The beleaguered #21 Penn State Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) travel to Columbus to square off with the beleaguered and unranked Ohio State Buckeyes (6-4, 3-3) on Saturday in a game that always has been a smashmouth affair. Ohio State leads the all-time series 14-12. I’ve dubbed it the Cereal Bowl due to scandals at both schools involving a bunch of fruits, nuts and flakes; the only thing that will make it go down better is the milk of human kindness.
Penn State has typically had a tough time in the Horseshoe. It is partisan, noisy, and hostile. The last two times the Nittany Lions won there were 2008 and 1978, but it better not be 30 years before the next win!
Both teams have had their share of scandals in recent history, although Penn State’s is still ongoing. Tattoogate cost Ohio State a great loss in prestige, not to mention costing the loss of its very successful head coach, Jim Tressell, and its star quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Suspensions hit the Buckeyes hard this season. For the Nittany Lions, the team itself wasn’t involved in its scandal, so there was no effect on the players; however, it did precipitate the firing of head coach Joe Paterno and the assignment of assistant coach Mike McQueary to the purgatory of administrative leave. Thus, both Ohio State and Penn State are playing with new head coaches, Luke Fickell and Tom Bradley, respectively. I see this as more of a disadvantage for PSU than OSU, because of the suddenness and timing of the coaching change. The entire offensive communication scheme was stripped out and replaced.
This Turkey has always been way up for this game, regarding it as the real rivalry game, even though that was supposed to be Moo U. for us and Michigan for them. This year, it feels completely different, as if OSU is a bump on the road on the way to Madison. With the Buckeyes an uncharacteristic 3-3 in conference play, it seems off. I’m struggling with it a bit, because I know you can’t underestimate these guys. They’ve got a great defense, and while their offense needs work, it is arguably superior to Penn State’s.
Ohio State has been favored by a touchdown all week, yet some fans are thinking that because Penn State is ranked at number 21, that means the Nittany Lions are actually the favorite and the Buckeyes are the underdog. Funny how the minds of some people work. Do any rankings south of number 10 actually mean anything? Just look at the relative rankings of Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin for an example of how meaningless rankings are. Just more BCS bullshit, if you ask me. Anyhow, OSU is favored by a TD. The usual home field advantage is about three points, so the gamblers, who tend to me more correct than the BCS, think the Buckeyes are about four points better than Penn State if they were to play on a neutral field. Penn State is the underdog, and I’m sticking to that!
After getting creamed by Miami back in September, the Buckeyes’ other three losses have been with a differential of a single score. They lost to Moo U. by a field goal, the ‘Huskers by a TD, and last week, they lost to Purdue by three in overtime, 26-23. In their loss to Nebraska, OSU still put 27 points on the board; and in beating Wisconsin, they scored 33. Are you beginning to see why they’re looking like favorites next to Penn State’s anemic scoring? I thought so.
The Purdue game last week was obviously a punch in the gut for the Buckeyes, who with two losses still would have had an outside chance to participate in the conference championship, albeit with a lot of help. However, OSU couldn’t generate enough offense to put the Boilermakers away. With only 15 first downs and 295 total yards, it’s a wonder that the game even went into overtime.
If you were worried about another noon kickoff on the road, don’t. The remaining two games will be played at 3:30, so you won’t get to read my nasty comments about how the Nittany Lions traditionally suck at noon starts, particularly on the road. The 3:30 kickoff time also means that we get the best ESPN/ABC announcing team: Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge, and Holly Rowe. Here at The Cave, we’ll be making some steaks and displaying the famous Geldner Buckeye, which has served us well for the past three seasons. However, the acorns in lieu of buckeyes supplied by Artificially Sweetened and bearing the names Pryor and Wells have been retired, as Terelle and Beanie have departed for Oakland and Arizona, respectively.
There were concerns about Silas Redd being unable to play in this game, but he will play. He’s just a little “banged up.” Stephfon Green got some good playing time last week and seemed to do quite well, given that Redd wasn’t at 100%.
One of the big names from Tattoogate is returning to the Ohio State roster this week after spending most of the year in the penalty box: senior wide receiver DeVier Posey returns after a ten game suspension. Without his 6-2, 210 lb presence as a constant threat, the Buckeyes’ passing game has sucked big time thus far this year. Well, Ol’ #8 is back and he knows where the end zone is. Between him and senior running back Daniel “Boom” Herron, another Tattoogate delinquent who served a six-game suspension, the Penn State defense will have its collective hands full.
Being Senior Day in Columbus, the fans will get to bid a fond farewell to these two major stars.
Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller has used the pass sparingly thus far this season for good reason, typically attempting a dozen passes per game. The good reason? He sucks at passing. He’s thrown eight touchdown passes and three picks. Miller has been more of a running threat than a passer, by far. Against Nebraska, for example, he had 91 net yards rushing, and against Wisconsin, 99. He’s scored five touchdowns on the ground. This week, he gets Posey back, so that could make a difference in the mix of plays.
Remember that I told you that Penn State had beaten the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe in 2008 and 1978? Well, coincidentally, the OSU quarterbacks in those two games were freshmen, Pryor in 2008 and Art Schlichter in 1978. So, if you’re feeling lucky this year, there might be good reasons for your optimism.
Looking at the Buckeyes in the aggregate, their defense is excellent, ranking 15 and 16 in total defense and scoring defense, respectively. It is their offense that is suspect. While the ground game is solid, with Herron averaging over 100 ypg and Miller adding a significant contribution to cause the team average to exceed 200 ypg, the passing game has indeed bitten the large one. The Buckeyes have averaged a mere 117 ypg passing. This has earned them a 118 ranking in passing offense and a 108 ranking in total offense. Even Penn State isn’t that offensive an offense, although Ohio State does better in points per game with 25 as opposed to PSU’s 21.
The Nittany Lions are ranked 8th in total defense and third in scoring defense. That helps because they have had trouble putting points on the board averaging 21 ppg, which is good for a national rank (and I do mean rank) of 102, even though their offensive rankings are a bit better than OSU’s. Penn State ranks 58 in rushing, 87 in passing, and 88 in total offense.
Matt McGloin will start at quarterback. This is the first time this Turkey has been able to say that since the bowl season. There is no longer an “OR” in the depth chart. McGloin wasn’t particularly effective in the Nebraska game, but then again, with the coaching shake-up at mid-week, no one expected that the offense would have had time to get itself reorganized and fully functional. With McQueary out of the picture, plays were being called in to McGloin by Jay Paterno, who has not performed that role before.
Both defenses are very good at forcing turnovers and sacking the quarterback. However, Ohio State ranks a measly 116 in the category of sacks allowed, which they do an average of 3.3 times per game. You would expect this with a running quarterback like Miller, though. If he’s tackled behind the line of scrimmage, it’s a sack as far as the stats go. The Penn State defense, led by senior defensive lineman Devon Still, who recently became a candidate for the Nagurski award, has been outstanding this year, even with the loss of its heart and soul, Michael Mauti. Nasty Nate Stupar has stepped up; against Nebraska last week, he had six solo tackles and seven assists.
After Anthony Fera’s dreadful performance last week, I don’t have to tell you that PSU’s special teams aren’t very special. OSU appears to be competent in that area.
How’s the weather? We’re looking at partly sunny and 55, but pretty windy. Forecast winds are from the south at 15 mph with gusts to 34. This can affect the kicking and passing games, especially if McGloin tries to stretch the OSU defense, as I think he should.
So there we have it. A couple of beleaguered schools, with a couple of new coaches. I wonder if we’ll see any more trick plays like the Curtis Drake 16-yard reverse/pass razzle-dazzle we saw last week. In 2009, Drake completed a 14 yard touchdown pass against Moo U, so the frequency suggests that we won’t see another of those until next year. The extent of the trickery this week is liable to be limited to the classic epic fail double reverse and perhaps a fake punt or field goal if the situation calls for it. You can’t get too fancy, Bradley, until you’ve at least had a look at the offensive playbook.
And that, my fine, non-feathered friends, brings us to the part of this preview where we can the bullshit and get down to the business at hand. Yes, peeps, it is time for the Official Turkey Poop Prediction for the Penn State vs Ohio State game. But first, a big shout out to Fernando Gómez, Mike Moshell, Ali Orooji, and the infamous Hal Brown, who are all Ohio State Ph.D.’s who have worked with me at UCF. I left UCF 15 years ago, but three of the four of those Buckeyes are still plugging away over there in east Orlando. I would check out the R.G. Brewski’s Ohio State watch party to see if I could find any of them, but Artificially Sweetened recoiled at the thought of going to a Buckeye Bar (which, interestingly enough, is a Steeler bar on Sundays). But I damn well digress — tri-gress, even. As I mentioned earlier in this article, before you fell asleep a couple of times, the Buckeyes are favored by seven. The over/under is 38.5, which indicates that the gamblers don’t think much of either offense. After getting burned in my prediction by the Offensive Anemia Bowl between Nebraska and PSU last weekend, I think I might have learned my lesson about counting on Penn State to produce an offense less aromatic than the trunk of Casey Anthony’s Pontiac Sunfire. The score, you say. The score. Hell, this foul fowl has been deliberating for a good long time about this and I’m still conflicted. This is one of the hardest picks for me this year. Think defense. Think OSU can’t pass, but Posey is back. Think PSU run stoppers. Think upset. Hmmmm, but wait. It’s the damn Horseshoe. Okay, I’m ready. Take the under — at least I’m pretty sure about this part. I’m going to tell you to take Penn State and the points, but I think the Buckeyes will win at home. OSU 16, Penn State 13.