Inside Slant: Q & A with Penn State Beat Writer Ben Jones

Ohio State Football Buckeyes Penn State

Ohio State and Penn State is finally about to happen and to this point it’s the biggest game in the Big Ten.

As is our custom when the Buckeyes are about to take the field with a formidable foe, we have reached out to a party who can provide us with the kind of insight we cannot provide on our own.

This week, we get that insight from sports editor Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88).

This Q&A, like all of our others, takes place under the watchful eye of the Q&A Governing Body. As per regulations, the questions are mine and the answers are Ben’s.

1. Is Trace McSorley’s dip in completion percentage a product of DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki’s departure? Are receivers not making as many plays for him as they have in the past? What’s the deal?

Penn State’s offense in general isn’t the same when it comes to an eagerness to chuck it 40 yards down the field and let someone make a play on the ball. That has largely been replaced with guys like K.J. Hamler, DeAndre Thompkins, and Brandon Polk who all might be some of the fastest receivers Penn State has had in recent memory just running past defenders. That being said, there have been some issues with drops in the early going, especially from Juwan Johnson who was probably last on the list of players I would have picked to have problems. But even he caught all four targets last week and looked himself again. I think the fact Penn State is a more purposeful running team coupled with Trace getting on the same page with a bunch of new targets has hurt his numbers, but the past two weeks have been much improved in that department, as you might expect. Add in a Pitt game in the pouring rain and that doesn’t help the cause either. So the answer to your question is yes, but not in a way that I think anyone is really worried about.

2. I look at the OSU defense and see areas where Trace McSorley is going to have success. Where do you expect the Buckeye offense to have successes on Saturday?

Everyone from the outside looks at Penn State losing Barkley as the biggest issue but really it’s reloading almost an entire defense. Tired of Marcus Allen and Grant Haley making plays? They’re gone. Jason Cabinda? Gone. A bunch of the defensive line? Gone. So in turn Penn State doesn’t really have an obvious starting-11 yet or an obvious “eraser” when you need a big stop. Penn State’s biggest strength is up front, but beyond that this group is growing by the week. So honestly I don’t know if there is an area Ohio State can’t have success. Haskins can get his yards, Dobbins can too. That doesn’t mean Ohio State is going to win by 30, but the biggest question in town is the defense and what is going to show up on Saturday. For all the confidence fans have in the offense, it’s an eyebrow raise with the defense so far.

3. The Penn State offensive line is as good as James Franklin has had at PSU, but how much has it been tested and where are the concerns?

That’s a good question because this group is the best Franklin has had but it’s also not that much different than the group that was around last year. I think the biggest thing is that everyone is healthy and in the spot they were expected to be at the start of the year. In 2017 it was musical chairs just about every week. Michal Menet is the newest face playing at center, but otherwise this group has a lot of starts under its belt. Ryan Bates was hurt during the Ohio State game last year and was a big part of the reason why that group struggled in the second half. So in a sense this group hasn’t really been tested as-is, but it’s not like this group hasn’t played football together either.

4. Generally, I believe that if Ohio State outrushes an opponent, they win. I think protecting Dwayne Haskins is actually more important this week. (Maybe it’s because of what we saw in 2016 with J.T. Barrett and RT Isaiah Prince.) Obviously, Penn State can’t afford to let OSU run wild, but where do you fall on this? What gives OSU a better chance to win — 200 yards rushing or zero sacks allowed?

If Penn State can’t get to Haskins in a way that makes him uncomfortable this game will be over at halftime. I think he’s that good. I think that Dobbins is as good as anyone in college football but I think in general Penn State would rather chase him around the field than watch 40-yard passes go over its head. TCU gave Penn State a pretty good look at how to slow Ohio State down, but it’ll come down to execution and that has been the big question mark among many on defense. It helps that Haskins isn’t the runner that Barrett or Miller were, but I wouldn’t want to give him an open field either.

5. Urban Meyer said this is going to be a field position game. How does Penn State stack up in the kicking/return game and how good are they at winning the battle for hidden yardage?

He wasn’t really a factor the last time these two teams met, but for my money Blake Gillikin is as good of a punter as anyone right now. DeAndre Thompkins and K.J. Hamler are also always a return threat. There is a bit of a question mark with Jake Pinegar kicking field goals, having gone 1-of-3 so far this season, but one was a long attempt into the wind, another a long attempt into the rain, so I’m not sure you can say he’s a weakness, he just hasn’t been super tested yet. It’s unwise to pick against an Urban Meyer special teams unit, but I think Penn State is certainly on par with the Buckeyes here.