The Ohio State Buckeyes will make their second road trip of the 2022 college football season, traveling to Beaver Stadium to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. Ohio State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) enters undefeated and ranked second in the country, but Penn State (6-1, 3-1) checks in at No. 13 in the polls and is right behind the Buckeyes (and Michigan) in the Big Ten East standings.
Even though his team has won its games by nearly 35 points per contest, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day recognizes that Saturday's matchup in Happy Valley is no cakewalk.
"Well, no matter when you go into Penn State, it's going to be a challenge," Day said. "They do a great job of the atmosphere. And our guys, there's still a handful of guys that were there for that win in 2018, but not all. So, we went in 2020 it was different. It was COVID. But we know whether it's an afternoon game or a night game, it's gonna be a challenge. Their crowd is going to be in it and they'll play a factor."
Penn State head coach James Franklin paid Day and the Buckeyes plenty of compliments earlier this week.
"You know, when you talk about Ohio State and Ryan Day, obviously a ton of respect for what they have been able to do for a long time," Franklin said. "They have been doing it for a long time at Ohio State. But a ton of respect for them and what they do and how they go about their business."
On the field, the Buckeyes have certainly had the upper hand in this rivalry, beating the Nittany Lions five straight times. Penn State's last victory came at home, winning 24-21 in 2016. Ohio State was ranked No. 2 at the time.
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 13 Penn State
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Ranked fourth in the nation in total offense with an average of 517.4 yards per game, the Buckeyes present challenges both throwing and running the ball. Quarterback C.J. Stroud has completed 133 of 190 passes for 2,023 yards, 28 touchdowns, and just four interceptions so far this season, throwing to Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Julian Fleming. Jaxon Smith-Njigba may play but has been hampered by a hamstring injury throughout this season.
As potent as Ohio State is in through the air, Penn State also must account for the two-headed monster in the backfield of Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson. Both running backs have dealt with some bumps and bruises along the way and are still putting up big numbers — a combined 990 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. So it's understandable why Franklin is concerned about how his Nittany Lions' defense will fare against the Buckeyes.
Penn State was able to rebound defensively from a poor showing at Michigan two weeks ago by forcing Minnesota to become overly reliant on its running game in the Nittany Lions' 45-17 win this past Saturday. Granted, the Golden Gophers were without starting quarterback Tanner Morgan, but look for Penn State to try to replicate what Iowa did defensively against Ohio State, holding the Buckeyes to just 66 rushing yards (although they still managed to put up 54 points). Ohio State's talented receiving corps will test the Nittany Lions' secondary, which features NFL prospects Ji'Ayir Brown and Joey Porter Jr. Penn State will need to get pressure on Stroud to try and force him into some ill-timed throws and hopefully a turnover or two.
When Penn State Has the Ball
Quarterback Sean Clifford is coming off a performance versus Minnesota that earned him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors. The embattled signal-caller completed 23 of 31 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. Clifford also is a threat as a runner, something Ohio State is well aware of.
Throughout this season, the Nittany Lions have been pretty productive on the ground with Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen forming a nice one-two punch in the backfield. The freshman running back duo has combined for 957 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Singleton, in particular, is sure to attract plenty of attention as the highly regarded recruit is averaging an impressive 6.8 yards per carry. But the Buckeyes have been up to the task against the run so far, holding teams to less than three yards per carry and surrendering a total of four rushing touchdowns.
When Clifford drops back to throw, he'll likely be looking for top wide receiver Parker Washington, who leads the team with 30 catches for 388 yards, or one of his tight ends. Against Minnesota, Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren both hauled in touchdown passes, and fellow tight end Brenton Strange is tied for the team lead in that category with four. They all will test an Ohio State secondary that has continued to make plays despite battling injury issues. Safety Tanner McCalister had two interceptions last week among the six total takeaways the Buckeyes produced in last week's rout of the Hawkeyes.
Ohio State has been arguably the most dominant team this season but is fully aware of how difficult an environment Beaver Stadium can be. The Buckeyes have won the past two trips there (38-25 in 2020, 27-26 in '18), although one of those was a nailbiter, and Penn State's last win in this series came at home (24-21 in 2016). Nittany Lions fans are notoriously loud and Ohio State knows to expect to hear a lion roar blasted through the stadium's sound system throughout the game. Communication will be a challenge but Buckeyes fans are relieved that it's not a "white out" game at night as it has been in the past.
While the oddsmakers have Ohio State as a comfortable favorite, it will not be a surprise if this game is a dogfight on into the second half. Eventually, the Buckeyes should be able to pull away because of their firepower on offense and a defense that is playing really well right now. Either way, Ohio State should leave Happy Valley with a collective smile on its face.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Penn State 21
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