5 reasons Penn State will beat Ohio State
You do get that this is an assignment, right? As a professional, I will try to pull this off with a minimum of sarcasm.
Do I really think No. 20 Penn State (5-2) is going to go into Columbus as an 18.5-point underdog and upend No. 5 Ohio State on its home turf in ABC’s primetime game Saturday night? No, I surely don’t. I’d say there’s less than a 1-in-7 chance — James Franklin’s current success rate against the Buckeyes as the Nittany Lions’ CEO.
But the show — and this article — must go on, so we might as well bust out some corny movie lines and have a little fun …
So you’re telling me there’s a chance? Yep, dumb things happen all the time in college football, and Penn State winning this weekend wouldn’t be any dumber than the Lions’ losing in 9 OTs to visiting Illinois last weekend.
As the kids in Angels in the Outfield intoned: It could happen.
If you’re looking for logic and pragmatism, you might check out our guy on the Ohio State beat, Joe Cox, who is offering up 5 really compelling reasons that this game will have the same winner as the matchup has had on 19 of 27 occasions since Penn State joined the Big Ten.
But if you want to forge ahead with confused, irrational passion ala Mr. Blutarski …
… then I say, “Leeeetttt’s doooo it!”
Here are 5 reasons Penn State will rouse itself from its Illinois’ hangover and ruin things for the snobby, snooty 5-star privileged kids of the B1G East:
Any given Saturday …
In the aftermath of “Illini 20, PSU 18,” I said that such things don’t happen to Ohio State. But, of course, they do (or used to, anyway):
- Purdue 49, Ohio State 20 — Oct. 20, 2018
- Iowa 55, Ohio State 24 — Nov. 4, 2017
So sure, James Franklin and his Lions could take a page out of Bret Bielema’s book, channel their inner Illini, and pull off a stunner one week after being victim to one. They could devise a novel game plan, challenge each other’s manhood and show up in primetime Saturday as angry, inspired invaders bent of destruction. It could happen.
They could catch some breaks — a lucky bounce here, a friendly official’s call there. Maybe a huge play on special teams …
Blocked FG or other big play
Ah, has it really been 5 years already since the Kick Six?
You remember, Marcus Allen leaping high to block Tyler Durbin’s 45-yard FG attempt and Grant Haley racing 60 yards for a game-winning scoop and score. Penn State 24, Ohio State 21. The Buckeyes were higher-ranked (No. 2) and more heavily favored (19.5 points) then than they will be Saturday night.
On that late October day in 2016, host Penn State was outdone in total yards, first downs and turnovers. Quarterback Trace McSorley went 8-of-23. And none of that mattered, because one monster special teams play capped a rally from a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit.
So it’s worth noting that Penn State has blocked 2 FGs already this season.
It could happen.
Nothing to lose
Penn State has played a lot of uptight football since that upset of Ohio State sprung the program back to national prominence. From media interactions to the field, the straight-laced Lions have sought to say all the right things and stay in their lanes, literally and figuratively. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the detail-oriented, team-first, love-each-other vibe.
But maybe this team needs someone to do something akin to Purdue’s Greg Long, the offensive lineman who chugged a beer while his Boilermakers were ruining Iowa’s season 2 weeks ago. His impromptu response to a bottle flung onto the field screams “I’m a college kid and this is a game played for fun!”
Lighten up already, Lions. At the least, someone needs to give a Bluto-type speech in the locker room, right?
Then, once the kickoff comes some few minutes after 7:30 ET, coaches and players should embrace the fact that they’ve already flunked out of the B1G East title race. Fourth-down gambles, exotic play calls, jailhouse blitzes (10,000 marbles?) — freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
Clifford really takes over
The weight of the entire program wound up on Sean Clifford’s shoulders this fall. He’s the team’s one irreplaceable part.
Three weeks after the injury at Iowa, the third-year starter at quarterback enters this game supposedly fully healed from his bumps and bruises. That better be true, because if he’s as limited as he was against Illinois, Penn State has no shot. If he can’t bring his full game, including double-digit carries along with 30-plus throws, he might as well sit.
It’s a huge ask. An unreasonable ask. But Clifford has more than earned the right to give the answer.
And since he says he’s up to it, Mike Yurcich and Franklin need to get out of his way and let him play. He decides when and how often he runs. He gets veto power on play calls. “No coach, we’re not handing off on 4th-and-5.”
Given time and different circumstances, Penn State’s new offensive coordinator will produce an attack akin to Joe Moorhead’s wide-open ones of 2016-17. But this year, it’s Clifford or bust. Let him call his own plays, using his right index finger on the palm of his left hand. “Jahan, go long. EVERYONE ELSE, stay in and block.”
Back end D is still really good
As a redshirt freshman quarterback, CJ Stroud should be struggling along a learning curve rather than chasing a Heisman trophy. But he has the luxury of playing at Ohio State, with the best receiving group in the land and a stud true freshman running back.
If any defense can knock him back to the bad side of the parabola, it’s Penn State’s. The Lions limit opponents to 178.0 passing yards per game, third best in the B1G, and have 9 INTs, with safeties Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown combining for 5. Even coming off of 2 losses, Penn State still has the 6th-best scoring defense in the nation.
At linebacker and in the secondary, Penn State brings it as well as almost anyone in the nation.
So it’s possible PSU can slow Stroud’s current 3-game B1G roll (62-of-84, 1,002 yards, 14 TDs, 0 INTs) and contain the best scoring and yard-producing offense in all of college football.
It could happen.