The Nittany Lions (6-0) have not won at Ohio Stadium since 2011 and are 1-8 with coach James Franklin against Ohio State. Last season, Ohio State led by two points entering the fourth quarter, but the Buckeyes scored 28 points in the final 15 minutes to beat Penn State 44-31 in Happy Valley.
Ohio State’s offense will have its hands full against a Nittany Lions defense that ranks second in the country in fewest points allowed per game (8) and first in total yards allowed (193.7). Who’s available for Ohio State’s offense, quarterbacks playing across state lines and handling adversity are the three things to know when the Buckeyes face Penn State.
Who’s in, who’s out?
The short answer is we don’t know who will play for Ohio State on Saturday. Last week, the Buckeyes played without receiver Emeka Egbuka and running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams before losing running back Chip Trayanum to an injury late in the first quarter. Day said he would not discuss the availability of any of those players but added he’s confident in receivers Xavier Johnson and Carnell Tate as well as sophomore tailback Dallan Hayden.
“Our guys are working hard to get back to the game, and we’re hopeful that’s going to happen,” Day said. “We’re going to need all these guys to step up. They’re all going to have opportunities, but that’s where depth comes in, and that’s why we have to have weapons across the field.”
Hayden played well as Ohio State’s featured back, rushing for 76 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries. It’s not the first time the sophomore has delivered in a backup role. Last season against Maryland, he ran for 146 yards and three scores to propel the Buckeyes over the Terrapins. Johnson has been used as a running back as well with 227 yards on the ground in his career.
Not having Egbuka or Henderson, or potentially both, would be a gut-punch for the Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions rank No. 1 in the nation in pass defense (121.2 yards allowed per game) and No. 2 in rush defense (72.5 yards allowed per game). They also boast two potential first-round picks in defensive end Chop Robinson and cornerback Kalen King.
“They’re a great defense. Probably one of the best defenses that I’ve seen on film,” receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. said. “From top to bottom, they have everything you’re looking for on a defense, very well-coached as well, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”
Behind enemy lines
Ohio State’s Kyle McCord is the highest-rated quarterback recruit from Pennsylvania in the last 15 years. Penn State’s Drew Allar is the highest-rated quarterback recruit from Ohio in the modern recruiting era. Both quarterbacks are first-year starters and will be on opposite sides.
McCord attended the Penn State-Ohio State game in 2018 as a Nittany Lions recruit before receiving an offer from the Buckeyes. He saw first-hand how Dwayne Haskins was used in OSU’s thrilling 27-26 comeback win and was immediately drawn to Day’s offense.
“That was really one of Dwayne’s first big games and seeing how they used him in the offense, I was like: If Ohio State ever recruits me, I think that would definitely be something to consider,” McCord said. “It just opened my eyes to it because I never really thought Ohio State was going to be a school I was going to end up at. … Funny enough, a few months go by and the season ends in January, and they offered me.”
On the other side, Ohio State didn’t offer Allar before Penn State because the Buckeyes had already received a commitment from Quinn Ewers, who decided to enroll a full year early at Ohio State. Ewers ultimately transferred to Texas after one season, and by then it was too late for Day to change Allar’s mind as the Medina native was set on going to Penn State.
“I did grow up going to Ohio State games, like a lot of us did in Ohio,” Allar said. “One of the things I did during my recruiting process was not worry about the name of the school. … I always said during my recruiting process, internally, I was never just going to flip after I committed unless something major happened and nothing major happened, so I was always 100% in with Penn State and I still am.”
Kyle McCord stats: 1,651 yards, 11 touchdowns, 1 interception, 64.1% completion, 165.9 rating
Drew Allar stats: 1,254 yards, 12 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 65.2% completion, 145.3 rating
Can Penn State handle adversity?
Penn State has only trailed for 10 minutes this season, and that was by three points. If Ohio State jumps on the Nittany Lions early, they could be in trouble because they rank last nationally in explosive plays, with its offense totaling only 12 plays longer than 20 yards.
The Nittany Lions inability to produce explosive plays on offense could leave them with too much ground to make up in too little time. Allar may be called on to do more than he’s used to and that could lead to mistakes for a quarterback who’s yet to throw an interception this season.
On the other hand, Ohio State has shown its mettle when the chips are down. The Buckeyes responded at Notre Dame in the second half and followed that up by outscoring Maryland 27-7 after being tied at halftime. One team has been tested and beaten by a top-15 opponent while the other has not, and that could prove to be the difference.