Everybody is getting all worked up for the forthcoming Ohio State game. ESPN/ABC has been promoting the hell out of it, and pseudo-expert wannabes far and wide who never actually coached or played a game at this level have been offering “solutions” to the puzzle of how to beat the big, bad Buckeyes, competing for bragging rights if they coincidentally get it right or for invisibility rights if they don’t. It’s a stupid-ass child’s game we continually play. Not this Turkey, who not only doesn’t have the slightest clue as to how to win this game but also is so old that by next week he’ll forget what his prediction was this week. Nevertheless, I do have some unfounded and impertinent opinions, which I’ll be glad to offer to you forthwith.
First of all, I’ll state the obvious. No one wins games like this if they turn the pigskin over excessively. In a close game in which one unrequited turnover could mean the difference, the turnover ratio had better be positive. Thus far this season, both the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions stand dead even in the middle of the FBS (the Division formerly known as I-A) with a 0.0 average turnover ratio. Interestingly enough, however, two interceptions last week by Michigan State resulted in 14 points for the Spartans in their losing effort at the Horseshoe, whereas three second-half turnovers by the Hoosiers allowed the Nittany Lions to put nine points on the scoreboard, which should have been 21. Thus, we’re headed in the right direction here.
We better do well somewhere because our still anemic offense, with all its red-zone difficulties, will find points hard to come by against the stingy Scarlet & Gray defense. The formidable run defense will threaten to put the clamps on Kinlaw and Royster, particularly if Mike Lucian sits the game out, as Paterno suggested he would. His backups are somewhat less capable. Shaw is recovering from an injury and has not practiced much, while Wisniewski is a true freshman. In any case, I do not see the Penn State offensive line, no matter how “jelled” they are, manhandling the Ohio State defensive front seven. Quite the contrary. They’ve got to figure out a way to keep Vernon Gholston out of Morelli’s face. The Lions rank 63rd in sacks allowed. Furthermore, the loss of Matt Hahn means the Nittany Lions are without an experienced contributer to multiple facets of the rushing offense. He caught passes, too. Lawlor will not be able to fill his shoes in this game. And someone either better teach Quarless to block or put Shuler in there for run blocking, while telegraphing tight end pass plays when Quarless is in there. Until Quarless becomes a complete lineman/receiver (remember Kyle Brady? Sean McHugh? John Gilmore?), his great size and quickness will be available only part-time. Anyhow, I digress. With two conservative coaches running this show, the rushing game becomes all important. Alas, I don’t think that Penn State will have much of a rushing game, given the OSU defense and the state of the Nittany Lion offensive line.
So, the strategy employed against Iowa and Indiana might be required to stand a chance against the Buckeyes. Short passes to spread the field a bit. Only problem there is that Ohio State ranks #1 in pass efficiency defense. Cool, so how the hell does Penn State get any points if it can’t run and can’t pass on OSU’s defense? Answer: our defense must score points. Michigan State’s did, but the offense provided only 3 of the 17 points; in the end they went down 24-17. So, I’ll amend my answer to the question I asked myself. Answer: our defense must score enough points. They must force turnovers.
The defense is one cause for optimism. Maurice Evans has become a monster of a pass defender, ranking second in the division and first in the conference in that category. He needs to be in Todd Boeckman’s jockstrap on every passing play, but Evans will probably be double-teamed, especially now that he has the visibility of a Big Ten Player of the Week. The pressure on Boeckman is essential, as he is ranked #7 in the division in pass efficiency. By virtue of Evans’ performance against the Hoosiers, the Nittany Lions wrested the #1 ranking in sacks from Indiana, the former holder of that distinction. Moving to the linebackers, the usually hyperactive Connor was almost invisible in the Indiana game, but he’ll be back. Rumor has it that is nursing a minor injury. Sean Lee has always been there this year. The cause for concern is the front four in general. Injuries have thinned the initially deep defensive line. I don’t agree with the other bullshitters who say that Odrick’s injury won’t hurt the Nittany Lions. What have we got? A bottomless cup of first-string linemen? Hell no, we don’t. With Ohio State running Beanie Wells at them all day, these guys are going to get tired and coaches are going to have to be digging deeper and deeper for backups. Furthermore, as Joe admitted at the Tuesday press conference, the defensive playbook will have to be pared down to accommodate the less experienced players. That said (I hate scribes who write “that said”), I think the Lion front seven are good enough to put a crimp in the Beanster’s plans. Penn State is still #9 in rushing defense. Holding Wells under 100 yards will make that ranking more meaningful.
The pass defense worries me. That damn soft Sandusky zone didn’t look too swift against Indiana last week, did it? Justin King—what’s up with him and his shoulder? He’s playing as soft as a baby’s ass. He’s missing tackles. He’s getting turned around. Ohio State doesn’t have what Paterno calls an 8’2″ receiver; however, they have pretty solid receivers in the 6’3″ tandem of Brian and Brian (Robiskie and Hartline). They get the job done. If we slow down Chris Wells, we have to expect these guys to be getting the ball more. Our soft-hitting, middle of the pack secondary might prove to be fertile stomping grounds for this duo.
Meanwhile, back at the offensive ranch, it is likely that Penn State will need the vertical pass. The Nittany Lions will be frustrated at the line of scrimmage and the offensive line will have its hands full with the pass rush. One thing we can throw at the Buckeyes is superior receivers. Morelli must play a mature game and quickly make his reads. He must be opportunistic. If a receiver gets open deep behind the safeties, Morelli has got to see him and nail the pass. There is no margin for error. Let us have no repeat of last year’s game.
The category that sticks out like a sore thumb in the NCAA stat book is OSU’s horrendous #119 ranking in kickoff returns. The Penn State crappy kickoff return coverage might actually be adequate for a change.
Ohio State is favored by four, and to this Turkey, it doesn’t look that close. The loss of Hahn and Odrick, the possible loss of Lucian, and the shaky secondary do not portend well for a winning result. Looking around the web at predictions, it seems like everyone is expecting a low scoring game, with the bookies settling on an over/under of 39.5. That, coupled with the spread, equates to about a 21-17 game. I’ve seen predictions as low as 7-3.
That brings us once again to the Totally Meaningless Official Turkey Poop Prediction and Pigskin Prophecy. I really want Penn State to win, and I’m not scared by a #1 ranking, especially one that came in through the back door. I just think that Ohio State has few perceptible weaknesses playing at this level, whereas the Nittany Lions have quite a few. This is really the first “test” for Ohio State according to the pundits. I hope they flunk it so they don’t make the Big Ten look bad once again this year in the Allstate BCS Championship commercialfest. Still, I have to stick with my intuition. Ohio State 20, Penn State 13.