The Nittany Lions looked pretty impressive in their win over Iowa last week in Iowa City, thrashing the Hawkeyes 38-14. Penn State has not performed well at Kinnick Stadium over the years and a dominating victory is a nice thing to see for those who support the Blue and White.
This week Penn State is faced with a whole new challenge with the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 BIG 10) coming into Beaver Stadium (ESPN 5:30 p.m. ET). The Buckeyes under new head coach Urban Meyer are also ineligible to compete in postseason play this season and many have cleverly named this game the "Ineligibowl."
Even with the outcome of the game having no impact on whether the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions can play in a bowl game or not the game is still very significant to each school.
Penn State is obviously trying to rebuild their football program and Ohio State is trying to start a new as well under Meyer. O'Brien has the opportunity to really ignite nittany nation if they can come up with a win over the talented Buckeyes and can also take sole possession of the Leaders Division with a victory. Even though both teams cannot play in a bowl game this season they're still eligible to win the division.
A big wildcard in the outcome of this game is whether Ohio State starting quarterback Braxton Miller is able to play or not. Miller has shown time and time again this season that he is one the best players in college football. He suffered a neck injury last week against Purdue that looked to be serious, that ended up not being serious, and was cleared for practice on Thursday. Miller's status is still uncertain, but Bill O'Brien knows that if he is able to go that the Nittany Lions will certainly have their hands full.
"He's the best and with all due respect to all the others because there are some good ones there, too, believe me, but this guy's an excellent player," said O'Brien. "The thing about him is he throws the ball well, too. He can drop back and throw it. He can make a play with his feet. The read option is a huge threat. And all we can do, one of the keys to the game is to do the best we can to contain him and tackle him. At the end of the day he's going to make plays. And when he makes a play, we have to play the next play. We have to keep him out of the end zone the best we can. And we've got to make sure that we know, look, the guy's going to make some plays, let's make sure we limit that and get ready to not dwell on the big play that he just made and try to play the next play."
Miller has racked up 1096 yards on the ground already this season and 1,348 yards passing, scoring a total of 21 touchdowns. If Miller can't go then Kenny Guiton will be at the helm for the Buckeyes. Guiton brought OSU back last week against Purdue and helped them get a 29-22 overtime victory. So, even if Miller can't go, it seems Guiton has the ability to play under pressure and play well.
Another interesting match-up is the Nittany Lions' front seven vs. the offensive line of the Buckeyes. Ohio State is averaging 250 yards rushing per game and the Penn State defense is allowing just 113 yards on the ground per contest. Something will have to give there and it will be interesting to see what unit comes out on top.
Obviously, without Miller the Buckeyes rushing offense could take a hit, but running back Carlos Hyde is a dangerous threat that is capable of putting up big numbers. Hyde is averaging over five yards per carry and has scored nine touchdowns this season. Simply put the Ohio State offense is good averaging 39 points per game and 439 yards of total offense per game.
The Penn State offense hasn't been too shabby either. The Nittany Lions' quarterback Matt McGloin is having a career season passing for 1,788 yards and 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. The Ohio State defense has shown vulnerability in defending the pass giving up 271 yards per game, which could turn out to be a huge advantage for the Nittany Lions later today. PSU wideout Allen Robinson will be looking to make some big plays as well, the sophomore is leading the BIG 10 with 47 receptions and eight touchdowns.
The success of the PSU offense is most definitely attributed to Bill O'Brien's fast-paced NASCAR style scheme. The Nittany Lions have been using a lot of no huddle and although it's been totally different from anything than they've done in the past the change of pace has been welcomed with open arms from anybody that supports PSU.
"Well, number one is you try to, you do get into a certain rhythm. So one of the things that any coach will tell you that runs that type of up-tempo offense is first down is really important," said O'Brien. "Because if you can gain positive yards on first down, then your second and medium call or second and short call, you can call it whatever you want. That's a play caller's dream. That's really the most important thing. Because once you get a good gain on first down, then you're right away into a play-calling rhythm. And after that, for anybody that's called plays, that's really what it's all about, and it's not that difficult."
O'Brien has no doubt made a mark already on Nittany Nation and it all started with the coaching caravan he went on through the state of Pennsylvania when he first was hired. During that caravan O'Brien expressed his thoughts on the rivalry with Penn State, saying that they were the Nittany Lions biggest rival. O'Brien weighed in on that subject a little more in his Tuesday press conference.
"I don't remember exactly saying that during the Caravan but if you say I said it, then I probably said it. I think every game we play is a very important game here at Penn State," said O'Brien. "You know, and I would say that for every team. I remember back in New England, Bill (Belichick) would always talk to us all the time about you only play once a week. So you practice for five days, and then you lay it on the line Saturday. And this year we only get the chance to lay it on the line 12 times; 12 Saturdays. So every game for us is a very, very big game. The Big Ten is just, in my opinion, a tremendous conference that has great head coaches and tough teams."
Whatever you want to call this match-up, whether it be the "Ineligibowl" or the "Ban Bowl" it's still a very important game in the landscape of college football. Penn State and Ohio State being successful is nothing but good for the sport and the game will sure to have a lot of excitement surrounding it.