Last Call: Final Thoughts, Questions and Predictions Ahead of Ohio State’s Showdown with Penn State

By 11W Staff on October 31, 2020 at 7:30 am
Baron Browning
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

A week ago, Ohio State opened up its season at home with a win against Nebraska, and on Saturday it'll make its road debut while facing its first ranked opponent this year.

The No. 3 Buckeyes (1-0) will do battle with the No. 18 Nittany Lions (0-1) in a much-anticipated matchup between Big Ten powers in front of Beaver Stadium's almost entirely empty stands.

With the game set to kick off at 7:30 p.m., several of our Eleven Warriors staff members gathered to bring our last thoughts, questions and predictions about Ohio State-Penn State.

Final Thoughts

A win is all that matters

Surely, Ohio State fans would love to see the Buckeyes roll over the Nittany Lions tonight and look like a national championship team. As competitive as recent games against Penn State have been, though, tonight isn't about style points.

I think this game could end up being tighter than many expect, because I believe the Nittany Lions are better than the scoreboard showed last week and will be hungry to prove it this week. But if Ohio State can bring home a win from Happy Valley, tonight should be considered a success no matter how close the game might be. We can get back to nitpicking when the Buckeyes play Rutgers next week.

– Dan Hope

This game could be close into the fourth quarter

Ohio State has the superior talent advantage. There might only be three or four guys on Penn State’s roster who would start in Columbus. But I’m still of the thought that the recent history in this series matters and that Penn State will have as good of a game plan against the Buckeyes as any other Big Ten team this season.

I predicted a 38-24 win for the Buckeyes, but I’m not laying any money down on that -12.5 spread. With Penn State’s back against the wall, this one may be tight until the final 10 minutes.

– Zack Carpenter

This is a prove-it game for about half the roster

If you feel like you have a good handle on what’s about to happen Saturday night, congratulations. You’re doing better than me.

As of right now, I think there’s a lot we still don’t know on both sides of the ball. Trey Sermon and Master Teague had pedestrian season debuts. The interior of the offensive line didn't live up to its expectation in Week 1. The offensive tackles played outstanding versus Nebraska but have a steep step up in competition this week. Ohio State's pass rush didn't do much in the opener, and the line didn't always make running overly difficult. The linebackers had a fine if unspectacular debut. A young, untested secondary enters a top-20 showdown after having faced minimal downfield passes last week.

I'm picking Ohio State to win comfortably (due to the Justin Fields-powered offense), but I'm doing so without a ton of certainty about a bunch of players on both offense and defense. A lot of unproven talent on this team. One way or another, we’ll to find out a bunch about these guys.

– Colin Hass-Hill

Penn State is better than last week's final score

I get the impression a lot of Ohio State fans watched about the last 5 percent of last week's Penn State vs. Indiana game, hopping in front of a TV as soon as Indiana had one last drive to tie the game and staying to watch the Hoosier's pull the upset in overtime.

The problem is, outside of those two minutes and a few untimely miscues, Penn State absolutely dominated that game, outgaining Indiana 488 to 211 and out-possessing them 40 minutes to 20 minutes. They held the Hoosiers to just 46 yards on the ground for 1.6 yards per carry.

Don't let that final score fool you, this is a good and talented team.

– Kevin Harrish


Who covers Pat Freiermuth?

If Pete Werner stays at Will linebacker for this game, does Ohio State have anyone who can consistently match up with Penn State's 6-foot-5, 258-pound star tight end in coverage? I'm not sure it does, which means the Buckeyes might have to get creative to effectively defend Freiermuth.

Could Werner move back to Sam for just one game, or at least in pass-defending packages? Do the Buckeyes trust Baron Browning to handle that kind of coverage responsibility, or could Marcus Hooker or Josh Proctor take on that role in a two-safety defense? Might we see Shaun Wade cover Freiermuth when he's flexed out as a receiver, given that Freiermuth is Penn State's best offensive weapon and Wade is Ohio State's best defensive back? Or do the Buckeyes play mostly zone coverage and try to eliminate one-on-one matchups with the tight end?

I don't know the best answer to this question, but these are the kind of questions Kerry Coombs and Greg Mattison are paid more than a million dollars to answer. It's time for them to earn their money.

– Dan Hope

How will Olave look?

My main question is the same as Dan’s because I think, defensively, that’s the biggest key for the Buckeyes and that’s the No. 1 matchup I’ll be watching.

Looking at the offense, though, Chris Olave looked brilliant in the opener. Yeah, he dropped a touchdown pass that was a bit under thrown that he should have probably caught, and he lost a fumble after being crunched on a play where he got injured and left the game.

Other than that, he picked up where he left off from last season and looks like he’ll be competing for the crown of being called the nation’s best receiver.

Olave was listed as available on Friday’s status report, so we shouldn’t expect him to be limited, and he should be a full go in theory. But, honestly, maybe the more prudent question isn’t whether or not Olave will have another great performance. The better question might be, will it matter?

Even if Olave doesn’t look the same, I could see Garrett Wilson putting in another head-turning performance, Jameson Williams being the dynamic playmaker many expected him to be or one of the freshmen receivers — like Julian Fleming in his homecoming — stepping up in a big way.

– Zack Carpenter

Do we see some more moving pieces on Ohio State’s defense?

For the most part, Ohio State’s defense remained fairly vanilla in Week 1. Maybe that was the case because the Buckeyes actually plan to play a relatively basic defense. But perhaps Kerry Coombs and Greg Mattison didn’t go crazy since they knew the Nittany Lions waited in the wings.

We heard a lot about how Ohio State wants to match personnel with opposing offenses. Coaches spoke about the defense's plans to rotate and make sure players are placed in advantageous positions. It was seen as a way to replace a bevy of outgoing impact players. Against Nebraska, the Buckeyes didn't need to do anything out of the ordinary.

On Saturday, however, Penn State's offense might force the Silver Bullets to get a little bit more creative.

– Colin Hass-Hill

Can Ohio State run the ball?

It's no secret that the Buckeyes struggled to get the running game going against Nebraska last week and looked extremely 2018 at times trying to convert in short-yardage situations. That's not exactly where you want to be heading into arguably the biggest regular-season game of the year.

Now, to be clear, I don't actually think Ohio State's going to noticeably struggle to run the ball this whole season. I think it's way, way too early to hit the panic button after just one game. Remember, at this point last year there were forum threads calling for Master Teague to supplant J.K. Dobbins and everything turned out fine. I sincerely believe the Buckeyes get the running game going at some point this season.

That said, Penn State is not exactly the team you want to be facing while trying to figure out your ground-game issues. They held Indiana to 41 yards on the ground and 1.6 yards per carry last week. There's a chance this could be unfun for the Buckeyes.

– Kevin Harrish


Trey Sermon starts to live up to the hype

Sermon didn't stand out in his Ohio State debut, but he did look better as the game progressed and ended up finishing as the Buckeyes' leading rusher for the day with 55 yards on 11 carries. Now that he has a game under his belt and should be more comfortable in Ohio State's offense, I think we start to see him emerge and make some key plays out of the backfield for the Buckeyes tonight.

– Dan Hope

Justin Fields throws for 300 yards, five TDs

Justin Fields was almost perfect in the season opener. I think he’s going to surpass that this week with another star turn as he gains ground on Trevor Lawrence in the Heisman race with Lawrence set to miss Saturday’s game following a positive COVID-19 test.

– Zack Carpenter

Jameson Williams scores a touchdown of 70+ yards

I thought about going the same route as Zack. I, too, think Justin Fields is good at football.

But I decided to get a little bit bolder. So, say hello to Jameson Williams, the speedster out of St. Louis who opened the season with one reception for seven yards in the 35-point win against Nebraska. K.J. Hamler beat Shaun Wade for a 93-yard scamper two years ago. I'm predicting Williams returns the favor on Saturday.

– Colin Hass-Hill

The Buckeye defense forces three turnovers

Penn State's offense looked pretty good last week, putting up 488 yards of total offense and 35 points against a solid Indiana defense.

Quarterback Sean Clifford himself a nice day, going 24-for-35 for 238 yards and three touchdowns through the air and was the team's leading rusher with 17 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

That said, there were also a few disasters as Clifford threw two absolutely horrific picks and Penn State coughed up a fumble deep in Indiana territory. I would not be shocked at all to see a few miscues from the Nittany Lions, especially in the second half as they try to force a few things with the Buckeyes starting to pull away.

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