Ohio State vs. Penn State Preview

Penn State has weathered some adverse conditions this year, literally. At least a couple of their games have been marred by rain. And they’ve been hurt by injuries, again literally. The Nittany Lions have used 34 different starters this year, at least in part due to players getting banged up.

Despite that, Penn State has jumped out to a 5-1 start. It hasn’t always been pretty. They’re ranked 103rd nationally in total offense, after all. They are 86th in rushing offense; and despite the fact that 6’4″, 228 pound quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still under center, they are 99th in passing offense. Plus, Hackenberg has a modest completion percentage of just 53 percent, even while limiting himself to just two interceptions.

If you watched the season opener against Temple, you might think the blame for that rests entirely on the Nittany Lions offensive line. However, after giving up 10 sacks in that game against the Owls, they’ve only given up a total of 9 sacks in the 5 games since.

Receivers have dropped some passes. However, Chris Godwin has snagged at least 4 catches in each game. DeSean Hamilton, whom Ohio State fans might remember for setting a Penn State record with 14 receptions against the Buckeyes last year, has just 17 total this season. He does lead the team with 2 touchdowns grabs.

When it comes to the running game, leading rushers Saquon Barkley (42 carries, 373 yards, an average of 8.9 yards/carry) and Akeel Lynch (49 carries, 262 yards, 5.3 yards/carry) have both missed time after they were injured. So freshmen Nick Scott, Brandon Polk and Mark Allen have been asked to run the ball as well. Hackenberg isn’t considered to be an especially mobile signal caller, but he did rush for two scores last week in a 29-7 win over Indiana.

The Nittany Lions offense has especially struggled on third down, converting only 31 percent of the time, which ranks them 120th nationally.

Meanwhile, Penn State’s defense has held opponents to fewer than 325 yards in 13 straight regular season games, which is the longest such streak in the country. They are also one of the nation’s leaders in sacks, with just over 4 a game. Only Pitt has more. And they are forcing turnovers, recovering 8 fumbles and registering 4 interceptions.

Freshman corner John Reid has done a lot of that damage, with two picks while recovering one fumble. No player, though, has been as disruptive so far as former walk-on Carl Nassib, with 27 tackles, 10 sacks, and 12 tackles for loss. At the same time, he’s working toward graduating with a biology degree this December, then plans on going to medical school.

Sophomore linebacker Jason Cabinda leads the team with 46 tackles and 5 pass breakups. We haven’t even mentioned returning First-Team All-Big Ten defensive lineman Anthony Zettel, who has 6 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups and a forced fumble. Jordan Lucas, whose 7 tackles against the Buckeyes last year was a season-high for him, has moved from corner to safety without missing a beat.

About the only area where the Penn State defense has struggled is in the red zone. They’re ranked 106th, partly because opponents rarely make it inside the twenty. Eleven times opponents have done so; ten times they have scored, which includes 2 field goals.

Last week, Penn State pulled kicker Joey Julius after he missed two extra-point attempts, and Tyler Davis took his place. As noted, this is one of just many lineup moves the Nittany Lions have made this season.

Ohio State hosts Penn State at 8:00 pm Saturday on 97.1 The Fan.


About To Head Into The Nittany Lions’ Den

Pat Elflein details what they’ve done to get ready for the crowd noise and for the defense that will blitz more than any other they’ve faced.

A very, very confident Nick Vannett talks about heading to Happy Valley. Did we mention he seemed pretty confident?

And, you can watch it if you want, but if you’re Kerry Coombs, you really should see the end of Doran “Batman” Grant’s interview.

Excited to Invade Happy Valley

There’s a lot to like in this interviews with Ohio State football players Joshua Perry, Evan Spencer and Jalin Marshall.

Perry discusses the Buckeye defense starting to acquire a swagger. Also, how much does he watch an opposing quarterback’s body language to see if he’s knocked the swagger out of him?

Spencer talks about how his now famous grab made for a perfect birthday present for someone.

And don’t miss Marshall admitting the Buckeye wide receiving corp does feature a diva or two. His description of his teammates personalites takes you inside the locker room.

Get to Know: Penn State

A native son of the Midwest goes to college, where he plays football and graduates with a degree in psychology. Soon after, he enters the coaching profession, works his way up the ranks (spending a lot of this time instructing wide receivers), before ending up in the mighty SEC.

And now? Well, now he’s bringing an SEC flavor to the Big Ten.

Insert the name of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer or Penn State’s James Franklin. Either way, the biography still works.

Their teams, however, are headed in opposite directions.

The Nittany Lions started the season well enough, with wins over Central Florida, Akron, Rutgers, and UMass. What followed, though, were losses to Northwestern and Michigan. (Fixed for typo. Thanks, Michael!)

In those loses, Penn State combined for 19 points and 480 yards of offense (376 passing, 104 rushing). They had three turnovers. Most tellingly, they allowed ten sacks. That two-game total equals the number of sacks they gave up in their previous four victories.

If you look at just their Big Ten games, they are giving up an average of 5 sacks a contest.

Blame it on the fact that the Nittany Lions have four first-year starters on the line. Blame it on the fact that they are working with 64 healthy scholarship players and there are 16 are true freshman looking to redshirt this season.

Whatever the cause, the problems up front have bled into other areas of their game. At least one Penn State beat reporter describes quarterback Christian Hackenberg as having bad body language, looking “mopey” and “disgusted.” Hackenberg has 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions this season.

Partly because the receivers have to get open quickly, the team is only averaging 12.1 yards/catch, which puts them 65th nationally in that category. Also two of the Lions top four receivers, right behind DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis, are a running back, Bill Belton, and a 6’7″ tight end, Jesse James.

Belton is also their leading rusher, but unfortunately for him, that’s not saying all that much. Penn State is averaging 2.8 yards/carry. The number drops to 1.73 yards/carry the last two games. And the club is ranked 121st nationally in rushing yards.

On the other side of the ball, however, Penn State has put up some truly impressive numbers. The team that is dead last in the Big Ten in terms of scoring offense, is also the league’s top scoring defense (and 6th in the nation). They are only giving up 15.2 points/game.

How are they getting that done?

They aren’t forcing a lot of turnovers, only 9 total comprising of 2 fumbles and 7 interceptions, which puts them 84th in the country. They’re sort of middling when it comes to tackles-for-loss, as they rank 45th there. They aren’t even one of the top teams at getting off the field on third down. There are 32 other teams which are better.

Where they do excel in a big way is in the red zone. Opponents have made it into the Nittany Lions red zone 19 times this season, and they’ve only come away with 7 touchdowns, just one of which was the result of a pass.

Pacing the Penn State D is Canonsburg, PA native, and senior middle linebacker Mike Hull. He averages 10.7 tackles a game. The team’s next most prolific tackler is also a Pennsylvania native linebacker in Nyeem Wartman. Following him is safety Ryan Keiser, who also has an interception on his resume. Not to sound like a broken record, but he, too, is a Pennsylvania kid.

Defensive tackle Anthony Zettel has 7 tackles-for-loss this season. Defensive end Deion Barnes has added five more.

When the Penn State defense has cracked, it has tended to be in the fourth quarter. They have given up 41 points then, 20 more than they have given up in any other quarter. Meanwhile, the Penn State offense has been least productive in the fourth quarter.

All four quarters of action will air on 97.1 The Fan this Saturday. Kick off is at 8:00 p.m.

UPDATE: The fine folks at Buckeye Battle Cry wanted me to point out that Penn State hasn’t faced any world-beaters offensively. And so I’ve granted them that the top offense they’ve faced so far is ranked 66th nationally in points for. However, I’ve asked them to grant me that their opponents’ combined points/game average is 24.6 and Penn State is giving up 15.2 per. In the end, good points were made by all…expect Penn State’s opponents, that is.

Coach’s Show Summary-Penn State

Urban Meyer once again spent an hour with 97.1 The Fan to take you inside Buckeye football. These are the highlights of what he said ahead of the Penn State game:

  • “We’re an offensive line-driven team right now.”
  • “When you put together a coaching staff, in order, the strength coach is first. That’s the first guy you’ve got to go hire. And then, because I’m an offensive coach, your defensive coordinator, and then the line coach. It’s right in that order. All due respect to the coordinators on offense and all that. You need a line coach that’s your guy, and we have a very good one in coach Warinner.”
  • On his defense’s performance against Iowa: “I felt like we should have adjusted and made some quicker decisions; but, boy, that second half they played much better.”
  • “Inexperienced corners have a tendency to play soft. I’m not saying scared, but soft, because they want to keep the ball in front of them. And we’ve had the conversation about bringing more pressure, because a quarterback sits back there all day and has time to throw, that’s not good. But when you do bring pressure, now you’re in isolated coverages, and so I think we’re a little lacking in some confidence with some players right now. Confidence comes with experience, and experience doing it the right way.”
  • “We’re real thin right now at corner.”
  • “Momentum is so valuable, especially when you’re dealing with 18, 19, 20 and 21 year olds, and so [Penn State is] riding high right now. They had a 4-overtime win against a rival, in a great atmosphere. There’s a lot of energy, a lot of juice right now. They’re healthy. People act surprised when Penn State is doing well, and I don’t want to devalue everything that’s happened to them with the adversity…but I’m not surprised. Penn State is a heck of a place. They have a very good coach. They’ve got very good, very good players all over the field. So I’m not surprised at all. I mean this is going to be…toe-to-toe. This is going to be a tough game.”
  • “Well, the best d-lineman are the disruptors. They’re the ones that come off blocks and make plays. [Penn State’s DaQuan Jones] is the guy, he twists out of double teams. Very rarely do you see him single blocked. He’s so great with his hands and hand positioning. He jerks guys off of him. And he’s big. He’s a real big guy.”
  • “We need [Bradley Roby] to play his best game this year.”
  • “I’m going to scream at an official, and he’s going to reach into that pocket and say, ‘You know what, coach? You’re right. You screamed at me a lot, and I’m going to take the penalty away?’ So you’re just teaching your players to act like an idiot.”
  • “It’s a great chemistry on our staff. Like it should be at Ohio State. There’s no agendas. I’m always watching for that. We’ll probably lose one or two in the next couple years to be head coaches.”
  • “We don’t count scrambles, because that’s part of football, but the called quarterback runs? Last year I’d say it was near twenty [a game]. This year it’s probably five, maybe three. And that’s because there’s another horse back there that’s a really good player, and Dontre, and we have other personnel.”

Although we did not have a caller end his question to Meyer with, “Love you, brother,” we did have someone say, “Thanks for taking my call, baby.” Plus, we had a caller, who compared having Meyer as a coach to a date with a “hot, sexy blonde.” You can hear that; plus, you might be interested in what the OSU head man had to say. It’s all here in the podcast.

Buckeye Bullet Points: Mightier Than the Penn State?

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and assistants Mike Vrabel and Ed Warinner previewed Saturday’s game against Penn State.

Meanwhile, Buckeye defensive players discussed how disappointed they were in their effort against Iowa. Michael Bennett gives an especially blunt assessment. Members of the OSU offense talked about how they fit into the team’s game plan.