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Open Thread: Big Ten Football Game of the Week

#8 Penn State heads to Columbus, Ohio to face the #2 Buckeyes in this massive East Division tilt.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State Buckeyes have looked utterly frightening for opposing squads this season. With perhaps their stiffest competition lying ahead on these next two Saturdays it is time for them to finish the job. Their first match up will be against Penn State at home.

The Buckeyes just don’t seem to have a weakness. They have tremendous offensive balance. Starting quarterback Justin Fields has thrown for 2,164 yards, 31 touchdowns and one interception. Yes, that’s correct. One interception in 10 games!!! Then you have an elite talent at running back in J.K. Dobbins. He has rushed for 1,289 yards on 183 carries with touchdowns. The Buckeyes average 287 yards rushing and 254 yards passing per game. This offense finishes the job to, averaging 51.5 points per game.

Game Stats:

  • Where: Columbus, Ohio
  • When: Saturday, NOON ET
  • Channel: FOX
  • Spread: -18.5 Ohio State

Often times we see teams roll out an elite offense but not be able to put the same level of defense out on the field on Saturdays. Not the Buckeyes. Their defense has allowed 9.8 points per game. All three levels of their defense are elite. But like every great defense, it starts with the front line constricting and closing run lanes and putting pressure on the quarterback to help the pass defense.

The Buckeyes allow 90 yards rushing per game. This is an impressive statistic for any defense but what I find more stunning is that they allow only 126 yards passing per game. Give credit where it is due to the secondary who have done a tremendous job all season in pass coverage. The Buckeyes have the best pass defense in the country. An argument can be made that a couple of schools are equal, but none are better as it stands right now.

Penn State will be in for one of the most hostile college football environments in the country. One thing that might help them is that this is a Noon game and not under the lights. They could hope the early start will cause the Buckeyes to start slow maybe? That might sound like a reach but when your’e playing a team this good at their place, you’re just looking for any edge you can get.

The Nittany Lions have struggled against higher powered passing offenses this season. They are a great run defense for the most part but even if they slow down J.K. Dobbins they will have Justin Fields and the bevy of talented Ohio State wide-outs to contend with. The Penn State defense will need to use their talented line to put as much pressure as possible on Fields. They can’t allow enough time for the Buckeye receivers to make their move on a Penn State secondary that has struggled.

Offensively, Penn State will need to use the RPO as efficiently as possible. That starts with Sean Clifford making the right decisions. With only 6 interceptions on the season, Clifford has proven to be a solid decision maker in this fast paced offense. Star receiver K.J Hamler will loom large due to his ability to make plays with his legs off of shorter passes from Clifford.

More than likely, this will be a key part of Penn State’s strategy once the Ohio State defense gets their pass rush going. Ohio State’s defensive line and linebackers will more often than not, be able to congest or cut off run lanes as well. Penn State’s O.C. Ricky Rahne may want to work Clifford outside of the pocket on roll outs and traditional option plays. Clifford has enough speed on the ground to increase these types of plays’ success rate. It could help avoid the pass rush of the Buckeyes in certain situations.

I think of Penn State as kind of an Ohio State Lite. They are a balanced team across the board for the most part. However Ohio State is just on another level all around it seems. I think the Buckeyes will feast in a high stakes ranked match-up this Saturday.

  • Prediction: Ohio State 41, Penn State 17