Better Know An Opponent: Ohio State

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: After an incessant amount of hype and ESPN talking heads offering their two cents on who’s going to emerge victorious, Penn State and Ohio State will finally take the field tomorrow night at 8 PM in the Horseshoe in what should be an epic battle between two Top 10 teams; one of whom is looking to shut up the few naysayers who claim they haven’t played a legit opponent (i.e. Mark May) and the other whom is looking to shake off the stigma of wilting in big games over the past few years…May the best media-hater win.

LAST TIME OUT: October 27, 2007 – #1 Ohio State came into Happy Valley for PSU’s annual 8 PM home game and for the 20th straight years, College Gameday was there to cover it..flying beer cans and all.  The game itself started out promising, as Anthony Morelli *gasp* led a responsive first drive downfield for a TD to counteract OSU’s field goal to give PSU a 7-3 lead.  However, that was about it regarding the positives as Beanie Wells ripped apart PSU’s defense on the ground and Todd Boeckman led an unstoppable aerial attack that allowed the punter to roast smores on the sideline since he didn’t see the field once that night.  When the dust had settled, OSU came away with its most lopsided win in Happy Valley by a score of 37-17.

OFFENSE: The media would have you believe that it’s mostly about the battle of the QB’s Darryl Clark v. Terelle Pryor and which QB will step up on Saturday night.  Both teams will be facing arguably the toughest defenses, but this should bode more of a question mark for Pryor, who has yet to be forced into having to throw a lot in order to win games.

Pryor’s amazing running ability has been more than good enough thus far, as it allowed him to run all over Michigan State last weekend and also led to a clutch TD at Wisconsin with the Buckeyes trailing with under a minute to play there.  I cannot emphasize this enough: If PSU wants to win this game they ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY must contain Pryor’s ground attack and force him to throw the football more than he would like to.

Consequently, PSU’s defense will also have to contain Beanie Wells and not allow him to pick up consistent 7+ yard chunks that Brandon Minor seemed to be getting in the first half against Michigan last week (which is way easier said than done).  You know damn well that OSU will look to establish the run first by pounding Beanie down our throats and Pryor zig-zagging off-tackle, so look for PSU to come out stacking the box with 8 guys to try and prevent this from happening.  Take away OSU’s favorite offensive strategy though, and suddenly Pryor is forced to start chucking it to his wideouts, which is something he’s not accustomed to doing on a regular basis…”Costly mistake potential” anybody?

The Buckeyes’ offensive line apparently is having some issues of its own, as they’ve been plagued by inconsistency and injuries and are being forced to start a true freshman in one of the spots.  This does not bode well for OSU against a PSU D-line that is proving to be one of the most formidable in the country, led by rising superstar Aaron Maybin.  If OSU continues with its O-line struggles, look for Maybin to get his share of “shout outs” from an inebriated Brent Musberger and his closet PSU fan partner Kirk Herbstreit.

DEFENSE:

James Laurinaitis shouldn’t be the only thing garnering hype for the Buckeyes D.  Therefore, I’m going to spread the wealth and give a shout-out to the entire Buckeye defensive unit which has given up on average only 97 yards passing (10th in the nation) and 97 yards rushing (17th in the nation).

In other words: We’re in a for a stiff test offensively as well.  The key matchup here will be PSU’s O-line versus the Buckeyes’ D line and whether they can open holes for Evan Royster and the occassional Darryl Clark draw/sweeps and also give Clark enough time to hit his numerous receiving threats in stride.  I don’t doubt we’ll have some success doing this, but will it be consistent enough to put double-digits in points on the board for the first time in Columbus?

SPECIAL TEAMS:

This is the segment in “Better Know An Opponent” where I pray to Allah that the opposing team sends all its punts and kickoffs straight into the arms of Derrick Williams.  If he gets a chance to cleanly field a kick, then the Buckeyes deserve what is about to come them…

OSU’s Ryan Pretorius has proven himself to be an accurate kicker from inside 40 yards (8/8 on 20-29 yarders and 3/4 on 30-39 yarders) but is shaky when you go beyond that (2/5 on kicks beyond 40 yards).  However, it’s Aaron Pettrey to the rescue as the kickoffs guy for OSU has been perfect thus far on kicks greater than 40 yards, including 2/2 on 50+ yarders.

Kevin Kelly though, will also be a key factor with his perfection inside 40 yards and his 2/3 performance from 50+ yards.  He could help us get points where other teams with less stable kickers would come away with zilch.

PREDICTION: This game, along with Wisconsin, was one in which I had crossed off as a “sure-fire loss” in the preseason.  Of course, I never imagined the Spread HD would become something to be taken seriously.  Jay Paterno challenged the Big Ten to an honor du-el and got laughed at, but nobody’s laughing now.

This is hands-down, the best PSU team to enter Columbus since they joined the Big Ten and with the way everything has been clicking offensively and defensively, PSU has a realistic chance at not only scoring 10 points or more but actually coming away with the long-coveted “W.”  If there is ANY time to put conventional wisdom aside and allow yourself to float in the Bizarro World, now is the time to do so.  So screw you history, I’m taking PSU in this one…And I won’t regret it for one minute if I’m wrong.

Penn State 24, Ohio State 20.

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