A highly-ranked Ohio State football team, clinging to a touchdown lead in an overtime period, faces a critical fourth down. The Buckeye defensive line rises to the occasion, sacking the opposing team's quarterback to preserve the victory.
If it sounds familiar from Ohio State's 30-23 overtime win over Wisconsin last weekend, it should. The exact same scenario presented itself during the 2014 season, when Ohio State last visited Beaver Stadium to battle Penn State. Ohio State was able to escape with a 24-17 double overtime win that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has often described as the crucial moment in Ohio State's national championship season.
For the second consecutive week, No. 2 Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is playing on the road in a notoriously loud and raucous stadium, against an opponent coming off a bye week. Both night games against Oklahoma and Wisconsin were substantial challenges for the Buckeyes, and this game at Penn State should be just as difficult.
Coming off a bye, Penn State (4-2, 2-1) has won two consecutive games against Minnesota (29-26 in overtime) and Maryland (38-14), helping to quiet the critics of Penn State head coach James Franklin. Penn State is led offensively by sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, whom Ohio State recruited and Meyer has described as a "first-rounder" in terms of NFL potential. Barkley is averaging five yards a carry, has scored nine touchdowns this season, and has rushed for nearly 600 yards. Barkley ran for 194 yards against Ohio State last season.
Ohio State at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Ohio State -20
Three Things to Watch
1. How Will Penn State's Offense Attack Ohio State's Defense?
Wisconsin's offense had Ohio State's defense on its collective heels after the first half, using a combination of Corey Clement runs and jet sweeps by Jazz Peavy to spark the Badgers to a 16-6 halftime lead over the Buckeyes. With the Saquon Barkley getting the carries, a mobile quarterback in Trace McSorley, and a solid receiver corps led by DaeSean Hamilton, how much of the Wisconsin offensive game plan will Penn State head coach James Franklin try to incorporate against Ohio State?
2. Ohio State's Downfield Passing Game
Beginning against Indiana, with a 9-for-21, 93 yards, one touchdown and one interception performance, followed up by an improved 17-for-29, 226-1-1 game at Wisconsin, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett has had to rely more upon his legs to spark the offense. A reporter compared Ohio State's passing attack to a "square wheel" in head coach Urban Meyer’s Oct. 17 press conference. The Buckeyes have multiple offensive weapons for Barrett to pass to, led by H-Back Curtis Samuel and wide receiver Noah Brown, but a reliable deep threat has not been developed since Devin Smith during the 2014 season.
3. The Roar of The Penn State Crowd
Returning to Beaver Stadium for the first time since the dramatic 2014 victory, Meyer described playing at Penn State as "one of the top five atmospheres, again, in college football." Meyer even jokingly requested that Penn State would "save the 'White Outs' for other games." The Penn State fans always come out in full force and with loud voices whenever Ohio State comes to town. Ohio State was challenged on the road last week in Camp Randall Stadium against Wisconsin; how much of a factor will the Penn State fans have this week on the Buckeyes’ offense?
During his Oct. 17 press conference detailing the Wisconsin game, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer stated, "You need to get hit right in the chops. We did... We did get out played. I wouldn't say we got out toughed. They didn't out effort us. They had some very good stuff. Very good team, very good coaches, and you keep swinging... As anguished as that was, as much of a root canal as that was, I'd much rather have it that way for that kind of game, for the development of your team..." Penn State is coming into this game well rested, and eager to pull off the upset that the Nittany Lions came so close to achieving in 2014. Although Ohio State is coming off a grueling and physical contest, look for the Buckeyes to use the lessons learned against Wisconsin to their collective advantage against Penn State. Ohio State will control the clock by running the ball against a defense that ranks 103rd nationally in rushing yards per game.
Prediction: Ohio State 35, Penn State 20
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.
(Top photo courtesy of www.gopsusports.com)