No. 9 Ohio State at Penn State
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ESPN
While it’s easy to crack (bad) jokes and call Saturday’s showdown between Ohio State and Penn State the “The Ineligi-Bowl” the truth is that while this game might not have postseason implications, it is still a matchup between the two best teams in the Big Ten right now. By far.
It is also a matchup between two of the truly elite offensive minds in the game, Urban Meyer and Bill O’Brien, a matchup that- if we get lucky as college football fans- we’ll be able to circle on the calendars for years to come.
So who’ll have the edge when these two past and future college football superpowers get together on Saturday?
For Ohio State to Win: To be blunt they need someone besides Braxton Miller to step up.
The simple truth is that if you’ve watched Ohio State this year, you know that Miller has become an uncomfortably large part of the Ohio State offense, at least up until the moment a Purdue defender literally sent him to the hospital last week. Before then, Miller was Ohio State’s “Mr. Everything,” and even now leads the Buckeyes in passing (1,384 yards) and rushing (959 yards) while adding 21 combined touchdowns. There are even rumors that at times Miller has kicked extra points, filled Gatorade bottles and sold hot dogs during halftime as well. Miller is simply that good.
Regardless, if there was one silver-lining from Miller’s freak injury last Saturday, it’s that the Ohio State offense proved they could pick up yards without Miller. Kenny Guiton led the game-tying and game-winning scoring drives, Carlos Hyde had his third straight 90+ yard rushing game, and five different Buckeyes had at least two pass catches.
For Ohio State, beating Purdue wasn’t the “Braxton Miller Show” but instead, a total team effort.
They’ll need the same this Saturday in Happy Valley.
For Penn State to Win: Really, they just need to keep doing what they’re doing. That’s because since losing their first two games to open the season, the Nittany Lions are now 5-0, including a signature 38-14 beat down of Iowa last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
And while Penn State will always be “Linebacker U.” (This year is no exception; the Nittany Lions rank 13th nationally in scoring defense), as crazy as it sounds, the difference in 2012 has nothing to do with anyone on the defensive side of the ball, but instead quarterback Matt McGloin.
Yes, we’re being serious: Matt McGloin has been the difference for Penn State in 2012, and surprisingly one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten over the last few weeks as well. In the Nittany Lions’ last five games McGloin has been phenomenal, throwing for 10 touchdowns and just one interception and averaging 266 yards a game passing. In a related story, Penn State has won all five of those games.
If McGloin can play anywhere close to that level against an admittedly shaky Ohio State defense (The Buckeyes did just give up 49 points to freakin’ Indiana two weeks ago), it could be enough for the Nittany Lions to pull the shocker against the Buckeyes.
Key Player, Ohio State: I know, I know, we just spent a couple hundred words above explaining why someone had to step up for Braxton Miller (who will play, but be at less than 100 percent). Still, we’d be lying if we said that he wasn’t the difference in this game.
Understand that while the statistics above are important, the numbers don’t tell the complete story about how important Miller is to the offense. Really, he’s the Buckeyes great equalizer; the one player who separates Ohio State from all their opponents, and one of those rare players who always seems to come up with the big play when his team needs it the most. Whether it’s with his feet or his arm, for a first down or a touchdown, there is no one in college football who means more to his team (except maybe Collin Klein) than Braxton Miller does.
Even just having Miller on the field should be a huge emotional lift for the Buckeyes. Whether it’ll be enough to get them a win is an entirely different story.
Key Player, Penn State: Staying with the theme of this article, we know that Penn State needs to slow down the Buckeyes running attack, a big reason why senior linebacker Mike Mauti might be their most important player.
Look, the truth with Ohio State is that whether Braxton Miller is at 100 percent or not, the Buckeyes will run the ball Saturday. A lot. That’s also why for Penn State to win--- wait for it--- they need to stop the run. Crazy, I know.
Either way, Mauti is key. Not only is he the spiritual leader of this defense, but the literal one as well. His 65 tackles leads this team and 35 solo tackles are tops as well.
And truth be told, Mauti will have to be at his absolute best to slow down Miller, Hyde and college football’s 10th ranked rushing attack (averaging a cool 249 yards on the ground per game) on Saturday. It’s a big task, but a challenge the senior will be up for.
Key Stat: Four, which is the number of combined points Ohio State has won their two road games this season. That four-point difference came in a one point victory against Michigan State in East Lansing, and a too-close-for-comfort three point win at Indiana.
Playing their toughest road test of the season are the Buckeyes in line for their first loss of the season?
If recent road tests are any indication, they just might be.
For all his opinion, analysis and insight, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.