Five Things: Penn State vs Ohio State

Five Things: Penn State vs Ohio State
By: Thomas Frank Carr
Beat Writer

  1. Tempo Trouble

As if Ohio State couldn’t get more frustrating to deal with, this year under new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson they’ve added a new wrinkle into their offense- tempo. The former Indiana head coach wants his offense to snap a play roughly every 15 seconds. Add that to Ohio State’s size and power on the offensive line and their speed on the perimeter, and it’s a potentially deadly combination. Senior defensive tackle Curtis Cothran knows that it will be a challenge.

“It’s a great run game, obviously we’ve talked about (JK) Dobbins but they’re going to run some tempo so getting lined up and getting our cleats in the dirt will be a challenge,” Cothran said this week.

That also poses a problem for the Lions defense that likes to substitute and rotate defensive linemen. Penn State head coach James Franklin agrees,

“The biggest thing is the tempo. They’re going to run plays fast. It’s a combination of what Ohio State has done in the past and what Kevin Wilson has done in the past. Now they’re at a point where they’ve figured out who they are and what their identity is.”

The Nittany Lions have faced traditional rushing attacks this year and has done very well. It will be a new and unique challenge to stop the Ohio State offense this week. Stopping the Buckeyes on early downs will be critical to put their offense in a situation they’re not comfortable with; throwing the football downfield.

  1. Baker’s Dozen

Offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead did a fantastic job last week of doing the one thing that Penn State fans had been begging for- get Saquon Barkley in space. Whether he was lined up in the wildcat or in the slot, Barkley ran free for a large part of the evening vs Michigan. Mike McCray simply was not a match for the junior tailback.

This week will be different vs Ohio State. Buckeye linebacker Jerome Baker has the speed to be a factor in pass coverage. Nobody is a perfect match vs Barkley but Baker will make it harder on the Nittany Lions to break Barkley free. There will be maybe a dozen plays where Baker will have to come up big and tackle Barkley before he can do real damage. If he wins the majority of those, it will be a long afternoon for the Penn State offense.

P.S. With all the speed on the field for Ohio State, don’t be surprised if the Tommy Stevens Project makes a return this week.

  1. Cage Match

Last week the Penn State defense shut down a Michigan running game that had been inconsistent, but effective at times this year. However, as the game wore on, the Nittany Lions showed some cracks, losing contain to the outside on runs. Karan Higdon scored the first touchdown of the game to the outside on 4th and goal when Koa Farmer couldn’t beat a block in the flat.

Keeping outside contain on the rushing attack of Ohio State will be critical this week.  Last year the Buckeyes had no success running the ball vs Penn State’s front 7, save for a Curtis Samuel run to the outside for 75 yards.

Jason Cabinda is a fantastic middle linebacker and the leader of the Penn State defense. He is exceptional between the tackles, but struggles to get to the ball outside.

The Nittany Lion defensive ends must string runs wide while the outside linebackers set the edge of the defense. So far this season they’ve been fantastic at it. It will be critical to keep the rushing attack of Ohio State caged in.

Keeping Ohio State caged isn’t just on rushing plays, it is also on passing downs where JT Barrett can be a threat to break the pocket. Penn State Head Coach James Franklin had his team working on containing quarterbacks this week.

 “We did a couple things in individual, a cage drill. Doing a great job of not getting too far up the field and creating seams like we did last week,” Franklin said.

Limiting the Buckeyes running game will be an every down endeavor.

  1. Prove It

Last week the Penn State offensive line shocked everyone by playing their best game of the year against a Michigan defense that had dominated opponents all season long. This week they have to prove that last week wasn’t a fluke. It won’t get any easier vs an Ohio State defensive line that has depth and talent.

Michigan’s defense is built with a traditional Big 10 mold of size and strength. The great equalizer for Ohio State is speed,

“They’re very athletic, they move very well, they’re fast, and they flow to the ball well. Nick Bosa, it’s like you’re playing is older brother all over again. Baker, the linebacker he’s really impressive too,” said Nittany Lion’s tailback Saquon Barkley.

Last week the offensive line bested a powerful front that bullied them last year. This week they have to prove that they’re not the weak link in the chain by besting a team that uses speed as their weapon.

  1. In-Game Adjustments

Last season the Penn State Nittany Lions were a ‘second half team’ despite their intentions to start fast.  When they went into the locker room, they came out as a different team that believed in their plan and executed it with conviction. A lot of that has been placed on the shoulders of Trace McSorley for his exemplary play, as it should be. That should not diminish the job that the coaches have done during the game.

Last week after the Penn State’s blowout win over Michigan, James Franklin said that the team changed up their game plan in the second half on offense based on what the Wolverines defense was doing. They started throwing slants and gaining big yards to close out the game,

“We didn’t even really have that in the game plan. It was just something we were able to make an adjustment at halftime and get that done so, we got a mature team so we’re able to make adjustments like that on the fly and have success with it. So there’s a lot of value with that obviously.”

The Nittany Lions players and coaches have shown resilience, and creativity in tough situations. How they adjust to whatever Ohio State has cooked up in their bye week will be the greatest factor in this game.  James Franklin and his staff have shown time and again that they are able to make adjustments on the fly and come out with a good plan after hitting adversity. They have the players to execute and as long as they can avoid costly mental mistakes, they should be able to come out of this game with a win.