Five Things To Watch For: Penn State vs Ohio State

  1. Who Plays Where and Reinforcements

From practice this week, it would seem as if true freshman Will Fries will get the start at left tackle versus Ohio State.

His first game action, during a White Out…in primetime, versus the 2nd team in the Nation.

Sounds Daunting.

That’s why it is more likely that Paris Palmer will be the starter on Saturday. Palmer has had his struggles in the past, but as of now, he might be the best option the Nittany Lions have. With the depth and talent that Ohio state has along the defensive line,  it might be a better option to play the veteran, rather than the freshman. It’s still not a great option.

Presumably Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda will return today for the Nittany Lions. Both practiced this week for the first time in over a month. Head Coach James Franklin spent most of the week trying to temper fans excitement about that fact.

“This is the first time that they practiced, they haven’t been doing anything for about a month, so for us to expect that they will start and play 60 plays, they won’t. But there is no doubt that the fact that they will provide depth and leadership.”

After practice this Wednesday, Franklin gave an assessment of his two veteran tacklers.

“I thought yesterday they practiced at a higher level than we expected. Both of them as the practice went on, you could tell they wore down, they weren’t used to going at that level and type of intensity.”

The biggest difference is that it might be possible to put Cam Brown on the bench for a majority of the game. With Manny Bowen and Brandon Smith and Koa Farmer in the mix as well, Brown can go back to focusing on special teams and learning from the sidelines. He’s a great talent, but is just too thin to play at a high level. He may see the field on Saturday, but hopefully in a much more limited role.

  1. Bring the Noise

The White Out will be an intimidation factor for sure. Franklin was asked about starting fast a couple of times this week. While that is important, he thinks that there is more to it than that.

“It’s important every week, but it’s important to keep the fans engaged. You’ve got to play a style that is going to keep them engaged. We need the fans to clap and scream and yell to create a tough environment not just in critical situations, but throughout the game.

  1. End of the Day

The Penn State defensive ends are in for a long day. The Ohio State rushing attack is stressful on the entire defense but the ends will be constantly put in a tough spot defending J.T. Barrett and the bevvy of athletes they play beside him.

Franklin mentioned multiple times this week how much of a threat Barrett is to run the ball.

“He’s a huge part of their running game…week-in and week-out and he’s shown that he’s able to do that and has been a problem for people for the last three years.”

 

Franklin went on to say that unlike other programs, Ohio State tries to get their signal caller involved as a runner early.

 

“They use him a lot. It’s not like a quarterback where they may have one or two design runs or scrambles. They use him a lot. He’s a large percentage of their running game in designed quarterback runs or read options, and then you sprinkle in some of the scrambles…He has good size. He has good quickness. He’s strong. He’s very strong and plays that way.”

 

On the flip side, the Buckeyes have four defensive ends that are possibly more talented than any of the starters on the Penn State side of the ball. Sam Hubbard, captain Tyquan Lewis, reserves Nick Bosa and Jayln Holmes all see the field, sometimes at the same time. In obvious passing situations, Holmes and Lewis kick inside and give Ohio State a deadly combination to stop for the offensive line. If Penn State gets behind the chains too much today, quarterback Trace McSorley will be running for his life most of the night.

  1. One Dimension

While J.T. Barrett is a great runner and a great athlete, he’s an average passer at best. Last year he was benched in favor of Cardale Jones, who despite the issues with reading defenses, is a more natural passer (now in the NFL). Barrett and his young crop of receives have scaresly found a rhythm this year. The receiving corps is talented and fast, but lack the experience and technique to get behind most defenders.

The Nittany Lions must play at a high level along the defensive line this week and make Ohio State throw the football. The secondary of the Penn State defense is a strength and features some of their best players. It’s not a fancy strategy, nor is it a new one, but it’s the best way to have a chance at success in this game.

  1. The Great Equalizer

Trace McSorley has elevated the Penn State offense in his six collegiate starts. Where Barrett is an athlete that plays quarterback, McSorley is a quarterback that is athletic. He shows the intelligence and improving accuracy to be a cornerstone of the offense for the next several years and be the quarterback that Christian Hackenberg was supposed to be. Cleary it is very early on in his career and too soon to really tell, but all the signs point in the right direction.

When asked what he thinks makes a franchise quarterback, he points to leadership,

“Being able to get guys going and to weather the storms that happen in a game and practice. That’s the biggest thing you see with guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, they were leaders on their team. They were able to conduct guys, get guys going to where they needed to be and make players around them better. So that’s the biggest aspect of the franchise quarterback is leadership.”

McSorley is the clear leader of this team. He’s commanded the offense this year and was the catalyst to that overtime win versus Minnesota. McSorley has shown the ability to run, throw, and more importantly, know when to do both. If the Nittany Lions have a fighting chance tonight, it will be behind their quarterback, Trace McSorley.