The forecast for Saturday’s Big Ten clash between Penn State and Ohio State is a “Whiteout.”
Urban Meyer and his No. 9 Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) will invade Beaver Stadium to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) in a matchup dubbed the “Ineligabowl,” as both teams are without postseason aspirations due to NCAA sanctions.
Even with both teams ineligible for postseason play and the Big Ten Championship itself, Penn State and Ohio State find themselves atop the Leaders Division of the conference with unscathed marks in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes, of course, pace the league with its only undefeated mark at 8-0, including 4-0 in the conference. Penn State, meanwhile, has won five-straight (including three Big Ten contests) since starting the season 0-2 with heartbreaking losses to Ohio and Virginia.
With trophies and postseason ramifications out the window, these rivals will play but for one thing on Saturday: pride.
The game features one of the better rivalries in the Big Ten, with both teams playing tight, drama-filled contests over the years. It features the two best teams in the conference, with an electric offense in Ohio State and an immovable defense in Penn State. It also features two of college football’s most competitive coaches, Urban Meyer and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, on the same field. And if you needed more incentive, it’s a prime-time night game set in one of the cathedral’s of college football: Beaver Stadium’s Whitehouse.
On the field, there’s no way around the key matchup in the game; Penn State’s defense against Ohio State’s offense. Ohio State’s lethal ground attack on offense gets Hesiman-hopeful Braxton Miller back at quarterback following an injury scare last week against Purdue. Miller practiced all week and should be ready for a tough test from a game Penn State defense that has made life very hard on opposing offenses so far in 2012. The Lions defense is allowing just 15.7 points per game, a far cry from the 39 points Miller and the Buckeye offense is used to putting up. On the flip side, the Lions defense hasn’t faced an offense nearly as potent as Ohio State’s. The Buckeyes are 10th in the nation with just around 250 rushing yards per game, and feature a quarterback who has nearly 1,000 yards by himself.
Despite the Penn State defense against the Ohio State offense being the marque matchup on Saturday, the Nittany Lions offense is quietly becoming a finely tuned machine under noted quarterback guru Bill O’Brien. Penn State has put up at least 34 points in four of their past five games and are paced by QB Matt McGloin’s 14 TD’s against just two INT’s. Under O’Brien’s guidance, the Penn State offense has improved each and every week to average close to 30 points per game. The Ohio State defense, meanwhile, has regressed a bit, allowed close to 25 points per contest this season; including 22, 49 and 38 in the past three weeks to Purdue, Indiana and Nebraska. If Ohio State’s defense doesn’t play well again, Penn State’s offense is good enough this time around to burn the Buckeyes.
All said, this should be an epic clash between the two premier teams in the Big Ten, something that the league (and its image) desperately need right now.
Matchup to watch:
Matt McGloin vs. Ohio State secondary. We all know about how this game hinges on Penn State’s defense either stopping or not stopping Braxton Miller and the Ohio State running game. But, what nobody is talking about is how the Penn State offense has quietly become efficient and effective behind McGloin this season. McGloin and his receiving core, Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter, have burned opposing defenses through the air already this season, but with tailback Bill Belton (16 carries, 103 yards and 3 TD’s last week) finally healthy, the Lions’ offense looks as good as ever right now. Don’t just get lost in Miller vs. Mauti, this matchup is every bit as intriguing come game time.
Players to watch:
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. For a few reasons, No. 5 in white (yes, white) will be a player to watch on Saturday. For one, Miller’s injury last week. How will the sophomore respond taking another big hit from Michael Mauti or Gerald Hodges? Will he brush it off or let it effect his game/effectiveness? Two, when healthy, he’s one of the most explosive players in the country passing or running. In seven of the first eight Buckeye games, he’s been a bona-fide Hesiman Contender that can win a game by himself.
Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State. We had to get the two Nittany Lion seniors on this list. Both are Bednarik Award Semifinalists and have been excellent on the field leading an outstanding Penn State defense this season. Both step up when the lights shine the brightest, expect this game to be no different. If Penn State sends the Whitehouse into a mad frenzy late Saturday night, expect these two to play a starring role.
Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State. The senior has gone 1-1 against the Buckeyes in two starts, but has thrown three interceptions in those two games. With just two INT’s this season, McGloin will have to stay smart and let his defense help take care of things on Saturday while biding his time for big plays on offense, because they’ll be there to be had. If Penn State gets the same consistency they’ve seen out of him so far this season, they’ll have a big chance to pull the upset.
Prediction: Penn State 21 Ohio State 17