Penn State football practice notebook ahead of battle against Ohio State
Penn State is riding high after its 45-17 victory over Minnesota in the White Out, but this week arguably provides its toughest test all campaign.
Ohio State is coming into town this weekend, and this matchup could make or break the Nittany Lions season.
The Buckeyes have one of the most talented rosters in all of college football and are on their way to another undefeated season and another run at a national championship.
A win on Saturday for the blue and white could provide a huge momentum boost and spark a run for a spot in the playoff.
James Franklin held his weekly media availability Wednesday night, and he spoke about facing long-time recruits, the 2023 Big Ten schedule and the possibility of one of Penn State’s defensive stars returning to the gridiron.
Scouting the Buckeyes
For the past few seasons, Ohio State has consistently ranked amongst the nation’s best with a dynamic offense and a stout defense.
Its offense ranks second in the nation in points per game, averaging 49.6 behind just Tennessee.
The Buckeyes are just as strong, ranking No. 5 in points allowed per game, giving up just 14.8 points in the first season under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
What makes Ohio State so dangerous is its ability to convert on third down and in the red zone. The Buckeyes have converted on 52.4 percent of their third down chances, and they have scored on every trip to the red zone this season.
“When you talk about red-zone offense, when you’re able to run the ball or throw the ball, that’s valuable,” Franklin said. “To be able to run the ball, people are going to play specific coverages, and the quarterback makes big-time, accurate throws.”
That quarterback Franklin mentioned is Heisman favorite C.J. Stroud, who has gotten even better after his stellar sophomore season.
Stroud has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes.
He displays elite poise in the pocket and has the ability to fit passes in tight windows that very few collegiate quarterbacks can.
Pairing up in the backfield with Stroud are two great running backs, TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams.
While Henderson broke out onto the scene last year rushing for over 1,000 yards, it’s been Williams, who currently leads the Buckeyes in yards.
Williams has 516 yards on 74 carries while finding the end zone nine times, and Henderson has 80 carries for 474 yards and four touchdowns.
Having the ability to attack through the air and on the ground makes Ohio State so hard to defend against, especially considering the talent it has at wide receiver.
Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. have become the latest great Buckeye receiver duo, as they have combined for 79 catches for 1,333 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Franklin understands it will be hard to slow down the potent attack of Ohio State.
“They got a good scheme, they got a bunch of weapons,” Franklin said. “They’ve done a really good job. There's no doubt about it.”
A familiar face comes home
While Egbuka and Harrison Jr. have stolen the show at receiver, the Buckeyes' third option is someone Penn State has a lot of history with.
Julian Fleming is from Catawissa, Pennsylvania, and is someone who the Nittany Lions heavily pursued in 2020.
Fleming was the No. 4 player in the 2020 class and visited Happy Valley numerous times before choosing the Buckeyes, much to the dismay of his home state program.
“Obviously, it stings when you see them,” Franklin said. “If they go far away, and you never play those people, it's a little bit out of sight, out of mind.”
Franklin and the coaching staff use that pitch when recruiting in-state players to the program, noting that if a player goes far away, they won’t be close to home as much.
Fleming has played in five contests this year, hauling in 17 passes for 327 yards and six touchdowns.
One of the biggest surprises in last week’s victory over Minnesota was defensive end Chop Robinson not playing in the contest.
If the blue and white have any chance of beating the Buckeyes, it needs Robinson to return to the field as he provides a great ability to pressure the quarterback.
Robinson was seen at practice on Wednesday, but Franklin didn’t have an update on his status.
“It’s still early in the week, but he was able to practice today,” Franklin said. “Obviously, you guys know he's been an explosive playmaker for us on the defensive side of the ball. Against this unit, their ability to throw the ball, being able to get pressure on the quarterback and make him uncomfortable in the pocket, that would be valuable.”
On the year, Robinson has one sack and three quarterback hits.
On Wednesday morning, the Big Ten released its 2023, and Penn State’s streak of opening conference play on the road continues.
The Nittany Lions begin conference play on Sept. 16 at Illinois, and athletic director Patrick Kraft is disappointed to see they’re not opening the season at home.
"It is incredibly frustrating and disappointing Penn State will be starting our Big Ten football slate next year on the road for the eighth straight season and for the 13th in the last 14 years," Kraft said in a statement. "When I arrived on campus, I shared with the conference staff my concerns and repeatedly referenced their failure to address this issue in the past. I have been in communication with Commissioner Warren, and I am confident this issue will be addressed."
This isn’t the first time Kraft discussed the blue and white starting on the road, and this issue is something he wants fixed sooner rather than later.
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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