The #3 Nittany Lions (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) haven’t won in Columbus since joining the Big Ten and the #9 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) would like to keep it that way. On Saturday, the Lions will invade Ohio Stadium to play a game that will establish the front-runner for the Big Ten Conference championship. A win in Columbus would also keep Penn State’s national championship hopes alive, as they would leave with an unblemished record.
It won’t be easy. Penn State has not won in Columbus since 1978 and has not done well in general against the cream of the Big Ten crop. This year’s team provides a golden opportunity to rise above the mediocrity that has plagued Penn State since joining the Big Ten, during which time Ohio State and Michigan have won or shared 12 conference titles to Penn State’s two. The Horseshoe is a hostile venue, providing much better than the typical home field advantage.
There will be a lot of media hype for this game, of course. There’s just too much at stake for that not to be the case. So let’s see what’s in store for this season’s eighth “Game of the Century.”
Penn State, of course, has a prolific offense, which it calls the Spread HD. Thus far, in games played against opponents other than those who make boilers, the offense has been capable of putting up 40-some points per game. Combining a bevy of highly talented pass receivers, a couple of highly skilled running backs, and a workmanlike offensive line with a quarterback who is quick on his feet and quick with his mind, the Nittany Lions rank 11th nationally in total offense. In scoring offense, they rank 7th, with an average of 45.38 points per game. Quarterback Daryll Clark is the best rated quarterback in the Big Ten.
However, Penn State has not yet faced a defense that is up to the task of containing its high-powered offense. Ohio State ranks 10th nationally in total defense and they have the best rushing defense in the Big Ten. They’ll probably try to shut down the run, as they did at Michigan State, where they were successful in corralling ace running back Javon Ringer, thus forcing Clark to throw and potentially make mistakes. (An old NFL coach once said that when you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them ain’t good.)
Meanwhile, the Ohio State offense has rounded into form now that star running back Beanie Wells has returned from a foot injury early in the season. His absence might have figured into the Buckeyes’ only loss, that being to then #1 USC. In the four games he has played since his return, he has run for 508 yards. Given the crappy performance of the PSU defense against the Michigan running attack last week in which they allowed 202 yards, you can expect to see Beanie getting the ball a lot. Meanwhile, at quarterback, prized recruit Terrelle Pryor has solidified his role. On his feet, he is a lot better than either Juice Williams of Illinois or Steven Threet of Michigan, both of whom burned the Penn State defense for lots of yards. Pryor is averaging 51 yards rushing per game.
If Pryor has a weakness, it is passing. This, too, is improving for him as the season progresses. Against Michigan State he was 7-11 for 116 yards and a touchdown. However, if Ohio State can run on the Nittany Lions, Pryor might not need to pass very much. While Penn State ranks 8th in total defense, it is ranked only 22nd in rush defense. This Turkey hopes that the defensive brain trust can figure out how to shore up the run stoppage. If they can’t, the Lions are going to get run over big time in Columbus.
One other thing is for certain: Penn State must take care of the ball to have any chance of winning. The Buckeye defense will gladly slurp up any sloppily handled balls and turn them into points, ranking #4 nationally in turnover margin.
Penn State demonstrated some major flaws against Michigan, both on defense and on offense. The offense issues probably can be surmounted with a game plan appropriate to the Ohio State situation; however, the defensive flaws run deeper. Uncharacteristically for Penn State, there is a talent deficit at the linebacker position. This could be hidden against inferior opposition, but it was exposed rather graphically when Michigan came to town. It is the prime cause for concern in this game, where the defensive front seven will be subjected to a relentless power running attack.
The weather will cooperate, with temperatures in the 40s. Now let’s get out there and play this thing.
And now, that feature that you have all been waiting to disagree with. Yes, it’s time for the Official Turkey Poop Prediction. But first, let me just state that the position of my head, which is sometimes way up my ass, to be sure, is not necessarily where my heart is. I really want the Nittany Lions to win this game, but I have my fears. The Lions have this annoying habit of not showing up until the second quarter; if they are true to form in Columbus, the hole they dig with a delayed start will be fatal. While they have shown that they can surmount “adversity” against Michigan, the Wolverines didn’t offer much resistance, shooting themselves in the foot several times, and besides, the game was played in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. Thus, we don’t yet know how the Lions will handle real adversity against a good team in front of a huge, hostile crowd. I believe that Penn State must come out with guns blazing in the hope of jumping out to an early lead and quieting the crowd. Then it must play to win, not to “not lose.” This is a tall order for a team that can’t seem to play in the first quarter. The gambling line is 2½ points in Penn State’s favor with an over/under of 46, suggesting a final score of approximately 25-21. The Turkey’s advice: take the Buckeyes and the points. Thinking that Beanie and Terrelle are going to shred the PSU defense while the OSU defense takes advantage of a couple of Penn State turnovers, this Turkey regrettably predicts a bubble bursting Ohio State 27, Penn State 20.