(3) Ohio State 6-0 (3-0) v. (7) Penn State 6-0 (3-0)
All roads lead to Ann Arbor, but first, a noon showdown with pseudo-rival, 7th-ranked Penn State is on tap this week for the 3rd-ranked Buckeyes. This isn’t a critique of the Nittany Lions, nor should the Bucks look past them to November. Instead, this will be a great test against a prepared and hungry team, even if the Buckeye faithful don’t see them as rivals.
The Buckeyes have a long history with the Nittany Lions, but not necessarily a rivalry. The Nits came into the Big Ten conference in 1993 (making it the “Big 11”, but we don’t need to rehash the conference realignment again) and promptly won the conference championship the following year. Over twenty years in the Big Ten, Penn State has always shown promise but never quite lived up to its lofty expectations, eerily similar to Nebraska. They were rocked by one of the biggest scandals in college football history and have only started recovering from the fallout.
Current head coach, James Franklin, has worked his tail off recruiting some fantastic talent, especially in the defensive backfield. The Nittany Lions have had a tremendous run of success and are currently the third-best team in Big Ten East’s loaded division, behind only, you guessed it, The Ohio State and That Team Up North. Penn State has looked somewhat impressive early on, climbing to a 6-0 record while defeating FCS Delaware as well as three teams within the conference. Last week's dismantling of U-Mass was as spectacular as it was comical, considering Franklin’s criticism of “certain teams” not scheduling more formidable opponents. Still, James Franklin’s team was able to hang over 60 points while shutting U-Mass out, and that’s worth noting as the Bucks prepare for Saturday and have yet to shut any opponents out.
The “World Famous” Buckeyes are coming off a significant win against Purdue. Even with injuries to key offensive talent, quarterback Kyle McCord (and later Devin Brown) could thoroughly take control of the game. Head coach Ryan Day was aggressive, and if you’re an Ohio State fan, you’ve got to be craving more of that as the Bucks head into the more challenging parts of their schedule. The defense looks like they are in absolute control, even as some have criticized the defensive backfield. I’m not sure how anyone can question one of the strongest units on this team, but as everyone learned a few weeks ago, now may not be the time to give the folks in Columbus bulletin board material.
As this will be the second true test of the Buckeyes, and luckily a home matchup, it will be necessary for Ohio State to fire on all cylinders. They’ll never be able to silence all the critics and doubters, but none of their opinions will matter as long as they continue to build on their foundation, preparing for the latter part of the season.
Date: Saturday, 10/21/23
Time: Noon, Eastern
Venue: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio (Capacity: 102,780)
Series: Ohio State leads 23-14
Last Meeting: Ohio State over Penn State 44-31 (2022)
What to Watch For:
Ryan Day's demeanor is the most important thing to look for this week. If he brings that same fire and passion that fans saw last week, the Bucks will be more than fine. Aside from that, expect a monumental game from the defense. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and his backs, Burke, Proctor, and Igbinosun, will look to prove something on Saturday, while the front seven will punish and pressure Penn State’s quarterback all day. Hopefully, running back TreVeyon Henderson will be back and ready for action to take some pressure off McCord and receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
Sophomore quarterback Drew Allar has put up over 1,200 yards through the air and 12 touchdowns in the first half of the Nits’ season, and although he doesn’t rush for much, the Bucks will still need to play on their toes to disrupt him in the pocket. There is some real talent on defense, and if they can run and keep up with the best receiver room in college football, Penn State may be able to upset the Bucks. Penn State's most significant disadvantage will be playing in Columbus.
This will be the first tough road challenge that the Nittany Lions will face this season. Without the white-out at Beaver Stadium, James Franklin will have to do everything he can to help his players drown out the noise and stay focused. On the other hand, Ohio State’s train keeps rolling regardless of setbacks, injuries, or criticism. The Bucks’ defense game will be close, similar to the Notre Dame game, but the Buckeyes will prevail 31-27.
(Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images)