Ohio State football plays its neighboring rival in late November with a Big Ten banner and national title aspirations on the line.
Penn State vs Ohio State (-18.5, 57.5 over/under) , Saturday at 12:00 p.m. ET (FOX)
It’s a familiar story for Buckeye fans but with a twist — the opponent is Penn State, not Michigan, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday. The Wolverines will have to wait a week to get a crack at the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor.
The schedule maker didn’t do the No. 2 Buckeyes (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) favors this season by placing what has turned out to be OSU’s two toughest challenges at the end of the regular season.
No. 8 Penn State (9-1, 6-1) plays at Ohio Stadium on Saturday still vying for a shot at a College Football Playoff even though they slipped from the fourth spot following a 31-26 loss at Minnesota.
Winning against the Buckeyes and Rutgers would put the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten title game on Dec. 7 as the East Division representative with a potential rematch against Minnesota on Nov. 9.
But first things first: trying to erase some demons vs. Ohio State, which can earn a berth in the conference championship game by defeating the Nittany Lions, as well as solidify its national playoff footing.
Recent history suggests the game will once again go down to the wire. The last two meetings have been decided by a point and four of the past five were one-possession results.
Each team rightly could make an argument for a three-game winning streak in the series but it’s the Buckeyes who’ve won the past two.
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The average margin of victory in the five games since James Franklin became coach Penn State coach in 2014 is 8.0, including a 38-10 loss to the Buckeyes in 2015. He is 1-4 against OSU.
“We’ve played them as well as probably anybody over that period of time,” Franklin said. “But obviously, not good enough. We’ve got to take that next step.”
In 2016, second-ranked Ohio State led 21-7 in the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium, but the Nittany Lions used a blocked punt and return of a blocked field goal for the stunning 24-21 victory.
The following season the No. 6 Buckeyes beat No. 2 Penn State 39-38 by scoring two touchdowns in the last 4:20 as quarterback J.T. Barrett was 13 for 13 for 170 yards and three TDs in the fourth quarter.
A year ago, fourth-ranked OSU rallied from a 12-point deficit with eight minutes to play to defeat No. 9 Penn State 27-26 in a return to Happy Valley.
“We always know playing Penn State is going to be a rough game whether we’re at home or on the road,” Ohio State defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “We always know we’re going to go four quarters with them.”
Therein could be an advantage for the Nittany Lions. They’ve played five games with the final margin of seven points or less this season.
The Buckeyes are the second team in the last 100 years to win its first 10 games by 24 or more points. The 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers were the other team to accomplish that feat.
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins has not played the second half of four games because of the blowouts but had his own question as an answer to whether the Buckeyes were ready for a four-quarter game.
“Why does it have to be a four-quarter game?” Dobbins. “If I do play for four quarters, then I’ll be ready for it.
“And I know both of the teams (Penn State and Michigan) we have coming up, they’re great programs, great teams. So, it will be tough. We’ll see what happens.”
Penn State hopes to have receiver KJ Hamler back after he was injured in the most recent game vs. Indiana. Last season vs. the Buckeyes, Hamler had a 93-yard TD reception among his four catches for 138 yards.
Franklin was evasive Tuesday whether Hamler will play but his ability to get open quickly would be invaluable to quarterback Sean Clifford, who will be facing fired up defensive end Chase Young.
Young returns from a two-game suspension for taking an illegal loan. He is second in the nation with 13 ½ sacks but first in sacks per game (1.69) and before his sanctions was being talked about as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate.
“Chase Young is back, just in time for good ole Penn State,” Franklin joked.
The defenses of each team will be on display.
Ohio State leads the country in total defense (216.4 yards/game) passing defense (126.0) and scoring defense (9.8 points/game).
“There’s athletes everywhere on the field, on the defense,” Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth said. “Whenever they sub, bring in new personnel, they don’t skip a beat. They’re fast, explosive.”
The Nittany Lions are fourth in rush defense (75.9) and 17th in total defense (316.2).
“We all know we have been in some games that we have had more talent than some of the other teams we have played,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “This is a team that talent equates.
“So, when that happens it goes back to discipline, it goes back to fundamentals, it goes back to toughness, all of those things that come into play when your talent no longer matters.”