#4 Ohio State
(Saturday, 7 pm, ABC)
Penn State holds a huge five letter advantage over Ohio State: S-P-E-E-D. The last four losses suffered by the Buckeyes have all been at the hands of opponents with the speed to take advantage of those slow footed linebackers, and the Nittany Lions definitely have their share of speedsters.
The thing I like about Penn State so much this year is their balance offensively. Not just the fact that they average 234.6 rushing yards and 253.1 passing yards per game, but the number of different styles they can beat you with.
First there’s Bo Jackson Trophy candidate Even Royster in the backfield. He’s a bruiser that wears down defenses as the game goes along, but he also has deceptive speed that has allowed him to run for enough big gains to pad his average all the way up to 7.7 yards per carry! Then when defenses get tired of taking the beating from Royster, freshman Stefphon “Warp Speed” Green comes into the ball game.
Penn State can also spread the field and beat you throwing the football. You won’t find a more veteran trio of receivers in the nation than Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler, and Derrick Williams. All three are seniors with great speed and the smarts to get open in clutch situations. The Ohio State secondary is pretty good, but these guys will be able to get open and make key third down grabs to keep the chains moving. And don’t forget that Williams is one of the most dangerous punt returners in the nation too.
But the most impressive part about this Nittany Lion offense so far this year has been quarterback Darryl Clark. Clark entered the season as an unknown quantity that barely beat out big armed Pat Devlin for the starting job. All he has done is play as well as any quarterback in the Big Ten. Clark is a better than average passer, which makes his scrambling skills even more effective. All in all, he rounds out the offense perfectly.
The Ohio State defense has taken some hits recently, and deservedly so. The blowouts they have suffered at the hands of USC, LSU, and Florida were partly due to the lack of speed on that side of the ball. Penn State has speed and they’ll be able to score when they need to Saturday night.
When Ohio State has the ball
Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor has given the Ohio State offense some much needed playmaking ability. With his running ability now a permanent fixture in the offense, defenses aren’t able play vanilla and shut down the Buckeyes.
If there’s one aspect of Pryor’s game that has been a surprise, it’s his passing touch. He has made some very nice throws this year and it’s only a matter of time before he gains consistency and becomes a star.
Unfortunately he doesn’t get much help from the current crop of receivers. Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie are two non-factors in games like this because they refuse to help their quarterback out. Both of these guys would rather complain to the officials and keep their uniforms clean than actually go up and make a catch in traffic. Against a ballhawking Penn State secondary that includes Anthony Scirrotto, that sort of attitude will lead to interceptions.
That means the onus offensively will be on the Buckeyes running game. Chris Wells entered the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate but has since fallen out of the race after missing several key games early with a toe injury. Wells is almost back to full strength so you can be sure Jim Tressel will use him early and often Saturday night.
Pryor also has excellent athleticism and can make defenders miss in the open field. He’ll need that athleticism because Penn State features one of the best pass rush duos in the nation in ends Aaron Maybin (10 sacks) and Josh Gaines (3.5 sacks). The Penn State defensive line has been so good this year that blitzing is rarely necessary. That has freed up the linebackers to make plays elsewhere, which will come in handy against Ohio State as they will be freed up to track Wells and Pryor.
All in all, there don’t appear to be many advantages for Ohio State on this side of the ball. If Terrelle Pryor isn’t making plays with his feet, points may be few and far between against the Nittany Lion defense.
In short, I think Penn State is just a much better team than Ohio State right now. That’s not a knock against the Buckeyes, it’s more of a statement about how good Penn State is right now. There also don’t happen to be many matchups in this game that favor Ohio State. Even though it’s in The Horseshoe, Penn State will cruise to an easy victory and stake a claim to not only the Big Ten title, but to a berth in the national championship game as well.
J.Pike’s Pick: Penn State 32, Ohio State 16