Game Preview: Penn State vs. Ohio State

Story posted October 30, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Andrew Field

No. 3 Ohio State and No. 18 Penn State will square off under the lights of Beaver Stadium for what would’ve been a White Out crowd of over 107,000 fans but now will be limited to the family members of the teams.

It will be a completely new and unique atmosphere than those in years past. What was once dubbed an “avalanche of sound” will now be a smattering of cheers and boos.

Penn State and Ohio State: two different teams with two different morales heading into a Halloween clash that could determine the fate and winner of the Big Ten East in just the second week of the Big Ten regular season.

So let’s break it down, preview each team, and predict a winner for Saturday’s primetime matchup.

The No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes are led by second-year head coach Ryan Day who took over for a retiring Urban Meyer. Since then, OSU has not missed a beat. A 13-1 record in 2019 saw a Buckeyes team ultimately fall to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal 29-23.

In 2020, the Buckeyes are fresh off a Week 1 win against Nebraska, 52-17 in The Shoe.

When asked about a different challenge in facing Penn State, Day highlighted the need to play a complete four quarters and finish off the opponent at the end, just like Ohio State has in years past.

“This is going to be a tough game,” Day said. “You’ve got to earn wins against [Penn State].”

Quarterback Justin Fields also returns for his second year under center in Columbus. Fields had 51 total touchdowns last year (41 in the air and 10 on the ground), which led the Big Ten. The versatility of Fields will be a point of emphasis for the Penn State defense.

The departure of J.K. Dobbins to the NFL has seen a rotation of two backs in Master Teague III and Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon, who combined for 89 yards on the ground against Nebraska.

The wide receiver room is led by experienced leaders Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Olave had a touchdown in the fourth quarter in last year’s game against Penn State that stifled a Nittany Lions second half comeback. Julian Fleming, the former five-star Penn State recruiting target out of Southern Columbia Area High School, looks to make an impact after having just one catch in his debut.

Team captains Tuf Borland and Jonathon Cooper lock down the defensive side of the ball.

The No. 18 Penn State Nittany Lions are trying to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2012 when they lost to Ohio and Virginia under Bill O’Brien.

In this week’s press conference, James Franklin confirmed that running back Noah Cain will be out for the season due to an injury suffered early on in the first quarter against Indiana. As a result, the running back rotation is down to sophomore Devyn Ford and freshmen Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes. 

Sean Clifford, who left last year’s game against Ohio State with an injury, looks to build on his second-half performance from last week. Clifford ran the ball for a touchdown and 119 yards: a career high. It was also the first time he rushed for over 100. 

When asked about the matchup this week, Clifford gave insight on his mindset approaching the game.

“I think we can play with any team across the country,” Clifford said. “I’m not here to hang with Ohio State. I’m here to beat Ohio State.”

Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense was on full display in Week 1. The Nittany Lions dominated time of possession 40:25 to 19:35 and posted 488 total yards in the loss. However, one fumble and two interceptions showed an offense still getting used to Ciarrocca’s style.

Captain and linebacker Jesse Luketa will miss the first half of Saturday’s game due to a targeting call against Indiana. In his place is Lance Dixon, a redshirt freshman and former four-star linebacker, according to 247sports. Dixon will join the rotation of Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith for an extended period of time until Luketa returns in the second half.

Joey Porter Jr. played as advertised against the Hoosiers. Going up against a talented Ohio State wide receiver corps should be a matchup to watch out for throughout the game.

Penn State has come close to beating Ohio State in years past, but since 2016, the Nittany Lions have come up unsuccessful, with back-to-back one-point losses in 2017 and 2018 and a 28-17 defeat in 2019.

“At the end of the day, to beat this type of opponent, it’s not about a fast start or finishing strong,” Franklin said. “It’s about playing four quarters.”

Expect the Buckeyes to put up points, but look for the Nittany Lions offense to start to connect and build off a strong second half in week two of Kirk Ciarrocca.

Even though Ohio State is a double-digit favorite, anything can happen in college football, especially in a crazy year like this.

A Joey Porter Jr. interception will lead to a redemption field goal from Jordan Stout that will cap off an upset for Penn State.

Prediction: Penn State 31, Ohio State 28

 

Andrew Field is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email aaf5329@psu.edu.