No. 13 Penn State goes into Saturday’s game against No. 2 Ohio State as a 14.5-point underdog according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and there are valid reasons.
- Ohio State has averaged 54.3 points over its last six games
- It leads the nation in yards per play.
- It has gone 36 for 36 in red zone opportunities
- It has an average margin of victory of 35 points, although mostly against vastly inferior opponents.
Ohio State, as usual, presents Penn State with its biggest challenge of the season. So how can coach James Franklin snap his nine-game losing streak against top-five teams? How can Sean Clifford preserve his legacy from a quarterback who can’t win the “Big One” to one of more reverence?
Here are three keys to Penn State pulling off the upset Saturday.
KEY NO. 1: ESTABLISH NICK SINGLETON AND KAYTRON ALLEN EARLY AND OFTEN
Ohio State hasn’t played anybody that has the running game Penn State has this season. Singleton averages 6.8 yards per carry and Allen averages 5.1. Penn State needs to find ways to get consistently get four to five yards per carry to keep the offense on schedule and not be in long third-down situations where Clifford has been up and down this season. That’s where you can get Brenton Strange, Tyler Warren and Theo Johnson on a 3rd and 3, or a play action to Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley over the top.
That means the offensive line must hold up it’s blocking. Blocking Michael Hall Jr. is a priority. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks on the year and he allows others in the front seven, like Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg, to be tackling machines invading opposing backfields.
KEY NO. 2: LIMIT BIG PLAYS
Ohio State has quarterback CJ Stroud, a possible Heisman Trophy winner, wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr., who averages 15.7 yards per reception, Emeka Egbuka, who averages 7.9 yards per reception, Julian Fleming, a former Penn State target, who averages 19.2 yards a reception and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who is probably going to be the first receiver taken in next year’s draft.
Furthermore, Ohio State has Miyan Williams, who has rushed for seven yards a carry and nine touchdowns, Treveyon Henderson, who is also one of the best backs in college football, averaging six yards a carry. Ohio State has too many weapons for any team in the country to completely shut down. Ohio State will move the ball Saturday, but the key is that Penn State has to make the Buckeyes earn it on longer drives. That means securing the tackle on the wide receivers on short and intermediate throws. I have confidence that Penn State can hold its own keeping up with Ohio State wideouts on deep passes. The same thing holds valid in the running game. Penn State must wrap up and tackle.
KEY NO. 3: WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE BY 3 OR MORE
Ohio State is way too good of a team to beat unless its beats itself.
Penn State must force mistakes from Stroud and the offense. It has to punch the ball out and take advantage of any opportunity that the Buckeyes give it. Also, special teams making plays in the return game or a blocked kick wouldn’t hurt, either.
Penn State needs all three phases to be the best versions of themselves, the Nittany Lions will get run out of their own building Saturday.