No. 4 Buckeyes welcome in Nittany Lions, freshman quarterback.
The Buckeyes are right in the thick of the national title race following a 34-24 victory over Iowa. Braxton Miller displayed his dual-threat abilities as he completed 81 percent of his passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 102 yards. The Buckeyes haven't been dominating teams; however, as they've won their last three contests (all conference games) by an average of just nine points. By comparison, every other team in the AP top 5 has a significantly higher average margin of victory in conference games. For conference games, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Missouri have average margins of victory of 34, 31, 36, and 19, respectively. Clearly, Ohio State hasn't been all that impressive in their three conference victories over teams with a combined 13-8 record. This week Urban Meyer's bunch looks to grab some national respect as they look to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 20 with a win over the 4-2 Nittany Lions. This will be easier said than done, as Penn State has had a whole with to rest and recover from an exciting quadruple-overtime victory over Michigan in Beaver Stadium. A victory will also keep Ohio State in the thick of the national title race, while a Penn State victory would put the Nittany Lions just a half game out of the lead in the Leaders Division. Bill O'Brien's team is ineligible for postseason play, so Penn State will be pumped up as they will look to this as their defacto bowl game. Tune in for the intense Big Ten action at 8 pm ET on ABC.
Three Things to Watch
Ohio State's three-headed rushing attack
The Buckeyes like to spread things around when it comes to their running game. Three players have over 75 carries. Halfbacks Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall each average 6.2 yards per carry. Hall has eight rushing touchdowns, while Hyde has five. Shockingly, despite rushing for 335 yards this year, Braxton Miller has yet to register a rushing touchdown. Penn State has only the sixth-best rushing defense in the Big Ten, but it has allowed just one running back to top 100 yards in a game this season. The Nittany Lions have shown that they struggle against a running quarterback. Michigan's Devin Gardner rushed for a season-high 121 yards from the quarterback position just two weeks ago, and Miller may look to duplicate that gameplan. The run is what makes the Buckeyes offense go, so expect a conservative gameplan with a healthy helping of the read option.
Hostile environment for Hackenberg
Due to his excellent play this year it's easy to forget that Christian Hackenberg is just a true freshman. His performance in the come-from-behind victory over Michigan certainly was impressive, as he is on pace to throw for more than 3,200 and 22 touchdowns. Mostly, he has played well; however, at times he tends to stare down receivers and force the ball into tight windows. The highly touted recruit has only played one road game this season - at Indiana. Clearly, that's not one of the more difficult venues to play. The Nittany Lions actually lost that game in a half-empty Memorial Stadium. The Horseshoe certainly is. For the first time in his young career the Penn State signal caller will have to play in front of a raucous opposing crowd numbering over 100,000. We'll see how he deals with handling the huddle and audibles at the line of scrimmage amidst the deafening noise.
Ohio State secondary
Ohio State has struggled at defending the pass this year. The Buckeyes are giving up an average of 240 yards per game, which is tied for No. 78 in the country. Against Wisconsin, Ohio State allowed wide receiver Jared Abbrederis to catch 10 balls for 207 yards, both season highs. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter completed 12-of-12 passes against Ohio State a week later. Last week, the Buckeyes gave up 10 receptions, 167 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Iowa's tight end duo of C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey.
Key Player: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby, who was a preseason NFL first-round lock, has struggled this season. The returning All-American corner looked foolish against Abbrederis. Roby didn't help his team out last week when he was ejected for targeting in the first half. Roby still has top-notch closing speed and ball skills and will be asked to lock Allen Robinson. The Penn State wideout mixes excellent athleticism (a 37-inch vertical) with excellent route-running abilities and hands. He has 43 catches for 705 yards and five touchdowns. and the best route-running ability on the team. Robinson is clearly Hackenberg's first option as he has more than three times the amount of catches as the next closest Nittany Lion. Roby will undoubtedly be in a position to make something happen. His play could determine whether Penn State blows up the Ohio State defense or whether Hackenberg throws a couple costly interceptions.
The difference in this game in Braxton Miller. He's the x-factor. Without him, Ohio State has an above average offense; with him, it's dynamic. Penn State won't be able to stop him on the ground which should open up some passing lanes. Expect this game to be a low-scoring street fight that is turned by a spectacular play by the gifted Miller.
Prediction: Ohio State 24, Penn State 15