Coming off their biggest win under head coach James Franklin with some extra rest, Penn State players have had plenty of time to contemplate their looming game against No. 2 Ohio State.
During the open weekend, they watched as Wisconsin nearly toppled the Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) on Saturday. But the Nittany Lions will need to use their own approach to stop Ohio State’s fourth-ranked scoring offense backed by the third-ranked scoring defense in the nation.
“Wisconsin played them extremely well,” Franklin said. “But they are traditional pro-style, pound-you offense and then their defense is playing so well that it allows them to play that and not have to drop back and throw the ball and do things like that. Obviously that’s a different style than we’re playing right now. So that film for our offense isn’t overly valuable.”
Penn State’s offense has improved and the running game was explosive with 372 yards against Maryland, but Ohio State has been consistently great nearly all season. With quarterback J.T. Barrett leading the way, the Buckeyes are averaging more than 516 yards of offense, 300 yards on the ground.
It’s not a favorable matchup for the Nittany Lions who are still unsure if starting linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell will play. They’ve missed the last five and four games, respectively, and as of Tuesday had not been cleared to practice. Franklin did say veteran players who require less practice can be cleared later in the week, however.
“We know they are important to this team,” cornerback Grant Haley said. “They have a lot of experience that they bring to the table.”
Getting Bell and Cabinda back would be big boosts. They both helped limit Ohio State’s offense the last time the teams met at Beaver Stadium. That 31-24 loss in double overtime was the closest Penn State’s come to beating Ohio State in the 11 years since the Nittany Lions’ last home win in the series. Penn State is 0-4 since they won a memorable game where fans stormed the field in 2005.
Since that game, Penn State has gone 11-25 against Top 25 teams and 0-9 against top 5 teams. Four of those losses to top 5 teams have come to Ohio State.
“They know this is a big game,” Franklin said. “We don’t need to tell them that. They understand how big this game is. They see it all over social media and everything else and walking around town and on campus and from their families and ticket requests and all those things. They get it.”
By Tuesday afternoon, students who camp outside their entrance to the stadium had tents set up nearly to the road, another indication of the game’s gravitas. It prompted Franklin to mention the game’s atmosphere and expressed his desire for fans to show up and be heard.
Urban Meyer quipped earlier this week about the planned white-out, where everyone in the 106,572-seat complex wears white.
“We have another tough task, a team that’s 4-0 at home,” Meyer said. “I called it — the last two times, wish they saved the white outs for other games, but I guess they used it for our game. It’s one of the top five atmospheres, again, in college football.”
Haley has felt the ground rumble with white-out crowds in the past. He and his teammates will try to maintain the pulse at their feet by slowing the Buckeyes’ rushing attack and disrupting Barrett’s time to extend plays with his feet.
“We need to make them a one-dimensional team,” Haley said. “We obviously need to stop the run, quarterback runs, especially.”