No. 18 Penn State faces must-win against No. 3 Ohio State
With Penn State’s loss to Indiana last week, Saturday’s game between No. 3 Ohio State and No. 18 Penn State has lost some luster but not its importance when they play at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.
The two teams were preseason favorites to represent the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff when they opened the season belatedly, and Ohio State (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) upheld its end with a 52-17 pounding of Nebraska in Columbus.
However, the Nittany Lions (0-1, 0-1) were upset 36-35 in overtime at Indiana. The Hoosiers tied the game with 22 seconds left in regulation on a touchdown and two-point conversion, and then scored another TD and controversial two-pointer to win it in OT.
Now, the Nittany Lions are facing an 0-2 start for the first time since 2012 with the specter of losing all championship hopes before November.
“You invest so much that you’ve got to find a way to move on and move on quickly, no matter the results,” Penn State coach James Franklin said Tuesday.
The Nittany Lions will be without running back Noah Cain, who sustained a season-ending injury against the Hoosiers. He had moved into the starting role after Journey Brown has been ruled out, possibly for the season, with a medical issue.
Ohio State could be without wideout Chris Olave because of an injury. He had six catches for 104 yards vs. Nebraska.
The Nittany Lions won’t have energy from 100,000-plus fans due to Big Ten COVID-19 regulations prohibiting public ticket sales. The Buckeyes discovered that last week in their home opener,
“It was weird,” Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields said of playing in Ohio Stadium devoid of spectators except for about 1,300 relatives of the players and coaches. “I was looking up to the stands to celebrate with the fans, but there was nobody out there.”
The lack of fans didn’t hurt Fields’ performance. He was nearly flawless in completing a remarkable 20 of 21 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns.
The Ohio State defense, however, showed weaknesses that Penn State will try to exploit. Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez rushed for 77 yards and backup Luke McCaffrey had a 47-yard run among his 87 yards.
Penn State QB Sean Clifford rushed 17 times for 119 yards against the Hoosiers and will need to use his arm more against an Ohio State secondary that replaced three starters from last season but was rarely tested against Nebraska. He was intercepted twice by Indiana.
“They’re going to be fast. They’re going to be explosive. They always are,” Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth said of the Ohio State defense.
After Penn State dropped 10 spots in the poll this week, the matchup with Ohio State will be the first since 2016 that both teams are not ranked in the top 10.
That doesn’t matter, said Ohio State coach Ryan Day.
“They’re always going to be hungry when they play us, but certainly when you lose a game like that, everyone’s a little bit more hungry,” he said. “This is a very, very well coached team. They play well in all three phases. We have our hands full this week.”
It might be noted that in the 2016 game, unranked Penn State beat No. 2 Ohio State 24-21. It’s the Nittany Lions’ only win in the past eight meetings.
–Field Level Media