The last two matchups between Penn State and Ohio State were fourth-quarter wars. Both were close games that ended up being decided by less than four points. In 2016, the Buckeyes fell short 24-21 to the Nittany Lions at Happy Valley. In 2017, the Buckeyes came from behind to win 39-38 at home.
While Ohio State certainly dominated the fourth quarter of this game last season making their comeback win, there’s no question that Penn State has established itself as a second-half team both offensively and defensively this year.
Make no mistake, the Buckeyes are preparing for a strong-finishing team in the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
Since surrendering 28 points to Appalachian State in the fourth quarter of the season opener, Penn State has outscored opponents 70-0 in the fourth quarter of its last three games.
Penn State’s offense starts slow and then builds up intensity throughout the game. In their last three games, PSU has outscored opponents 114-7 in the second half. Penn State’s second-half scoring and fourth-quarter scoring differentials also lead the FBS.
Last week against the Illinois, the Nittany Lions were behind 24-21 early in the third quarter, but then they scored a whopping 42 points to finish with a 63-24 win.
The efforts of the Nittany Lions coming out of halftime presents a challenge for the Buckeyes that they hope to have figured out before Saturday. The goal for Ohio State should be very clear: don’t get too confident with a lead because Penn State will continue to attack.
“Anytime you’re facing explosive athletes, a quarterback that is as good as there is in college football at what he does, there’s a cumulative impact of them running the style of offense that they use,” OSU co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “When you have that type of skill, there’s just a cumulative impact.”
The Buckeyes have emphasized the need for their rotation both up front on the defensive line and in the back end to keep Penn State’s second half offensive efforts from being so devastating.
“I think for every position, both up front and on the back end and including the linebackers, the guys that show the ability to help us win games on Saturday have to play and we like to play as many as possible,” Grinch said.
“Obviously that has everything to do with their performance over the course of the week, but any rotation we can get certainly can help, and I think some positions have more depth than others and those guys gotta show up on Saturday and play like a one. I mean, that’s the message. If there’s any drop off then the one’s gotta go and that happens in several instances, but like I said, it’s a major, major challenge for the guys.”
Sophomore linebacker Pete Werner acknowledged the importance of the rotation on the defensive line and how that will certainly help on Saturday. He also feels a sense of pride knowing that the Buckeyes haven’t allowed a fourth quarter touchdown so far this season.
But Werner knows that this Penn State team will be a challenge coming out of halftime, regardless of the score on the board.
“They are a team that stays on you,” he said. “I haven’t seen much fatigue shown in them. They pound you. A lot of the games they’ve had, they pulled it away at the end. They start out really close and then they just pull away. They’re a team that just always wants to stay in there and fight. We just have to match our tempo with theirs and prepare better than they do and make sure they don’t pull away.”