There has been plenty of discussion in our sports office for several months about how good the 2012 Ohio State football team would be.
The complete answer still hasn’t been determined, but nearly all of us figured that the Buckeyes could have a much improved record from last season, because of a softer schedule.
The only real challenges figured to come at Michigan State, vs. Nebraska, at Nebraska and vs. Michigan. Split those games, and likely you would be looking at a 10-2 record.
Penn State wasn’t in those discussions of challenges, which seemed to be reinforced with opening losses to Ohio and Virginia. While losses to those two states in the fall of 2012 might be detrimental to the Obama or Romney campaigns, it has had little effect on the Nittany Lions.
Since then, the College Station Cubs have roared to life, winning five straight games. Saturday’s game poses a huge challenge now for Ohio State.
Shows how much we know, huh?
The Lead Up
On the surface, you have a top-ten undefeated team (OSU) visiting a 5-2 team that is unbeaten in conference play. The winner will be the only one in the Leaders Division without a loss in Big Ten play.
However, due to NCAA sanctions for both schools, neither can play in the Big Ten championship game (although if both or either win the division title, that will be recognized), or make a bowl trip.
Yes, Penn State has had a nightmare that’s lasted 11 months, with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the firing (and passing) of Joe Paterno, and the unprecedented punishment from the NCAA.
There will still be 108,000 screaming fans, enjoying a (twilight) night game and a white out. The Lions and Buckeyes are meeting for the 19th straight season, and OSU is still the biggest game on PSU’s schedule.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
The loss of Braxton Miller in the fourth quarter aside, Ohio State has to be much, much better on offense this week. Not only better from the Purdue game, but possibly better than it has been all season.
While the ground game has become the Bucks’ strength, stopping the run is forte of Penn State’s defense. Linebacker Michael Mauti could have played the same position for any the Lions squads over the past 50 years. He’s a hard-nosed throwback, and will be all over the field on Saturday. Another ‘backer, Gerald Hodges, is All-Big Ten material, as is senior defensive end Jordan Hill.
The biggest thing for Ohio State this week will be turnovers. The Buckeyes have committed nine in the past four games, yet managed to win all of them. If there are three like there was at Michigan State, or four like last week, it’s hard to imagine OSU winning the game.
The other large dynamic will be the play of Braxton Miller. He’s been pronounced full-go by his coach and “good by himself. After the scary injury against Purdue, though, will that be in the back of his mind at all. Will any of his effectiveness be taken away? Again, for a Buckeye victory, Miller will have to at his best.
When Penn State Has the Ball
Just like Mauti is straight out of central casting for a Penn State linebacker, so too, is quarterback Matt McGloin. Now a senior, he’s never lacked for confidence, and staked Penn State to a first half lead in Columbus back in 2010, before two interceptions returned for touchdowns changed the game in the second half.
He’s thrown the ball well so far in 2012, passing for nearly 1,800 yards to go with 14 touchdowns, against just two picks. The Buckeyes will need to get pressure on McGloin to force him into rash decisions.
The Lions new up-tempo, pro style offense could really give the Buckeyes fits. With the lack of depth at linebacker, the middle of the field could really be exploited. Penn State has a pair of really good tight ends, including Kyle Carter, who was name Big Ten Freshman of the Week following his performance against Iowa.
One match-up that bears close attention will be Nits’ wide receiver Allan Robinson against OSU corner Bradley Roby. Against Cal’s Keenan Allen earlier in the year, Roby played pretty well, but Allen still had his opportunities, and made some plays. Robinson comes in with 47 catches, and 8 touchdown receptions, and his big-play ability will be a concern.
While the Lions’ ground game isn’t what we’re used to seeing, it’s rapidly improving. Bill Belton is coming off his first career 100-yard game, and will be a threat out of the backfield catching passes.
For OSU to win, it’s going to need some things to go in its favor. For example, the Buckeyes need to get off to a quick start. They’ve scored touchdowns on their opening drives in both road games (at Michigan State and Indiana), and will need a similar start. Penn State is used to starting quickly; the Nittany Lions have a 66-0 advantage in the first quarter this season.
I’ve already mentioned turnovers, but that cuts both ways. The Bucks can’t turn it over, but they have to force some on the defensive end. A huge momentum swinging play could very well be the difference in this game.
That includes special teams. OSU has had a couple of punts blocked this year, and allowed a kick return for a score. On the positive side, the Buckeyes have blocked an astonishing six kicks (2 punts, 3 PAT and 1 field goal). Penn State meanwhile, has allowed a kick and a punt return for touchdowns.
I see a tight, back-and-forth affair. However, I also see McGloin being able to pick apart the defense, especially if he gets time to throw. I’ll go with Penn State, 34-28.
The coverage on 10TV and www.10tv.com/BuckeyeBlitz
will continue all weekend long. Friday night at 8pm, we’ll have a special, one-hour edition of Buckeye Blitz. David Wilkinson will be live in State College, while Dom Tiberi anchors from Columbus. Former Buckeyes Tim Anderson and Roy Hall will help him break things down. We’ll also visit with former quarterback Ron Maciejowski to talk about coming in for an injured signal caller, and see what Troy Smith’s internship is all about. We’ll also take a look at the song played by the fan that gets the players so fired up after wins.
Saturday, we’ll post game pictures and analysis on our Buckeye Blitz web page, and wrap-up the game with our new “Gameday” coverage at 7pm and 11pm, as well as Wall to Wall Sports at 11:35pm.