I have a bad feeling about this…
Since Blue White Roundtable has apparently died from apathy, I have decided I am going to preview each of the remaining Penn State games. Saturday, the Nittany Lions host the Ohio State Buckeyes at 3:30 p.m. from Beaver Stadium. It is not expected to rain and temperatures will be in the 40s. It is fair to say that Ohio State is the team that I most look forward to seeing Penn State play every year since it has been a pretty good rivalry, at least when played in Happy Valley. Some of my favorite games have been against the Buckeyes. It is also the most aesthetically pleasing game with the Blue and White of Penn State complimented quite nicely by the Scarlett and Gray of Ohio State.
The recent history of the series has a few slugfests and field position battles. Last year it was 13-6, Penn State winning after converting a QB Terrelle Pryor fumble into a touchdown drive. The two previous years were perhaps an exception, with Ohio State winning big, but the 2006 game was tight going into the fourth quarter before Anthony Morelli had two interceptions returned for a touchdown. The 2005 game was a 17-10 nail biter in Happy Valley. The 2004 and 2003 games also were tightly fought, with Ohio State winning both, although the ’03 game came down to a 60 yard field goal that Penn State missed by about three yards. OSU also had the benefit of a egregious call on their final drive, when the ball clearly bounced off the turf into a tight end’s hands. The 2001 game was an epic comeback win for the Nittany Lions to seal coach Joe Paterno’s 324th career win, then the all-time record. The 1997 and 1995 games were tight, high scoring games that the teams split in Happy Valley.
This is really hard game to pick. #10 Penn State is 8-1 and #12 Ohio State is 7-2. Both have lost Big Ten games; Penn State to undefeated Iowa, and Ohio State to often defeated Purdue. The Buckeyes also lost at home to USC. PSU seems to be firing on all cylinders since losing to Iowa; the same can be said about OSU after their loss at Purdue. The big question for the Buckeyes is Pryor. The Pennsylvania native (and subject of a stupid t-shirt this week) has yet to play well against a good team. His mechanics often are poor and he does the most damage on the run. Penn State is likely going to set it up so that he has to win with his arm, a solid strategy as Pryor has not shown he can do it and does not have the same level of wideouts he did last year. On paper, the typical bend-but-don’t-break Penn State defense is the right way to go – protect against the big play and force Pryor to march his offense down the field.
On the other sideline, Penn State has to worry about its offensive line; can it hold up against the OSU front seven? That is the biggest challenge facing the Nittany Lions tomorrow. If QB Daryll Clark has a little time, he should get a number of opportunities to stretch the field throwing to his tall wideouts. That is probably the best gameplan for Penn State; will Paterno go with it?
The other area of concern of course is Penn State’s not-so-special teams. Two punts have been blocked, they don’t have much of a return game and the kick coverage is poor. On the opposite side, the Buckeyes lost their starting kicker.
Okay, I’ve written a lot, and I thought about this a lot more, too much I suppose. I expect the game to be higher scoring than last season, considerably so. I believe that Jim Tressel is going to attack Penn State more and vice-verse. With uncertainly in his kicking game, I think Tressel will be more aggressive in the red zone, since he can’t count on getting 3 points as much with an unproven kicker on the road. On the other side, I expect that Paterno will attack more like he did against Michigan, since he has a lot of trust in Clark as quarterback. My big concern with Clark is that he’ll get too fired up like he has against Iowa in the past. Keeping Clark calm is going to be very important. Overall, I think that Penn State is just a better team this year and will pull it out win, let’s say 24-20. It isn’t going to be easy and will be very stressful. In the end, I expect it to be exhilarating.