Five Things: Taking Stock Ahead of Next Week's Clash with Penn State

By Chris Lauderback on October 22, 2017 at 10:45 am
Ohio State enjoyed an open week but not it's all hands on deck as the Buckeyes prepare for a season-changing battle with Penn State.

Urban Meyer's squad enjoyed an open week to rest and get guys healthy although some restless sleep would be understandable ahead of Saturday's date with Penn State after the Nittany Lions undressed Michigan in State College. 

Not only will Ohio State look to avenge last year's loss in Happy Valley (despite leading 21-7 entering the fourth quarter) but the Buckeyes can also bolster their 2017 resume with a signature win. 

Since there's no Buckeye game from yesterday to chat about, here are Five Things as we head straight toward either a springboard or a crossroads. 


Penn State's offense is no joke for a multitude of reasons beyond Saquon Barkley's ability to run the football. 

One in particular giving me a bit a heartburn is how quarterback Trace McSorley zeroes in on weak links in coverage (call them favorable matchups if you prefer). Last night McSorley hit a wide open Barkley, matched up with linebacker Mike McCray, for a 42-yard touchdown. (Random note: Barkley does not have a reception in two games against Ohio State.)

Other times, McSorley focused in on DaeSean Hamilton in the slot as he drew a host of unqualified defenders on the way to six catches for 115 yards. 

Tight end Mike Gesicki also had a 35-yard catch to set up a score as he feasted on a smaller defender. 

Any solid quarterback looks for favorable matchups but with the struggles from certain members of Ohio State's back seven in pass coverage, a dialed-in McSorley could spell trouble for the Buckeyes. 

Or, the linebackers could show growth in not biting so hard on playaction and getting out of position (as we saw in particular against Oklahoma) and a couple guys in the secondary who should expect to be challenged could come up big. 

Keeping Penn State's passing game in check could prove to be a bigger challenge than slowing Barkley on the ground. I'm looking forward to seeing if Ohio State's back seven has truly improved over the last five weeks containing the opponent's aerial attack. 


Keeping Saquon Barkley from going off on the ground is always important. 

Two years ago Barkley torched Ohio State for 194 rushing yards on 7.5 a pop but failed to reach the endzone in a 38-10 Buckeye win.

Last year, the Silver Bullets fared much better as Barkley fell just short of 100 yards rushing but again without a touchdown as the Buckeye defense allowed only seven points entering the fourth quarter. 

Ohio State's defense held Saquon Barkley to 99 rushing yards without a touchdown last season.

This year, Barkley's got 757 rushing yards through seven games but he's rushed for 100+ yards in only three outings; Akron (172), Iowa (211) and Michigan (108). 

Part of the lack of 100-yard rushing games is due to his consistently inconsistent rushing performances since he's been at Penn State and part of it is due to the fact he's become a legit threat as a receiver out of the backfield (32 rec, 448 yds). 

Still, he's averaging 16.7 rushing attempts per game and Ohio State's 18th-ranked rushing defense needs a big night to get Penn State's attack off schedule. 


Ohio State's special teams resemble a dumpster fire this year and of course we all remember the same was true the last time these two teams hooked up. 

Leading 21-14 in the fourth quarter, punter Cam Johnston had a punt blocked giving Penn State the ball at the Buckeye 28 triggering a field goal cutting Ohio State's lead to 21-17 with 9:33 left in regulation. 

Five minutes later, Meyer rushed his field goal unit out to try what would've been a career-long 45-yarder for Tyler Durbin despite having two timeouts left. As your nightmares recall, the Nittany Lions blocked Durbin's hurried effort and Grant Haley rumbled 60 yards for the game-winning points. 

Such special teams shenanigans are nothing new to Buckeye fans who've witnessed continued woes including the last two games in particular featuring a 100-yard kickoff return, a blocked field goal, kickoffs out of bounds and a delay of game flag on a kickoff. 

Kickoffs and kickoff coverage in general this year should be accompanied by a Benny Hill soundtrack and continued issues there could be costly considering Barkley sets up back deep for the Nittany Lions. 

Can Urban shore up the special teams in time to avoid another backbreaking faux pas? 


The national media will focus on Barkley but Ohio State brings a legit running back into the game in J.K. Dobbins. 

The true freshman rolls in to Saturday with 775 rushing yards on 7.8 per carry, both of which outshine Barkley's season totals. 

Could J.K. Dobbins be the x-factor Saturday night?

More importantly, the 7.8 per carry by Dobbins is nearly two yards better than Mike Weber's 2016 average illustrating Dobbins is a much more explosive back.

This is potentially huge in that Penn State would be wise to account for Dobbins and therefore may not completely sell out to stop the run, thus daring Barrett to beat it over the top, for fear Dobbins could hit a home run if he gets a crease at the second level.

The added cause for pause could aid Barrett, his o-line, and the receiving corps in having time and space to execute the passing offense in a big game – something we haven't seen in a while. 


In last year's battle with Penn State, true wide receivers accounted for just five receptions even though Barrett set a career-high with 28 completions on 43 attempts (65%). 

With the offensive line struggling (6 sacks) and the true wideouts failing to gain separation, Ohio State averaged a dismal 5.7 yards per attempt. 

That can't happen Saturday night. 

Ohio State's passing attack must keep the momentum built against admittedly lesser foes and attempt to punish Penn State if it chooses to stack the box and dare the Buckeyes to beat it over the top. 

Parris Campbell needs to gash PSU on a mesh route, Ben Victor must be a factor in the red zone, at least one of the trio of K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Terry McLaurin has to step up. Looking inside, maybe Marcus Baugh can find some room down the seam on 3rd down to keep a touchdown drive alive.

Bottom line, the combo of Barrett, the o-line, and his entire crop of pass catchers are humming the last few weeks and must prove the production can be sustained against better competition. If not, the Buckeyes will ,most likely be soul searching come Sunday morning. 

View 48 Comments