It's been a long week, and hopefully there was good focus at practice, because the horrible taste of the Rutgers loss needs to go. A depleted Penn State team is on the docket this week, at Panzer Stadium, and there's still everything to play for.
In fact, this game could be called a "must-win" game for Ohio State. Lose here, and it will take a miracle for this team to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. And it's going to be a tough, tough, climb for the Buckeyes.
This year's Penn State is not the Final Four team of 2019. There's no Grant Ament this year for the Nittany Lions. His absence is a gaping hole in the team, as no one else is even close to able to replace him. The scheme is largely unchanged from the 2019 run, however the personnel isn't quite as effective.
At attack, senior TJ Malone, #7, is down at attack, with Mac O'Keefe, #3, and Dylan Foulds, #11, also starting. Malone has been the main dodger for the unit, and takes the most shots. Mac O'Keefe started the year looking to bury the goal scoring record, but has struggled without Grant Ament as a foil.
O'Keefe has just two goals on the year, a season after scoring more than that in a half. Maryland absolutely smothered this unit in their win last Friday, holding them to just 4 points total, and Penn State to 7 goals as a team. That said, this unit will give Ohio State fits tomorrow.
Despite crushing the Blue Jays in game 1, the defense fell apart completely last week against Rutgers. After starting 0-2, Penn State is going to come out firing at home. Hopefully Ohio State can figure it out this week to be ready for an onslaught tomorrow night.
In the midfield, also fortunately, Penn State has struggled to score off the dodge consistently. Dan Reaume, #26, has been the primary midfield scorer for the Nittany Lions this season.
Reaume had 3 goals against Rutgers, but just a single tally against Maryland. Jack Kelly, #25, has been a threat, but struggled a bit this year without Grant Ament to work off of. The final starter, Cole Willard, #24, has been mostly a role player this year, but still could punish the Buckeyes if they have another disaster on defense.
As a unit, Penn State's offense has regressed significantly. They're shooting just 21%, and barely 61% of their shots are on goal. That said, the Nittany Lions played two top 5 teams to start their year. Ohio State has shown they're not in that tier right now, so we will have to see how good the Buckeyes truly are.
Defensively, Penn State starts Nick Cardile, #16, Sutton Boland, #36, and Brett Funk, #47, at close defense. Cardile was named as a 2nd-team All-American last year, and will anchor an aggressive unit that has been decent, despite the two losses. Defensively, Penn State slides early and often, making ball movement and toughness essential for the Buckeyes' offense this week.
In goal, Penn State starts 5th-year Colby Kneese, #34, who has been stout during his tenure at Penn State. Kneese kept Penn State in both games this year, even though the Maryland game got out of hand.
Kneese has also specialized in shutting the door on Buckeye shooters his entire career. The Buckeyes have only managed 5.3 goals per game against Kneese during his career. That's a problem.
At the faceoff dot, 5th-year Gerard Arceri, #41, is continuing to dominate. He won 70.8% of his faceoffs against the Terps, stopping Maryland from making that game even worse than it was.
Justin Inacio, Ohio State's draw man, struggled to win 50% of faceoffs last week as he adjusted to the new rules. If Gerard Arceri wins 70% again, the Buckeyes are in trouble. The game could, in large part, come down to this phase of the game.
When it comes down to it, I don't think the Buckeyes match up well with Penn State. The Nittany Lions play hyper aggressive defense, which doesn't bode well for the Buckeye offense. Colby Kneese has held the Buckeyes to 4 goals in 2 out of 3 games. Faceoffs are going to be a struggle. And the Buckeye defense has been in shambles. The game is also away from home. I just don't see the ship righting itself tomorrow.
Final prediction: Penn State 9, Buckeyes 6.
Hope I am wrong. But history isn't on their side.
Edit: Game is at noon on BTN+. Don't order it if you don't get it already. Feed is terrible.