nickname of “Linebacker U.”

After a two-year downturn, Franklin has rebuilt the Nittany Lions into a team with a stifling defense. Last season, they finished No. 2 in the country in total defense, and so far in 2015, that dominance has not disappeared.

Penn State heads into Ohio’s capital city boasting the nation’s 10th best defense, relinquishing just 275 yards per game to opposing offenses. Only twice has the unit allowed more than 14 points — Temple put up 27 points in the opener and San Diego State scored 21 in Week 4.

The defense, which OSU coach Urban Meyer called “excellent,” is anchored by redshirt senior defensive end Carl Nassib.

The 6-foot-7 former walk-on has ripped offensive lines to shreds this season. Through six games, Nassib has the most sacks in the nation with 10, all of which have been solo. He has also forced five fumbles.

Beyond Nassib, weakside linebacker Jason Cabinda has been another key cog for the Nittany Lion defense. He’s registered 46 tackles — equating to 7.7 per game — but what separates Cabinda is his athleticism.

The 6-foot-1 true sophomore can go sideline-to-sideline to bring down ball carriers, but his athletic ability allows him to drop back in pass coverage. The Flemington, New Jersey, native has already broken up five passes, while defending another five.

OSU’s offense has looked like it’s finally hitting its stride, but what it is able to do against the Nittany Lions will validate or invalidate the Buckeyes’ improvements.

Familiar faces

OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson is in his second season with the program, but prior to joining  Meyer’s staff, Johnson spent 18 years as an assistant at Penn State.

Offensive tackle Chance Sorrell, a redshirt freshman for Penn State, is a former high school teammate of OSU redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall. The two played at Middletown High School, just outside of Dayton, Ohio.

Sorrell is the lone Nittany Lion to have played high school football in Ohio.

Beyond the Buckeyes

After squaring off against OSU, Penn State will return to State College, Pennsylvania for its fourth conference game against Maryland. Kickoff is penciled in for 3:30 p.m.

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