Ohio State is set to clash with rival Penn State on Saturday. The Buckeyes find themselves in unfamiliar territory as November nears a close and the possibility of playing for the Big Ten title has slipped through their fingers. They still have much to play for, including sending their seniors out with a win in their final home game. Standing in their way is a stout Penn State squad with eyes on the Big Ten title.
Penn State enters this game with a one game lead in the Leaders division. The Nittany Lions have used a stellar defense and bruising running game to get to where they are today. If the Nittany Lions win out, they would earn the trip to Indy and a chance to play for the Big Ten title. Given everything happening off the field in State College, that would be a welcomed blessing.
To gain a Penn State insight into this game, as well as their program, I asked Penn State Examiner Kevin McGuire his thoughts.
Q: Obliviously, the sex scandal and the subsequent release of Joe Paterno have rocked the university. What long-term effects will these events have on Penn State’s program?
Kevin: Honestly, I think we’re still trying to piece together enough information to figure out exactly how this will all play out at Penn State moving forward. It probably goes without saying that there is going to be a long recovery process, both for those directly involved and as a university. This is a community that has had their hearts broken. Sponsors have backed out of supporting the university as they once did, but in time, those sponsors will come back or be replaced.
As far as the football program is concerned, it will begin with setting in place a new athletics director. On Wednesday, it appears that step was taken with the naming of David Joyner as acting athletics director. Next will be finding a new head coach. Nobody ever wants to be the next guy after a legend, such as Joe Paterno, and attracting a viable candidate to Penn State may prove to be a little tougher than once thought due to the circumstances. It is easy to say the negative stories out of State College will prove to deter some candidates from being interested, and the financial impact could become an issue that needs to be figured out, but when all is said and done, I still feel that Penn State is going to have something pretty good to offer any interested coach. Who that coach might be? At this point, it is hard to tell.
Urban Meyer? Al Golden? Greg Schiano? Right now, your guess is as good as mine, but I suspect it will be someone without direct Penn State ties, unless it is Al Golden.
Q: The Nittany Lions have a one game lead in the Leaders division going into this weekend’s game against Ohio State, what will Penn State need to do better in the next two weeks to make the Big Ten title game?
Kevin: If they can find 120 minutes of solid, steady and dependable offense then the Leaders Division really will be theirs to lose. Penn State’s defense is more than capable of keeping the Nittany Lions in their next two games and it will be their job to give the offense every opportunity to come up with some points when it matters most.
The offense has been a major inconsistency for Penn State this season but we will see if the new coaching and the dependence on one solid quarterback (Matt McGloin) will pay off for the better or not.
The offense may not need to score too many points. If they can score 20-24 points, they should have a good chance at winning these next two weeks with this defense.
Q: Penn State’s offense in many ways reflects the Buckeyes’. Do you see any improvement from either quarterback and why do you think they have had problems establishing a passing game?
Kevin: I’ll answer the second part first. As I just referenced in the previous question, Penn State’s offense has been inconsistent much of the season and I tend to blame the lack of stability under center for much of it. The constant switching of quarterbacks seemed to keep everybody on offense, from the offensive line to wide receivers, from finding a rhythm and getting down their timing. As we near the end of the season though McGloin has become the full-time quarterback, (a decision that Tom Bradley made quickly since taking over the job as head coach).
As for improvement in McGloin’s game, I still think he tends to be rather erratic but against Nebraska, he actually made some smarter decisions in getting rid of the football without much risk of turning the ball over. That said, he does have a knack for holding on to the football a little too long, and that could be a problem over the next two weeks.
In the past two seasons, including this year, we have seen McGloin have some good performances and some very down performances. It should be clear that when McGloin leads the offense against a weak defense, he will have a decent outing, but against tougher opponents and defenses, he shows some of his glaring holes. Look no further than last season’s Ohio State game and the Outback Bowl loss to Florida. He has taken on a bit of a leadership role but he could really benefit from a breakout game in a clutch situation.
Q: What players should Buckeye fans know about heading into this weekend?
Kevin: On offense, sophomore running back Silas Redd. Unfortunately for Penn State he is a little banged up after a collarbone injury last week against Nebraska. Redd has taken on a much heavier workload this season filling in for the graduated Evan Royster. He has the ability to plow through defenders and make a quick lateral adjustment on the fly to leave a defender behind. We’ll see how much he plays this week (look for senior Stephfon Green to carry the load when Redd is out) but if you have not gotten to know Redd yet you will next year.
On defense it is the Devon Still. The senior defensive tackle is not an easy task for any offensive lineman and Still finds ways through the line and in to the backfield more often than not. Running straight at him is usually not a good idea, as he has the ability to bring down a running back while shoving aside an offensive lineman. Last week Nebraska learned early on that they need to run and move the football away from Still. I suspect Ohio State is well aware of that as well.
Q: What are some keys to this game and how do you think it will play out?
Kevin: For Penn State’s defense the job will be to make sure the young Braxton Miller doesn’t hurt them too much. It looks as though Miller has shown some good signs early on in his career but Penn State has a history of finding a way to frustrate young quarterbacks. The secondary will need to come up with a turnover or two to do just that, and if the defensive line can get to him on occasion that would help as well.
We already mentioned Penn State’s offense needs to find some form of stability but using last game’s showing as an example it will be critical for McGloin not to force passes and turn the ball over. It was McGloin’s erratic play that really turned the game around.
Penn State does not start fast and I do not expect to see that happen this week, especially given Penn State’s history in The Horseshoe. But if the defense can keep the game within reach for the offense in the fourth quarter, then I would not be surprised to see Penn State put together a key drive to have a chance to win.
But it’s games like this where the history just is not on Penn State’s side, so it’s tough for me to picture them coming back to State College with a win. It will be hard-fought, regardless.