Penn State likely won't play a bigger game this season than the one it will play Saturday night. To get a better idea of the Ohio State team it will face, we went to Dave Biddle, the beat writer for Bucknuts, for some insight.
Braxton Miller expects he'll be in the starting lineup on Saturday.
Lions247: What are you hearing about the health of Braxton Miller and is Kenny Guiton getting any extra reps in practice this week? How much different would the offense be if Miller can't play?
Dave Biddle: While the formations would be very similar, the offense would be drastically different because Guiton is not a running threat, while Miller is one of the elite runners in the country. Right now, it sounds like Miller will play. He practiced Tuesday and Wednesday and told reporters after Wednesday's practice told reporters he'll start on Saturday. Other than his neck being “real sore” per Urban Meyer, they are saying he is “symptom-free.”
Yes, Guiton is receiving extra reps with the first-team offense. Meyer said OSU is “getting two guys ready” at the QB position. Guiton is extremely poised and is an accurate passer. It’s a luxury for the Buckeyes to have a fourth-year junior that is capable of coming in and moving the ball. However, doing it against Purdue is a lot easier than doing it against Penn State.
L247: What has made the Buckeyes' defense vulnerable to the pass this season? Or is it simply a matter of teams abandoning the run and throwing all game to keep pace with the offense?
Biddle: I think most of it has been poor coaching on OSU’s behalf. Here is a great example of how good coaching can make a difference literally overnight: In Rich Rodriguez’s final season at Michigan in 2010, the Wolverines were ranked near the bottom of the country in total defense. Then Greg Mattison takes over as UM’s defensive coordinator – with pretty much the exact same players from the previous season – and leads them to a top-20 ranking in total defense.
So, for everyone saying OSU lacks talent defensively, that’s true to an extent. While sophomore Ryan Shazier is a future star and is coming off an excellent game, this is the worst collection of linebackers we’ve ever seen at Ohio State. However, overall, the defense is much more talented
than how it has performed. There are at least five future NFL draft picks starting on this defense, including two future first-rounders in DT Johnathan Hankins and cornerback Bradley Roby (DE John Simon, Shazier and CB Travis Howard are the others).
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers are not getting the job done. It will be interesting to see if Meyer makes a change after the season if the defense costs OSU a game or two down the stretch. Especially if the Buckeyes lose to Michigan. There is a chance the Buckeyes will turn things around defensively, but heading into the ninth game of the season, this is no coincidence, it’s a trend. A disturbing one if you’re an OSU fan.
L247: Do you think Ohio State will come after Matt McGloin or try to confuse him with different coverage schemes? How are the Buckeyes preparing for Penn State's uptempo, "NASCAR" attack?
Biddle: Yes, I think the only way to really slow down McGloin – who has clearly emerged as the Big Ten’s best passing quarterback – is to try and put pressure on him and force him into mistakes. If you let him sit in the pocket, he will pick you apart as Iowa learned the hard way last week. You can see the difference Bill O’Brien has made as McGloin looks like a completely different QB than the one I saw in previous years. He always showed flashes, but now he’s consistently good. He’s confident and accurate with his throws. However, he does not have much mobility and I look for the Buckeyes to blitz more than they have on average this season. Keep in mind though, OSU does not like to blitz. They prefer getting pressure with just their front four (who doesn’t?) but they will have to mix things up this week in order to be successful.
L247: Ohio State crushed Nebraska but has escaped with narrow wins against several other opponents. Is there a sense among fans and media that this team is overachieving or that it is underachieving and could really break out once it puts a few things together?
[b]Biddle: Fans are really split on that. Some fans think 12-0 is still a likely possibility, while others see the 8-0 as a mirage and are expecting at least one loss down the stretch. Everyone agrees the only reason they are 8-0 is because of their weak schedule, but opinions differ on the ceiling of this team’s potential. The Nebraska game did give a glimpse of how explosive this offense can be at times. However, the Buckeyes have been very inconsistent and they were playing against a bad Huskers defense that night.
L247: How important do you think this game will be in terms of setting the tone for what could be a strong rivalry between Bill O'Brien and Urban Meyer? What do Ohio State fans think of the job O'Brien has done at Penn State to this point?
Biddle: Ohio State fans have been very impressed with O’Brien, both on and off the field. He carries himself with class (see: not lambasting Tim Beckman publicly, even though you know he had to be steaming behind closed doors) and is clearly a sharp offensive coach. I’m personally glad the Nittany Lions found a good head coach because the Big Ten needs a healthy Penn State.
That said, this might be the last time in a few years that we’ll be able to say Penn State has a good team. I have no doubt the Lions will be back to prominence one day, but it’s going to be extremely difficult to overcome the sanctions in seasons to come. I think this is a bigger game for Penn State than Ohio State – as the Buckeyes really have their sights set on 2013, even though they’ll never admit it. Also, this will be Penn State’s de-facto “bowl game,” while OSU’s will be its rivalry game with Michigan in Columbus on Nov. 24.
This game could have recruiting implications as well. If Penn State wins, O’Brien will be able to show recruits that the Nittany Lions take a backseat to no one in the Big Ten. If Ohio State wins, it’s going to be tougher for PSU when it goes head-to-head with the Buckeyes for a recruit.
So, I think this will be a big game for both sides – it always is – but I think it’s a bigger game for Penn State. It would give the Nittany Lions not only a win against a rival, but it would be the signature win of the O’Brien era thus far. Ohio State knows as well as anyone how tough it is to win a night game at Beaver Stadium.