Ohio State has predictably cruised to a 7-0 start, and they currently sit as the #2 team in the AP poll. But things could get spooky for the Buckeyes this Halloween weekend, as they head down to Happy Valley to square off with a tough Penn State team- only their second road game of the season. The Nittany Lions opened the year unranked, but soared up to #10 before a drubbing in Ann Arbor. Still, this team is ranked #13, very dangerous, and could very likely be more formidable at home, as they were last week in dismantling a solid Minnesota squad. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some predictions for this Big Ten bash.
Ohio State Vs. Penn State Odds
Ohio State enter this showdown as an astronomical 16-point road favorite. The points total is set at 61, with the implication being that OSU’s incredibly explosive offense will carry much of the scoring load on its own.
Ohio State Vs. Penn State Prediction & Pick
The story of this season for Ohio State is second-year starting quarterback CJ Stroud’s Heisman campaign, as most sources list him as the favorite for the trophy. In fact, he was seen by many to be in the driver’s seat for the most prestigious individual award in sports a season ago, until the shocking and humiliating loss at Michigan that effectively ended the Bucks’ season.
Stroud is slinging it again though, he’s averaging just short of 300 yards per game and has tossed a staggering 28 touchdowns to just 4 picks in 7 games thus far. He’s been throwing the ball to one of the most talented receiving groups in the country, even with presumptive WR1 Jaxon Smith-Njigba missing most of the year so far with injury concerns.
Penn State bounced back nicely from their first setback of the season, as they annihilated the Golden Gophers by a score of 45-17. The season as a whole has also been a great bounce-back, after a disappointing 7-6 showing a year ago. Ohio State is likely the toughest team they’ve played yet, but Michigan is an excellent squad too, and Penn State is battle-tested having gone on the road for that one. Conversely, this game will be in Pennsylvania, and OSU have had their struggles in recent years when visiting Happy Valley, one of the harshest road environments in college football. Michigan exposed what many thought would be a great rushing defense from Penn State- let’s see what their seemingly-solid pass prevention unit does against a more air-based OSU attack.
I certainly won’t go so far as to say that Penn State will pull off the upset, but I’m not so sure I understand the 3-score lead Vegas is protecting. Ohio State is the more talented squad, but Penn State is arguably better coached, and as I’ve alluded to, they’ve played the Bucks well in Beaver Stadium. Over their past 4 visits, OSU have won by 13, won by 1, lost by 3, and won by 7. In fact, despite being ranked in the top-6 for most of their visits, and at least top 12 without exception, the Bucks haven’t covered 16 in State College since 2009, a run of games that involves numerous unranked PSU squads. I’m confident that this very respectable Nittany Lions side will be able to at least avoid embarrassment at home, and cover the spread. I see them doing this by way of scoring some points rather than shutting down OSU’s offense, so I’m going to side with the over when it comes to the total.
Ohio State vs Penn State Key Matchups
How well will Ohio State be able to pass the ball? Will this OSU run defense continue to play well against better competition? Check out the key matchups for Ohio State vs Penn State below.
Ohio State Passing Offense vs. Penn State Rushing Defense
As I’ve alluded to, this Ohio State offense can really beat you any way- they average less than a half-point shy of 50 per game, second best in FBS- but they’re at their most effective when the offense takes to the air, and runs through their superstar, Stroud. He’s been tossing it to a great stable of wideouts, led by Emeka Egbuka, who leads the team with 41 catches and 735 yards, and Marvin Harrison Jr., son of the NFL Hall of Fame-inducted Senior, who is right behind Egbuka on catches and yardage and leads the squad with 10 touchdown grabs. Jaxon Smith-Njigba hasn’t been a factor yet, but he’s expected to join and provide even more support this week, potentially playing in a limited-snap capacity. Suffice it to say that Stroud’s individual excellence is not limited by his surroundings, as his wideouts are up to the task of maximizing his exceptional talent.
If they’re going to win, or even stay in the game, the Penn State secondary is going to have to put up by far the toughest resistance Stroud and co. have faced yet this year, or at least since opening day against Notre Dame. This task will fall most squarely on the shoulders of cornerback duo Kalen King and Joey Porter Jr., who have amassed PFF coverage grades of 88.9 and 79.8, respectively, both limited opponents to under 50% completion on targets, and allowed an NFL passer rating in the low-50s when targeted. It’ll also be key for super-stud edge rusher Chop Robinson to get some pressure on Stroud and force him to get the ball out a bit quicker than usual, and even bring him to the ground for a sack or two. Penn State can score all they want, but if their defensive stars aren’t able to make life hard for the Ohio State offense, it’ll hardly matter; they need to have a great Saturday to keep their team in the game.
OSU Run Defense vs. PSU Rushing Defense
Sean Clifford is still pretty mediocre, but luckily for Penn State, their rushing game is not. They average 5 yards per carry, and over 2 touchdowns per game on the ground. If they’re going to take down another highly-ranked Buckeyes squad, it’ll almost certainly involve a lot of ball control on offense, and that comes from effective rushing offense. Their top runner has been Nicholas Singleton, who’s averaging just shy of 7 yards per carry on a team-high 82 totes, and he’s found the end zone 7 times. The offensive line has been passable more than great, 37th in FBS as per PFF’s run-blocking grade. Center Juice Scruggs has been the best of the bunch, and it’ll all revolve around him on Saturday as the Nittany Lions attempt to spend a lot of time possessing the football.
They’ll be facing a very interesting OSU rush defense. In last year’s infamous loss to Michigan, ending an extremely long streak of undefeated dominance, the Bucks were absolutely gashed on the ground, and it was a major point of emphasis this offseason to improve in this aspect of the game. Well, improve they have, as PFF considers them to be the 3rd-best rush defense in the Power-5 conferences, trailing only Alabama, and still Michigan. EPA has them at 6th in this category, and opponents are racking up just 90.9 yards on the ground per game, on under 3 per carry. They’re a tough unit, but they also haven’t faced many great rush offenses- last week’s opponent, Iowa, actually has the worst such PFF grade in all of Power-5.
They’re led by linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, who has the team’s most snaps in run defense, and an excellent PFF run-stopping grade of 91, due to an excellent average depth of tackle of just 1.7 yards, and a stop% of 15.6%. Lathan Ransom and Cody Simon, at safety and linebacker, have also been solid, but as good as they’ve been, OSU lacks that true superstar d-lineman they’ve had in the past, be it a Bosa brother, or Chase Young. Zach Harrison and Javontae Jean-Baptiste have put up good performances in pass rush, but have been less dominant in stopping the run. If they aren’t able to truly dominate, Penn State just might have an avenue to victory; if the OSU defense can stifle the run as has become the usual this year, however, they’re already halfway or more to a win.