Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's battle against Ohio State.
The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.
The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and -- of course -- provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
As an aside, in keeping up with the times, we are converting The Blitz from a pdf format to an online story.
ND: After a great game in Kinnick Stadium, the Lions face the Buckeyes at home in front of a White-Out crowd. Many are calling this the Inelig-Bowl since neither team can participate in post-season play. Though some question the quality of the opponents that Penn State has faced and beaten, I do find it interesting that Ohio State’s strength of schedule is actually worse. The Buckeyes cumulative opponents have a record of 20-24 while the Lions have faced opponents that have tallied a 19-17 record. In many ways, this is a bowl game for both teams, so expect emotions to be high
MH: I may be off, but I saw the Iowa game as a pivotal point of this season; could Bill O’Brien’s Lions go on the road and get the proverbial monkey off their back by knocking off a Hawkeye squad they had not beaten in Iowa City since 1999? Well, we all know the answer and that resounding “yes” came from a dominating performance on both sides of the ball. This week PSU gets back home to face an undefeated foe in the Buckeyes.
Who: No. Ohio State vs. Penn State
When: Saturday, October 27, 2012, 5:30 p.m. ET, 2:30 pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
Series: Ohio State leads 14-8.
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: Very quietly, Wisconsin has surged back from the depths of mediocrity. The Badgers have rolled up big points, and the running back tandem of James White and Montee Ball has guided the them to be in a position to get into the Big Ten championship game (sanctions against Penn State and Ohio State have helped there, too). But they have to get past their arch nemesis, Michigan State. These teams had two epic games last year and I expect the same. I think the difference will be Wisconsin’s ability to run and the Badgers’ ability to stop Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State’s star running back, from controlling the pace of the game.
MH: There are a few big games this weekend. First No. 2 Florida faces No. 10 Georgia in a battle that should be a defining moment for the SEC this season. The Gators destroyed No. 7 South Carolina, a team that ran over the Bulldogs. So this one should be very interesting. Also, No. 5 Notre Dame heads on the road to face No. 8 Oklahoma. The Sooners have shown they have a high-powered offense, with only a stumble against Kansas State, so we’ll se how this one plays out as Notre Dame is gunning to get back to glory.
ND: People are going bonkers here in the Pacific Northwest about both the Ducks and the Beavers. Oregon State is 6-0 for the first time since 1907 and faces Washington to go 7-0 for the first time in school history. Though the Huskies don’t have a great record, they have played a brutal schedule facing USC, Oregon, Stanford and LSU already this season. They beat Stanford and hung in there with USC. I like the Huskies to beat Oregon State in this home game, bringing the Beavers back down to Earth.
MH: I wasn’t far off in my Baylor upset call over Texas, as the Bears lost by a mere six points in a game that had little defense. This week I am looking to the Big Ten. Sure, Michigan State has resorted to its traditional position as the most consistently inconsistent team in college football. But I think the Spartans realize that this is a defining moment of their season. If they lose to Wisconsin they then have Nebraska and Northwestern on the horizon, and that could spell a six-loss season.
ND: Generally, when you see a team go up-tempo, it is a team that runs some form of a spread offense. However, that’s not the case at Penn State. The NASCAR package is more of a no-huddle pro-style of offense because the Lions are very physical in that package behind the running of Zach Zwinak and a now healthy Bill Belton. The two guys provide a unique challenge for defenses in that they can run the ball out of a single back set but then in the NASCAR package can then line up as a wide receiver. Similarly, the Lions have a pride of TEs who can line up on the line of scrimmage to run block or provide extra protection, but then can line up to run a pass pattern. With the struggles that Ohio State has had with the health of its linebacker crew and a defensive line that relies on a pretty frequent rotation, the NASCAR package will put a considerable amount of pressure on the front seven for the Buckeyes and could result in some matchups against the TEs and even the RBs that favor the Lions. This will be something to watch.
Defensively, the Lions have been playing very well against the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. However, they are going to face the best group of receivers that are on the schedule. This means that Adrian Amos, Stephon Morris and all of the DBs are going to have to play very smart. The Buckeye offense makes it very tempting for the secondary to stare at the QB at the snap and allow the WRs to get behind them. Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof has to find a balance of blitzing QB Braxton Miller but still ensuring that the coverage in the secondary is sufficient. As a result, I think we will see if the front four can get pressure on Miller while the LBs guard against the run and the secondary drops into coverage regardless of the play. If, however, the Lions are not able to stop the run and Miller has too much time to throw, then I expect that Roof will dial up the pressure. Regardless, the secondary must play its game of the season this week.
MH: If you had any doubts about O’Brien and his staff’s ability to coach up players and scheme opposing teams, this game should at the very least have you comfortable with -- if not confident in -- their abilities. Matt McGloin has developed into an impressive quarterback. He is typically smart with his decisions, protective of the ball and versatile in his abilities. This season he’s delivered 14 touchdowns through the air and 1,788 passing yards through seven games. That is six more touchdowns and 217 more passing yards than he had in 13 games last season.
Against Ohio State I suspect we’ll continue to see O’Brien use a balanced approached with multiple weapons. Most expected the tight ends to be featured, and that’s just what happened against Iowa with four tight ends accounting for more than 150 receiving yards. I suspect will see a similar approach, with a dose of running. Belton really stepped up against the Hawkeyes, eclipsing the century yardage mark on the ground last week. I think he’ll play a role in this game, but I believe we’ll see more Zwinak to work against the Ohio State front seven.
On defense, the front played well and shut down Iowa’s ground game, limiting it to a mere 20 yards. Ohio State has a mobile quarterback in Miller, who has rushed for 959 yards. The question is to the health of Miller -- we’ll get back to that in a bit. The PSU defensive front seven have to play disciplined assignment football. Pulling off the line will give Miller (assuming he plays) daylight to run. Watch for O’Brien to leverage LB Gerald Hodges as a containment point for the pocket in this regard.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: The Buckeyes turn to either Miller or, potentially, Kenny Guiton to guide the offense. I believe that Miller will play plus we know that the Lions are specifically preparing for him. Miller is in some ways a better QB than former Buckeye Terrelle Pryor was. He is an excellent runner who may not have the vicious stiff arm but he has significantly better “escapability” and I think he is a far more accurate and decisive thrower than Pryor was. Miller does have a tendency to have some balls sail on him but he has a bunch of receivers who are excellent. Devin Smith is a real playmaker. His numbers are very impressive, but what really jumps off the page is his 22.0 yards per catch. Corey Brown is Urban Meyer’s attempt at recreating the Percy Harvin role on this team. He will line up in the backfield, split out and even in the Wildcat. He is a very explosive player. I think Jake Stoneburner may be the most challenging guy for the Lions. He is like a really big WR out there despite being a TE. If the Lions blitz the LBs, I think that will create significant matchup issues for the secondary in covering Stoneburner. Meanwhile, if Gerald Hodges will be shadowing Miller, that leaves Michael Mauti to try to cover Stoneburner, and that’s not a good matchup, either. Penn State’s TEs create problems but don’t overlook the problems that Stoneburner creates.
Defensively, the Buckeyes have not been as strong in the front seven as in recent years. Injuries at the linebacker positions have put some slower guys who don’t read and react as well out on the field. The exception to that is Ryan Shazier. And no conversation about the Buckeye front seven is complete without highlighting lineman John Simon. This guy has been double- and triple-teamed all season long, and despite not having a very strong supporting cast, he still finds a way to make plays. The secondary for the Buckeyes is not spectacular but the DBs are very big and very, very physical. This will be the most physical secondary the Lions will face all season. Travis Howard, who had a pick six against the Lions last year, returns and has been having an All-Big Ten type of season. The Buckeyes defensively will have some challenges with the TEs for Penn State, but they will be very focused on trying to get pressure on Matt McGloin, which is something that really has not happened consistently all season and is also the main reason that McGloin has been so successful.
MH: As mentioned, Miller was knocked out of the game against Purdue and spent Saturday in the hospital. Miller has reportedly seen practice time this week, but his status is still up in the air. I suspect we’ll see him play; whether he is 100 percent is the question. Aside from Miller, the Buckeyes like to use Carlos Hyde in the backfield. He is 6-foot-1, 235-pound junior running back who has 545 yards and nine scores on 104 carries.
The threat of Miller is that he can also bait teams into thinking he’ll bolt, freeze the defense and drop back to hit a target. His leading receiver at this point is Smith, a 6-1, 196-pound sophomore who has 505 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also has Pennsylvania native Brown, a 6-1, 186-pound junior who has 403 receiving yards and one touchdown. The PSU secondary has to play up on these targets to remove options from Miller.
In the case Miller does not play or is limited, OSU will likely look to Guiton, a junior who came in to help beat Purdue last week. He has 12 passes for 21 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Guiton is not nearly the running threat of Miller, but he’ll make a dash if given the space or if he’s out of options, so PSU can’t fall asleep on him.
Ohio State has shown it can put points on the board, although they Buckeyes have also displayed they can give up a lot of points --surrendering 49 to a hapless Indiana squad two weeks ago. The Buckeye defense is a tough crew, though. Shazier leads the team in tackles with 76 (44 solo). He is aggressive and will step into lanes to punish ball carriers. Also, watch for defensive end John Simon to pressure the pocket. He has 8.5 tackles for loss (including three sacks) and 35 tackles (15 solo) this season.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: There is no doubt in my mind that Bill O’Brien is going to find a way to get favorable matchups against his four TEs. I think it’s going to be a ton of fun to see how Ohio State tries to line up defensively against Gary Gilliam, Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Matt Lehman. Will the Buckeyes use LBs or safeties? How will they adjust when they are in their traditional 4-3 or will they go nickel like they did almost exclusively against Purdue? It should be a ton of fun to watch.
MH: Without knowing the exact status of Miller, I am going to go with Penn State’s offensive line against the Buckeyes’ defensive front. The Lions’ line manhandled Iowa. I am not sure that will happen against OSU. But it can give McGloin some time for routes to develop and lanes for the backfield to work, PSU should be able to find some offensive success.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: Against Ohio, the Lions stormed out of the locker room with emotion after a long summer. Unfortunately, they got down and ran out of gas by the end. I think the key -- despite the huge matchup and being in front of an amped up crowd -- is that the Lions have to play with their emotions in check and keep focused on the task at hand. If they can do that, then I think this could be a heck of a game.
MH: I think this one comes down -- much like the Iowa win -- to trench warfare. The team that can control the lines, open holes on offense and plug holes on defense will have the major edge in this clash.
ND: I really can see this game going either way. It’s going to be close but I like the matchup of the Lions’ TEs against the Buckeye linebackers in the NASCAR tempo to result in some points. But Miller will get his share along with Devin Smith.
Penn State 35, Ohio State 31
MH: This is tough one to call. Assuming Miller is healthy I think this will be a pretty big prize fight. But toss in Bill O’Brien’s offense and some intangible motivation around Urban Meyer poaching recruits from PSU and I think Penn State will pull out a victory.
Penn State 24, Ohio State 20
Until next time,
Fight On State!