Penn State Preview

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Last updated: 11/18/2011 1:31 PM
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Ohio State vs. Penn State Preview
By Tony Gerdeman

With the Buckeyes' 38-14 win over the Nittany Lions last season vacated, Ohio State officially recognizes this as just the 25th meeting between the two schools. Ohio State (6-4, 3-3) holds a 13-12 edge over #21 Penn State (8-2, 5-1) all-time.

The Nittany Lions won their first four games against the Buckeyes—all in Columbus, but since then Ohio State has won eight of the last ten played in Ohio Stadium. In those two losses, the Buckeyes started freshman quarterbacks, which they'll be doing again on Saturday.

Counting last season's matchup, the higher-ranked team is 18-5 all-time in this series.

When Penn State Has The Ball

The Nittany Lions have been splitting their snaps between quarterbacks Robert Bolden and Matt McGloin, but for the last three games, there hasn't been much substituting. Bolden started the first seven games of the year, but the switch to McGloin as the starter was made three games ago. Since then, Bolden has only appeared in one game and thrown just four passes. The Buckeyes will expect to see McGloin almost exclusively, but they will have also prepared for Bolden just in case.

The Buckeyes saw first hand what McGloin could do last year when he was crisp and precise in leading the Nittany Lions to a 14-3 halftime lead over Ohio State. They also saw him throw two pick sixes in the second half of that game, but they can't let that cloud their preparation.

Since being named the starter, McGloin has completed over 50% of his passes just once. In total, he is only completing 50% of his passes as a starter. On the season he has thrown seven touchdown passes and just three interceptions.

At times he is a capable intermediate passer, but his accuracy wanes the further his passes get from the line of scrimmage. He will generally look for three receivers when he is throwing the ball. Derek Moye leads the team in receptions (34), yards receiving (592) and touchdown catches (3) despite missing two games with injury.

Justin Brown and Devon Smith are the other two frequent targets, and both will need to be paid attention too. Smith will get the ball in a variety of ways, as they look to get him the ball in space. Brown is a possession receiver who is looked at to move the chains, which he does fairly well.

With starting weakside linebacker Andrew Sweat's injury last week, true freshman Ryan Shazier will start in his place. Shazier was one of the few bright spots on the defense last week and will need to continue his solid play this week.

The loss of Sweat might mean the Buckeyes will play Tyler Moeller quite a bit more than normal on Saturday. Despite Moeller being used in mainly nickel situations, this plan worked well against Wisconsin, and may be looked upon to make a difference against another physical team.

Cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby have the size to match up with Penn State's tall receivers, but they do a good job of shielding their bodies from defenders. It will be up to McGloin to get the ball in the proper spots, however.

The Penn State offensive line has only given up twelve sacks on the season, so the Ohio State defensive line will have some tough sledding in the pass rush department. They will obviously want to force turnovers, and McGloin isn't against doing that, but they'll need to get some pressure on him to ensure that it happens.

The Buckeyes will have defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins available this week after leaving last week's game due to injury. It's not clear how much he'll be able to play, but when he's in the game against a team that is going to keep the ball between the hashmarks, he is very capable of dominating the line of scrimmage.

In order for the Nittany Lions to throw the ball like they'll want to, they will need to be able to run the ball. Tailback Silas Redd has rushed for 1,059 yards on the season, though Nebraska held him to just 53 yards on 15 carries last week.

Redd is a powerful tailback, but it's his shiftiness that has several Buckeye defenders reminded of former Nittany Lion Evan Royster. If the Buckeyes can contain Redd, they will win.

Field position might actually be the single greatest factor in determining the winner of this game, so special teams are going to be more important than ever.

Anthony Fera does both the punting and place-kicking, and he is solid in both. He's averaging 42.1 yards per punt, with eight of his 46 punts traveling over 50 yards. He has had a punt blocked, however. He is also 12-15 on field goals, but just 1-4 from beyond 40 yards.

Chaz Powell is a dangerous kick returner who has a 95-yard touchdown to his credit this season. He's averaging 29.5 yards per kickoff return. Justin Brown handles the majority of the punt returning, but aside from a 33-yard return this season, he hasn't done a whole lot.

The Ohio State coverage units have been fairly outstanding this season. The longest kickoff return they have surrendered is just 42 yards, and the longest punt return is just 24 yards.

When Ohio State Has The Ball

Wide receiver Devier Posey returns from suspension(s) this week, and the Buckeyes are hopeful that it will force defenses to back off of them a little bit, which should then open up the running game.

Penn State will likely make Ohio State prove that they can beat them down the field before they take away the safety from their run defense. The Buckeyes have been facing single coverage in the secondary for weeks, but they haven't been able to make defenses regret it. Even with the return of Posey, don't expect Penn State to stop playing with matches until they get finally burned.

The key for offensive success for the Buckeyes is their run blocking, but that blocking would get a whole lot easier if Braxton Miller can hit some passes early. That would require passing plays to be called early, and the offensive line would actually have to give him enough time to throw the ball.

Penn State has recorded 24 sacks on the season, and the Buckeyes have been sacked 3.3 times per game. They are 116th in the nation in sacks allowed. Right tackle J.B. Shugarts missed last week with an injury, but is expected to play on Saturday. How much he'll actually be able to play, however, is the real question.

Not all of those sacks are on the offensive line, but if the Buckeyes are only going to be running two-man routes, Miller will always need a little more time to wait for one of his two receivers to break open.

Penn State has a very aggressive defense, and they live in the backfield. They will come out with the intention of matching Michigan State's performance against Miller earlier in the season. The Buckeyes might look to attack that defense with screens and quick passes off the line of scrimmage, or they might just choose to continue playing right into Penn State's plans.

The Nittany Lions have a very veteran secondary, so they certainly won't be intimidated by what they will be facing on Saturday.

Outside linebacker Gerald Hodges leads the team with 86 tackles and is second with 10.0 tackles for loss. He is asked to blitz here and there, but may be asked to do a little more of it in this game simply because they don't want Miller to ever feel comfortable. If the Buckeyes are going to win, Miller will have to succeed against the blitz like he did against Nebraska. If he can bust free a time or two, then Penn State will dial it down.

Penn State has the third-ranked scoring defense (12.9 points per game) in the nation. Points will be hard to come by for the Buckeyes, so they will need to make sure they get the most out of their first down plays in order to shrink the yardage to gain on third down. If offensive coordinator Jim Bollman is planning on having Miller simply bail the team out on third and long yet again, the Buckeyes will lose.

Since most of those first down plays will be runs, much of this game hangs on Boom Herron's ability to find the right hole when there may not ever be much of one. Defensive tackles Devon Still and Jordan Hill have combined for a ridiculous 109 tackles and 24.5 tackles for loss. They will be a difficult matchup for Ohio State's interior all game long.

Herron rushed for 190 yards in last year's meeting, so he will come into this game with quite a bit of confidence, but keeping that confidence will be up to the offensive line and the passing game.

If Penn State isn't going to pay for disrespecting the passing game, then they will have a hard time losing on Saturday. The bottom line is that the Nittany Lions are going to attack, attack, attack until the Buckeyes capitalize on the voids in the defense.

Ohio State needs to win the hidden yards of the special teams on Saturday, but they will have a battle on their hands to do so. Punter Ben Buchanan has had a solid season, and will need to continue pinning the Nittany Lions deep this weekend.

Jordan Hall has been very quiet on punt returns this season, but is currently averaging 29.1 yards per kickoff return. Any help that he can be in either of these areas would be a very welcome addition.

How It Will End Up

The weather for this game is going to be in the 50s, and by the time kickoff is reached, the winds should begin to subside. This is all good news for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes will be able to throw the ball a little bit, and it will be more attributable to Braxton Miller's accuracy than Devier Posey's presence.

That doesn't mean Ohio State will get a lot of offense going—because they won't. It just means that they'll score enough to feel good about their chances. Miller, however, will have a good day on the ground—even though he'll lose a bunch getting sacked.

The Buckeyes will have to defend the play-action, which means that Travis Howard and safety Christian Bryant will need to stay sound until they know where the ball actually is.

Silas Redd will have some success, but the Nittany Lions will eventually face a few too many second and tens and third and eights. Because of this, the Buckeyes will know when Matt McGloin is going to throw the ball, and that will allow the defense to prepare accordingly.

In the end, a couple of first half scores for the Buckeyes will allow them to Tresselball their way to a victory on Senior Day. It won't ever be pretty, but then nobody expected it to be.

Ohio State 17 – Penn State 13

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