You have received plenty of breakdowns and thoughts and picks from the Ohio State side of the media world, but we strive for well-roundedness around here as often as we can find it.
This is a matchup of Top 10 teams and every detail between the two teams could be the one that gives the victor the advantage. Because of the importance of this game, we had to reach out to somebody who knows what the heck they’re talking about.
As such, we are happy to have PennLive.com’s Dustin Hockensmith here to provide a keener insight into the Penn State side of things.
As we do in big games like this, we are going with the tried-and-true five-question format concerning Ohio State’s upcoming opponent.
This Q&A adheres to the international Q&A guidelines set forth by French nobleman Francois Questionnaire back in 1682 — I am the Q and Dustin is the A.
Let’s get to know a little bit more about Penn State.
Q – If KJ Hamler can’t go, what impact will that have for Penn State’s offense and how do they replace him?
Given Penn State’s struggles to find a consistent third option behind Hamler and Pat Freiermuth, this is a major storyline for the game. Never mind the fact that Hamler is by far the Lions’ best run-after-catch option in a game where passing windows will be tighter than they’ve been all season. If Hamler sits, expect to see more looks for Jahan Dotson and Dan Chisena, a former walk-on who started for the first time last week against Indiana.
Q – Only Rutgers (19) has given up more 30-yard pass plays than Penn State (18) this season. Given that only one of those plays has gone beyond 50 yards, what is it about this 20-yard patch of land between 30 and 50 yards that has been so effective for PSU opponents?
A – It’s a troublesome combination of poor one-on-one play, small cornerbacks and busted coverages. And much of that damage was done by quarterbacks who were simply committed to getting the ball out quickly to neutralize Penn State’s pass rush. Poor tackling in space is also a problem that crept up against Indiana and Minnesota, allowing those wide receivers to gain big yardage after the catch. It’s a big, glaring issue that will require a much better effort on Saturday or risk Ohio State’s talented wideouts running roughshod.
Q – Penn State’s running game has only been okay his year, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. How can the rushing attack remain merely “okay” against Ohio State and get a win on Saturday?
A – The good news in this case is that Penn State has a full stable of options, depending where the coaching staff thinks Ohio State might be most vulnerable. Freshman Noah Cain, who has missed the past two games, is the best to fall forward for tough yards. Journey Brown is the best one-cut-and-go back. Devyn Ford is the most “sudden” back on the roster, and Ricky Slade has been the most reliable receiver of the group.
Don’t forget about Sean Clifford, either. He can really move and changes how defenses have to play Penn State by being a legitimate threat with his legs. Of course, none of it matters if Penn State’s offensive line can’t rise to the occasion and get a push against the OSU defensive line.
Q – Quarterback Sean Clifford has thrown six interceptions this season — and three of them came at Minnesota. What did the Gophers do to him to force these mistakes?
The three picks at Minnesota are a little misleading. The first came on a deep ball where his wide receiver didn’t compete at all with the ball in the air. Another came on a clear pass interference penalty that wasn’t called. His guy got mauled well before the ball arrived. Still, there’s a decent chance on Saturday for one of his own guys to let him down on a 50/50 ball. Clifford is ready, able and willing to give his wideouts a chance to make a play, and that aggression could get him in trouble given the Buckeyes’ outstanding talent in the secondary.
Q – Penn State has been in five games decided by one possession this year. They are 4-1 in those games. Ohio State’s closest finish this season has been 24 points. Being in close games this year should help the Nittany Lions if this game is close, but are those close games — and mostly wins — evidence of PSU’s strengths or weaknesses?
A – Boy, this is a million dollar question. The closeness of these games has been a frustrating experience for fans, but they’ve come against decent, defensive-minded teams who did everything in their power to keep the score close. The fact they’ve had to fight and they’ve been through adversity has a chance to be an asset in Columbus. If Penn State can muddy the waters early and put Ohio State in the rare position of having to respond to adversity, it gives the Lions a fighting chance.
Even so, the Buckeyes’ speed and athleticism is unlike anything Penn State has seen this season. And bumpy start or not, the flood gates are bound to open at some point for the Ohio State offense. I think Penn State can make it a game early and cover the spread, but it’s hard to believe the Lions will be a real factor to actually win it.