Penn State football is facing its biggest challenge of the season, as the Nittany Lions will travel to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday. The game will have huge implications for the Big Ten title race and the College Football Playoff picture, as both teams are ranked in the top 10 and have only one loss each.
Penn State has not beaten Ohio State since 2016, when the Nittany Lions pulled off a stunning 24-21 upset at Beaver Stadium. Since then, the Buckeyes have won four straight games against Penn State, including a 31-26 thriller in 2019.
However, Penn State has shown that it can compete with Ohio State, as the last three games have been decided by a combined 13 points. The Nittany Lions have a talented and balanced team that can challenge the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball.
Here are some key factors that will determine if Penn State can beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten:
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Trust the Defense
Penn State’s defense has been dominant this season, leading the nation in total defense (193.7 yards per game) and scoring defense (9.0 points per game). The Nittany Lions have a ferocious front seven, led by defensive end Arnold Ebiketie and linebacker Ellis Brooks, who have combined for 12.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.
Penn State’s secondary is also impressive, featuring cornerback Jaquan Brisker and safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who have three interceptions each. The Nittany Lions have allowed only six touchdowns in seven games, and have forced 15 turnovers.
Penn State’s defense will face its toughest test against Ohio State’s explosive offense, which averages 49.5 points and 559.8 yards per game. The Buckeyes have a star-studded trio of receivers in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who have combined for 1,331 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Ohio State’s quarterback C.J. Stroud has been on fire, throwing for 1,635 yards and 18 touchdowns with just three interceptions. The Buckeyes also have a potent running game, led by freshman sensation Trevion Henderson, who has rushed for 775 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Penn State’s defense will need to pressure Stroud, disrupt the timing of the passing game, and limit the big plays. The Nittany Lions will also need to contain Henderson, who can break off long runs at any moment.
Penn State’s defense has the talent and depth to slow down Ohio State’s offense, but it will require discipline, communication, and execution.
Be Aggressive on Offense
Penn State’s offense has been inconsistent this season, averaging 29.3 points and 402.4 yards per game. The Nittany Lions have struggled to run the ball effectively, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and scoring only eight rushing touchdowns.
Penn State’s passing game has been more reliable, as quarterback Sean Clifford has thrown for 1,742 yards and 14 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Clifford has a solid group of receivers, led by Jahan Dotson, who has 45 catches for 649 yards and six touchdowns.
However, Clifford’s health is a major concern, as he missed most of the second half of the Iowa game with an injury and sat out the Illinois game last week. Clifford is expected to play against Ohio State, but his mobility and accuracy may be affected.
Penn State’s offense will need to be aggressive against Ohio State’s defense, which has improved after a shaky start to the season. The Buckeyes have allowed only 13 points per game in their last four games, and have a formidable front seven led by defensive end Zach Harrison and linebacker Steel Chambers.
Penn State’s offense will need to establish some balance with the running game, using Noah Cain, Keyvone Lee, and John Lovett to keep the Buckeyes honest. The Nittany Lions will also need to take some shots downfield with Dotson, Parker Washington, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who can stretch the defense with their speed.
Penn State’s offense will need to score early and often against Ohio State’s defense and avoid turnovers and penalties that could stall drives.
Play with Confidence and Poise
Penn State has shown that it can play with anyone in the country when it is confident and poised. The Nittany Lions started the season with a statement win over Wisconsin on the road, followed by a convincing win over Auburn at home.
Penn State also played well against Iowa on the road until Clifford got injured. The Nittany Lions led 17-10 at halftime before losing 23-20. Penn State suffered a shocking loss to Illinois at home last week in nine overtimes, but that game could be an anomaly and a wake-up call.
Penn State has the talent, experience, and coaching to beat Ohio State on the road, but it will require confidence and poise. The Nittany Lions will need to block out the noise and the pressure of playing in a hostile environment and focus on executing their game plan.
Penn State will also need to play with passion and emotion, but not let them get out of control. The Nittany Lions will need to avoid costly mistakes and mental lapses that could swing the momentum in Ohio State’s favor.
Penn State will need to play with confidence and poise against Ohio State and believe that they can win the game.
Penn State football has a golden opportunity to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten, but it will not be easy. The Nittany Lions will need to trust their defense, be aggressive on offense, and play with confidence and poise.
Penn State has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this game, as the Nittany Lions can shock the college football world and put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff.
Penn State has the talent, experience, and coaching to beat Ohio State, but it will require a complete team effort and a flawless performance.
The game will kick off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and will be televised on ABC.