Photo By: Don Speck - The Lima News
Written By: Ryan Lippert|@Lippert42
After a long wait and a ton of debate, Big Ten football finally returned last weekend. While there are some other interesting games in other conferences, there is a marquee matchup in this conference that football fans should be excited about. The Ohio State Buckeyes looked like they haven’t missed a beat from last season as they ran away with a 52-17 victory over Nebraska. Things will get tougher for them this weekend as they travel to Happy Valley in a classic Big Ten rivalry against the Penn State Nittany Lions who are looking to bounce back after their upset loss to Indiana this past weekend. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at this week’s College Football Game of the Week between the 18th ranked Penn State Nittany Lions and 3rd ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Justin Fields Looks to Continue His Heisman Campaign
As was expected with all of the returning talent and new additions, this Ohio State offense looked like one of the best units in the country against Nebraska. This was due in large part to their extremely talented quarterback, Justin Fields. Fields showed the country that his Heisman and high draft pick hype are real as he threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns, along with leading the team in rushing with 54 yards and a touchdown. He has an abundance of talent to throw to, led by junior receiver Chris Olave and sophomore Garrett Wilson. Wilson was the top target this past weekend with seven receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Julian Fleming and sophomore Jameson Williams will also be in the mix, along with tight ends Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell.
Fields will be facing a Penn State secondary that has some impressive talent. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do enough in a loss last weekend but they weren’t terrible as they gave up 170 yards and a touchdown through the air but also came away with an interception. Their secondary is led by a talented senior free safety in Lamont Wade who came away with the interception last weekend. He will be joined by senior transfer Jaquan Brisker at strong safety. At corner, they have an impressive senior in Tariq Castro-Fields on one side with redshirt freshman Joey Porter Jr. on the other side.
While their passing game is their strong suit, the Buckeyes will also have a dangerous rushing attack this season. They have a true two-headed monster in the backfield with sophomore Master Teague III and Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon. Sermon had more rushing yards with 48 on 11 carries last weekend but Teague had 41 yards on 12 carries with two touchdowns. It also helps when they have Fields at quarterback who is a true dual threat.
They are going up against a Penn State defensive front that lost their top playmaker in linebacker Micah Parsons as he decided to opt-out of this season to prepare for the draft. However, they still have some playmakers to work with, most notably senior defensive end Shaka Toney. Toney will be joined on the line by sophomore Jayson Oweh at the other end with senior Antonio Shelton and junior PJ Mustipher at the tackles. Behind them, junior Ellis Brooks is the starter at middle linebacker with junior Jesse Luketa and sophomore Brandon Smith on the outside. This defense did well against the run, holding Indiana to 41 yards on the ground but they did break when it counted, giving up three rushing touchdowns, so they will have to do better at finishing against the Buckeyes.
Who Will Step Up As a Playmaker For the Nittany Lions?
Coming into this season, Penn State was looking to move on with their offense after they lost one of the most electric players in the country, KJ Hamler, to the NFL. The player that I was excited to see and expected to be their guy in this offense was running back Journey Brown. Unfortunately, it is looking like Brown will likely miss this season due to a medical condition. In his absence, it was junior quarterback Sean Clifford who led the charge in the run game. He had 17 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown. As far as the actual backfield is concerned, sophomore Devyn Ford had the bulk of the carries with 20 for 69 yards and a touchdown. Fellow sophomore Noah Cain looks to also be in the mix.
They will be facing an Ohio State front seven that is very talented but did struggle at times against the run last weekend. They allowed 210 total rushing yards for two touchdowns to the Cornhuskers. Their front seven is led by a trio of very talented senior linebackers in Tuf Burland at middle linebacker with Peter Werner and Baron Browning on the outside. Werner led the team in tackles against Nebraska with seven. In front of them, the defensive line will consist of promising sophomore Zach Harrison and senior Jonathon Cooper at the ends with junior Tommy Togiai at nose and Auburn transfer Antwuan Jackson at tackle. Junior Tyreke Smith should also see significant snaps at end.
Clifford showed that he is a true dual-threat option at quarterback as he also made some plays in the passing game, throwing for 238 yards and three touchdowns. However, he will still need to clean up his decision making as he also threw two interceptions. His top target against Indiana was junior receiver Jahan Dotson who had four receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown but it is the highly-touted tight end, Pat Freiermuth, that I expect to be his go-to guy. Freiermuth finished with seven receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown last weekend. True freshmen receivers Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith will also be in the mix along with sophomore Daniel George and junior Cam Sullivan-Brown.
Clifford will be facing a tough Ohio State secondary that gave up 160 yards and zero touchdowns through the air last weekend. They are led by junior cornerback Shaun Wade that is trying to make his case as the top corner in this year’s draft class. He will be joined by fellow junior Sevyn Banks at the other corner with junior Josh Proctor at strong safety and senior Marcus Williamson at free safety.
As I already mentioned, this is a classic Big Ten rivalry game. It has also been one of the tougher matchups for the Buckeyes in years past. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, they won’t have the same electric atmosphere behind them due to the limited capacity in the stands, which would be a huge help for them against this dangerous Ohio State team. Penn State will make a few plays to keep things interesting for a brief moment but this Buckeyes team is just way too talented. Fields will continue his Heisman campaign as they will continue to spread the ball around to their many weapons. This will be a true test for Sean Clifford against this Buckeyes defense. If he steps up to lead this team to victory or even plays well enough to keep it close to the end, he will earn my full respect. However, I don’t see that happening as Ohio State has too many playmakers on all three levels of the defense that will give him problems. I have the Buckeyes pulling away to win this one 38-17.