The series between Ohio State and Penn State has reached new, intense levels over the last couple of years. From the double OT walk-off sack by Joey Bosa in 2014, to the blocked field goal in 2016, and the Buckeyes coming back after being down 18 in 2017, this game is quickly becoming one of the most exciting in college football.
James Franklin’s team went into that Columbus stunner ranked second in the country. If they had been able to pull off the victory, the Nittany Lions would have been well on their way to the Big Ten East title.
Both teams would end up suffering upsets the following week. Ohio State was dismantled in Iowa City by Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes. Meanwhile Michigan State waited out a rain delay to hit a last second field goal.
Penn State would not lose another game in 2017. The tandem of McSorley and Barkley led the Nittany Lions to a Fiesta Bowl win over Washington.
McSorley may be the best in the country
Entering his third season as a starter, McSorley is the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback in the Big Ten. Last year, he threw for 3,570 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on a 66.5% completion percentage. The Penn State senior has also thrown for a touchdown in 28 straight games.
McSorley put up record breaking numbers despite working behind an injury-laden offensive line. Barring injuries, 2018 may yield the best offensive line in State College under James Franklin.
The receiving game will have to deal with replacing three of their top four pass catchers. DaeSean Hamilton caught 53 passes for 857 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tight end Mike Gesicki matched Hamilton’s touchdown total, and Saquon Barkley was a major factor in the pass game.
The Penn State offense does return Juwan Johnson. Johnson broke out in his last four games, averaging 178 yards receiving. DeAndre Thompkins is the other returning starter among the receivers and caught three touchdowns in 2017.
A glaring departure comes not from the field, but rather the press box. Coordinator Joe Moorhead was an offensive genius in Happy Valley. Moorhead took the head coaching job at Mississippi State over the offseason and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne will be his replacement.
Nittany Lion defense returns just three starters
The defense stands to be the clear challenge for James Franklin’s staff in 2018. Co-defensive coordinators Brent Pry and Tim Banks must reload a defense that was in the upper echelon of the Big Ten last year, but loses eight starters.
The Nittany Lions lose every one of their top five tacklers, and seven of the top eight. Linebacker Koa Farmer enters his senior year and started all thirteen games a year ago. Farmer was sixth on the team with 48 tackles.
The defensive line should not see much of a drop off as the other two returning starters reside in this position group. Ryan Buchholz and Shareef Miller are the pair of juniors that lead this deep defensive line.
The secondary is where Penn State should be most concerned. Four starters are gone from this unit, but Amani Oruwariye still made Second Team All-Big Ten in 2017. John Reid is coming off of a medical redshirt and started two games two seasons ago. The secondary will be more experienced than you would think for a unit that lost four starters at four positions, but the front seven will be the core of this defense.
- Ohio State holds the series lead at 18-0-14.
- Ohio State won the last meeting 39-38.
- ESPN FPI gives Ohio State a 51.8% chance of victory.
- The lower ranked team has won just four of the last 27 games.
Beaver Stadium in State College, Penn. very well be the most difficult place to play in college football. And that is before you factor in that the Nittany Lions will be playing Ohio State. Penn State views Ohio State as Public Enemy No. 1, and the Buckeyes will be entering the famous White Out on Sept. 29. A rookie quarterback having to go on the road in perhaps the toughest environment in college football? In a revenge game for Penn State, no less?
It is a daunting task. But, Penn State has a lot more holes to fill than the Buckeyes for this early season matchup. The Nittany Lions lose three of their top four pass catchers, and seven of their top eight tacklers. Not to mention the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
Besides the previous two years, the higher ranked team has had the clear upper hand in this series. Ohio State should be that team heading into State College, and I think they get the job done.
Ohio State 38, Penn State 34