Lori Schmidt

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Penn State Preview

The last two times Ohio State has played Penn State, the game has come down to the fourth quarter, and the Buckeyes have rallied to beat the Nittany Lions by a single point.

Despite the fact that these are both top ten teams, the game today is not expected to be that close. This time around, OSU is an 18.5-point favorite.

A part of the reason for that is Penn State has played other ranked teams lately, and many of those ended up being close calls: a 17-12 win over Iowa, a 28-21 victory against Michigan, and--just last week--a 34-27 win versus Indiana.

Of course, there was also a loss thrown in there, as the Nittany Lions fell to Minnesota 31-26.

In their defense, they are playing a brutally tough schedule. In fact, not just brutally tough, but historically, brutally tough. Since the inception of the Associated Press poll, Penn State had never played five ranked teams in six weeks...until this year.

They have gutted out their wins thanks to owning the seventh ranked scoring defense in the country. They have stopped opponents by getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks (no. 12 in sacks), by forcing fumbles (no. 6 in that category), by stopping teams at crucial times (no. 25 in third-down defense). Plus, they have stifled the run (no. 4 rushing defense).

They have struggled a bit against the pass, though. They are no. 84 nationally in the number of passing yards per game that they allow.

Linebacker Micah Parsons, who has an interesting history with Ohio State, leads the Nittany Lions in tackles and is second (behind Yetur Gross-Matos) in tackles for loss.

Parsons might be a Buckeye today if not for a tweet he sent after a recruiting visit. He stumped for then OSU coach Urban Meyer to replace then quarterback JT Barrett with Dwayne Haskins. Also on that trip, he was greeted on the set of ESPN GameDay by former Buckeyes Kirk Herbstreit and Eddie George, a minor NCAA violation that also helped Ohio State decide to end their recruitment. (Note: George is expected to be ESPN's guest picker this weekend as well.)

But Parsons says he's still friends with Buckeyes Justin Fields, JK Dobbins, and Chase Young; and he owns a dog named Brutus as well. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day praised Parsons unreservedly this week, so there doesn't seem to be any bad blood despite any earlier turmoil.

On offense, Penn State is led by quarterback Sean Clifford, who is not only one of the best quarterbacks nationally in passer rating (no. 23), but he is also the team's second-leading rusher.

Clifford's favorite target is receiver KJ Hamler. Hamler has a 13-game streak of catching a pass of 20 yards or more.

But Hamler stands out from the team's other pass catchers for another reason: He is considered an actual receiver.

Of the top five Penn State players in receiving yards, two are tight ends; one is a running back. Of their top five players in touchdown receptions, two are running backs and one is a tight end. And of the six players who have caught a touchdown pass for the Nittany Lions, four are either tight ends or running backs.

A big reason for that is sophomore Pat Freiermuth. With seven receiving scores, he is tied for second nationally among tight ends.

Ohio State and Penn State play at noon, with pregame on 610 WTVN starting at 9:00 a.m.

Other Penn State nuggets:

  • Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields had committed to Penn State of December 2016 and decommitted in June the next year. He said he it was a difficult decision, likening it to breaking up with a girlfriend you still care about.
  • Penn State running back Noah Cain has been practicing this week, and could return from a lower body injury to face the Buckeyes. If he does, he will enter the game one shy of tying Saquon Barkley (2015) and DJ Dozier's (1983) freshman record for rushing touchdowns. He is listed as a game-time decision.
  • Hamler is also battling injury. He hurt his head or neck against Indiana, but was seen by Penn State beat reporters celebrating with teammates after that game.
  • Penn State is outscoring opponents by a combined total of 107-31 in the first quarter of games this year. They didn't give up any first quarter points until a week seven field goal by Iowa, and all four first quarter touchdowns they have allowed have come in the past two weeks at the hands of Indiana and Minnesota.
  • With Freiermuth coming to Columbus, it's worth seeing how other top tight ends have done against Ohio State. FAU's Harrison Bryant had six catches for 79 yards, and Cincinnati's Josiah Deguara had 3 catches for 46 yards. Neither scored a touchdown.

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