3:30 PM EST, FOX – Line: Ohio State -6.5, Over/Under: 57
A titanic clash in the Big Ten with major implications for the College Football Playoff takes place in Columbus, Ohio, as the Second-Ranked Penn State Nittany Lions continue their murderer’s row of opposition, with the Sixth-Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes desperate for payback after last season’s thrilling meeting. Indeed, life is good for Penn State (7-0, 4-0 in Big Ten) at the moment, who are currently enjoying their highest ranking in ages, and are fresh off of their most impressive victory of the campaign, a 42-13 drubbing of Michigan last weekend. The action started early for the denizens of Happy Valley, who saw Heisman Frontrunner Saquon Barkley (117 CAR, 757 YDS, 8 TD, 32 REC, 448 YDS, 3 TD, 9 RET, 273 YDS, 1 TD) take his first touch of the afternoon Sixty-Nine Yards to paydirt to open the scoring, followed by another Fifteen-Yard Touchdown on the host’s following possession. After the Wolverines nearly drew level shortly before Halftime, James Franklin’s charges put their foot on the gas and went on to score the final Twenty-Eight Points of the affair. This one had revenge written all over it, folks, for the Nittany Lions paid their opponent back after last year’s 49-10 thrashing in Ann Arbor, compiling a whopping 506 Total Yards on one of the staunchest Defenses in the country in the most balanced of fashions, racking up 282 Yards through the air and another 224 on the ground. Barkley, as he has been throughout the season, was otherworldly, rushing for 108 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns on just Fifteen Carries, while hauling in three Receptions for Fifty-Three Yards and another score to boot. Franklin utilized the dynamic Tailback in a myriad of ways, getting the Junior the ball via Direct Snaps, as a Receiver in both the Slot and split out Wide, while also on Kickoff Returns, further enhancing the CV of the Nation’s leader in All-Purpose Yardage. However, what shouldn’t go overlooked was the all-around performance of Trace McSorely (66.8%, 268.4 Y/G, 8.5 Y/A, 14 TD, 5 INT, 83 CAR, 254 YDS, 7 TD), who tormented Michigan throughout the meeting, with both his arm and his legs. Against arguably the most aggressive Defense in the Big Ten, the Junior Quarterback scorched them for 282 Yards and a Touchdown on 17-of-26 Passing, while leading the watershed of scoring in the Second Half rushing for Three Touchdowns to go with Seventy-Six Yards on just Eleven Carries. Defensively, Penn State made life miserable for John O’Korn (16-of-28, 166 YDS), sacking the Quarterback eight times, and deflecting a pair of his throws and forcing a number of Fumbles. Now the mission becomes exponentially more difficult, for this meeting with the Buckeyes will not be contested in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium, and will not feature an opponent forced to start a Backup Quarterback. Franklin will no doubt cite his charges last battle with Ohio State to further build their confidence heading into a hostile environment. October 22nd, 2016 was the date everything changed for the Nittany Lions a year ago, as they hosted the Second-Ranked Buckeyes, trailing 21-7 heading into the Fourth Quarter, where the improbable would change the fortunes of both teams. A McSorely Touchdown Run followed by a Field Goal cut the lead to Four Points with 9:33 left to play, with the visiting side doing everything in their power to run out the clock and escape with an all-important road victory. However, with just under Five Minutes remaining, the home side miraculously blocked a potentially game-clinching Field Goal, and returned it Sixty Yards for the go-ahead Touchdown. That 24-21 epic served as the turning point for the Program, who at the time were just 4-2, but have since won fourteen of their last fifteen contests, propelling them to the Big Ten Championship, though they were ultimately robbed of a chance to compete in the College Football Playoff, with Ohio State chosen by the Playoff Committee instead. Now, they have the opportunity to write that wrong, for the winner of today’s clash will not only have the inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game, but a spot in the Playoff as well.
Meanwhile, though Urban Meyer will constantly tell his charges that the most important game on their schedule is the next one, this game is by far and away the most important game for Ohio State (6-1, 4-0 in Big Ten). As we stated earlier, this one is certainly about revenge for the Buckeyes, whose upset at Beaver Stadium a year ago served as the lone blemish on their Regular Season Resume’. However, at the same time, it’s about so much more than that. Many felt that the Buckeyes were indeed fortunate to be selected by the College Football Playoff Committee in 2016 despite not winning their Conference, and the team that dealt them their only defeat being the same unit that won the Big Ten Championship. This was further validated in the eyes of many after their embarrassing 31-0 shutout loss to eventual National Champion Clemson in the National Semifinal, the first time in his tenure in Columbus that Meyer’s side was held without a score. Fast forward to this season, and Ohio State already has one loss on their ledger, a convincing 31-16 upset at home to Oklahoma in the second week of the season. Since then, they’ve been doing everything in their power to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Committee. Since Sooners’ Quarterback Baker Mayfield attempted to plant his school’s flag at midfield of Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes have run off five consecutive victories, mercilessly obliterating their opposition by a cumulative score of 266-49. Granted, the relative strength of the likes of Army (6-2), UNLV (2-5), Rutgers (3-4), Maryland (3-4), and Nebraska (3-4) is hardly intimidating, but credit must be given to this team for taking care of their business and doing so in such a manner. After mustering juts 350 Total Yards against Oklahoma, they’ve totaled no fewer than 584 over the last five contests, averaging a staggering 619.0 Yards in that span. Senior Quarterback JT Barrett (66.5%, 261.0 Y/G, 8.9 Y/A, 21 TD, 1 INT, 71 CAR, 370 YDS, 5 TD), who after a slow start to the season and had been subject to much criticism in Columbus, has done his best to quell his detractors, playing some of the best football of his career, completing an efficient 72.1% of his Attempts for an average of 268.0 Yards, with Eighteen Touchdowns and most importantly Zero Interceptions during that stretch, while also picking up another 48.6 Rushing Yards per Game with four more scores to boot. When last we saw the Upperclassman, he torched Nebraska for a season-high 325 Yards and Five Touchdowns while completing all but six of his thirty-three Passes, and rushing for two more Touchdowns in the 56-14 beatdown of the Huskers. The biggest criticism of Barrett, and by extension the Offense as a collective unit, was their inability to stretch the field vertically, but to this point, they’ve largely resolved that issue; in both 2015 and 2016, Barrett averaged 6.7 Yards per Attempt, only to see that figure skyrocket to 8.9 in his Senior campaign. As a result, plenty of Buckeyes are getting into the Passing Game, with nine different players totaling at least 100 Receiving Yards in the first seven games, with eight hauling in at least Two Touchdowns. Freshman Tailback JK Dobbins has also been a huge boon to this unit, establishing himself as Meyer’s featured Rusher ahead of the more decorated Mike Weber (48 CAR, 227 YDS, 4 TD). Dobbins has rushed for 775 Yards and Five Touchdowns on just 100 Carries, which when you put things into perspective is actually eighteen more Yards than Barkley has accrued at this juncture. Today’s meeting will mark the eighth instance in which both teams have been ranked in the Top-10, and the first since they clashed back in 2008, when Ohio State edged them in a narrow 13-6 victory. Meyer’s charges will have the benefit of being well-rested, using the time afforded by their Bye Week to prepare for the Nittany Lions. This has typically spelled success for the Head Coach, who owns a 20-1 career record when coming off a Bye, including a 5-0 mark against ranked opponents.