NCAA Saturday Night Football: Ohio State/Penn State Preview

by Big Al Staff

The Saturday night game on ABC features two nationally-ranked teams from the Big Ten.

Ohio State began their season last Saturday by defeating Nebraska at home by a 52-17 score. Junior quarterback Josh Fields led the way by completing 20 of 21 passes for 276 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Buckeyes’ offense racked up 491 yards against the Cornhuskers.

Ryan Day’s team is a trendy pick to win the national championship this season in his second year as the head coach of the program. He returned ten starters from last year’s team that finished 13-1 with their loss being in the national semifinals to Clemson by a 29-23 score.

However, there were some areas of concern despite the 35-point win over Nebraska. This game was still relatively close going into the second half, with the Buckeyes went into halftime with just a 24-14 lead. Fields faced constant pressure from the Cornhuskers’ pass rush. The junior Heisman Trophy candidate also led his team in rushing with 54 yards. Not only are there questions about the Ohio State offensive line after that effort, but Day may not have anyone on the roster who can come close to replacing the productivity of J.K. Dobbins at running back last season.

Nebraska gained 370 yards against the Buckeyes defense, which was well above the nation-leading 259.7 yards-per-game they held their opponents to last year. Ohio State lost all four starters from their defensive line last year, including superstar defensive end Chase Young who was the second player taken in the NFL draft.

Those issues pale in comparison to what Penn State head coach James Franklin has had to address this week. The Nittany Lions come off a 36-35 upset loss in overtime at Indiana as a 7-point favorite. Penn State had the opportunity to ice the game late, but they scored a touchdown that raised their lead to a 28-20 score rather than settling for a first down that would have allowed them to run out the clock. The Hoosiers were able to force overtime when they then scored a touchdown on their final drive and converted the two-point conversion. After the Nittany Lions scored a touchdown on the first possession in OT, Indiana responded with a touchdown of their own before going for a game-winning 2-point conversion. Instant replay then confirmed the call on the field that Hoosiers’ QB Michael Penix crossed the goal-line with the football before his end zone dive landed the football out of bounds.

Penn State lost that game despite holding the Hoosiers to just 211 yards of offense while outgaining them by 277 net yards. The Nittany Lions held on to the football for over 40 minutes of that game. Junior quarterback Sean Clifford completed 24 of his 35 passes for 238 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Clifford also led the team in rushing with 119 yards on 17 carries.

Depth at running back has become an issue for Franklin despite this being an expected area of strength for the Penn State offense. Junior Journey Brown is out indefinitely, and sophomore Noah Cain is out the season with injuries leaving the running back depth chart thin after sophomore Devyn Ford.

Franklin returned 13 starters from the team last year that finished 11-2 with a 53-39 victory over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl. The Nittany Lions lost the meeting between these two teams last November in Columbus by a 28-17 score, as a 20.5-point underdog. Despite the loss last week, Penn State is ranked 18th in this week’s AP poll.

BetOnline lists Ohio State as an 11.5-point road favorite with the total set at 64. The ABC broadcast begins at 7:30 PM ET.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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