After being pushed to the limit in a hostile stadium last week against the Wisconsin Badgers, the Ohio State football team will be tested once again this Saturday. This time, the Buckeyes travel to State College, Pennsylvania, to face a stout Nittany Lions team.
Penn State has earned a 4-2 record so far, picking up conference wins against Minnesota and Maryland. The sole conference loss this year, at the hands of Michigan, was the only game Penn State looked truly outmatched.
Last time OSU faced the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, fans were treated to a double overtime thriller that saw the Buckeyes come out on top. The game was decided on a Joey Bosa sack, and with freshman defensive end Nick Bosa on the team, it could be a twist of fate if the game comes down to the wire again.
Looking ahead to Saturday, here’s how Penn State compares to the Scarlet and Gray.
Christian Hackenberg is out, Trace McSorley is in. Hackenberg is now playing for the New York Jets, and McSorley is the go-to guy for Penn State coach James Franklin.
McSorley, a redshirt sophomore from Ashburn, Virginia, has played well for Penn State, tossing eight touchdowns and just three interceptions. Currently, he ranks third in the Big Ten in terms of passing yards with 1,436.
But the true backbone of the offense is sophomore running back Saquon Barkley. Last season, Barkley picked up 194 yards against OSU, providing much of the team’s offensive punch.
This year is no different from last, as he sits atop the Big Ten, tied for rushing touchdowns. A fantastic athlete known for his leaping ability and agility, the shifty Barkley could create problems for the Buckeyes.
“He’s a great running back,” said OSU junior defensive end Jalyn Holmes. “We just gotta attack the fundamentals in practice this week. Penn State has a great running back, so we just get back to the basics and we’ll be cool.”
The offensive line for Penn State is a force at home in Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions allow just one sack per game to opponents when they are at home as opposed to five per game on the road.
With an offensive line that keeps pressure off its quarterback when at home, and a stud of a running back in Barkley, Penn State’s offense could give problems to the Buckeyes.
Any time a team allows over 380 yards per game on defense, it can be a problem. That problem can be made worse when the unit fails to create takeaways.
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, they have problems in both areas. Penn State gives up far too many yards while creating just 1.5 turnovers per game.
Junior safety Marcus Allen leads the team in tackles after being named an honorable mention All-Big Ten last season. Against OSU last season, Allen picked up eight tackles.
Redshirt junior defensive end Garrett Sickels is the lead man to get to the quarterback for Penn State, and currently leads the team with 2.5 sacks. However, this category, like multiple other defensive statistics, is severely lacking for the Nittany Lions, as they rank 77th in the nation in sacks per game.
With a defensive unit that fails to create turnovers and allows chunk plays by the dozen, OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett could be gearing up for a field day. Barrett said he trusts in the ability of the offense to make changes to ensure a big day.
“I always have faith in our adjustments and what we’re trying to do on offense,” Barrett said. “I think the coaches do a great job of making those in-game adjustments and we do a good job of coaching it up on the sidelines.”
The 2014 edition of OSU vs Penn State provided a few tense moments for both Buckeye and Nittany Lion fans. Last year, the Buckeyes handled James Franklin’s squad easily in a 38-10 victory.
While OSU is returning to Beaver Stadium amid a Penn State White Out, the players at skill positions for the Buckeyes are far too numerous for the game to be a repeat of 2014.
McSorley has played fairly well, but has never faced the OSU secondary that has 11 interceptions this year, and puts constant pressure on the quarterback. Barkley might be the saving grace for Penn State, but OSU proved last week the team is ready for anything.