The video above is Ryan Day’s full press conference from this week as Ohio State prepares for its game against Penn State.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — After showing what it could do against a scary defense, second-ranked Ohio State is back at it again Saturday, facing 10th-ranked Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania, at noon.
The Buckeyes are coming off of a resounding 54-10 victory over Iowa, a game that featured six takeaways from the defense even as their offense wasn’t humming as smoothly as it has most of the season.
Although it’s hard to envision when a team scores 54 points, the Buckeyes’ offense had fits and starts early against Iowa. They settled for three red-zone field goals before finally finding their stride late in the first half and into the third quarter.
In Penn State, OSU will face its best opponent of the season. Iowa was pedestrian on offense, but the Nittany Lions have some real threats and a veteran quarterback in Sean Clifford.
Penn State has puncher’s chance
The Buckeyes head to Penn State as 15-point favorites, but don’t be surprised if this one stays closer a lot longer than Ohio State fans want it to.
For one thing, each of the last five matchups has been games between ranked teams, as is this one. Penn State is coming off a win over Minnesota. Ohio State has won five straight in the series, including six of the last seven in State College. Each of the last three has been double-digits wins for the Buckeyes, but four of the prior five were one-score games.
Look no further than 2016, a game that Ohio State dominated in Happy Valley but lost 24-21 when Penn State blocked a field goal and returned it 60 yards for the clinching TD. The Nittany Lions scored the final 17 points of the game to spoil the Buckeyes’ undefeated season.
“There are certain weeks you feel like you match up better whether it’s scheme, or there’s certain weeks whether you match up whether it’s personnel better than other weeks,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “There’s no doubt about that.
“You may have an injury at a position or two and that position is where their strength is. There’s a lot of things that factor into it. … You’ve got to be able to feel like you can line up and match up from a skill and athleticism perspective with an Ohio State.”
Nittany Lions have roared loudly against the pass
Penn State is fifth nationally in opposing passer rating and has allowed just six touchdown passes all season.
A secondary led by all-Big Ten candidates Ji’Ayir Brown (41 tackles, 3 interceptions, 4 quarterback hurries) and Joey Porter Jr. (21 tackles, 11 pass breakups) will challenge Ohio State more than it has been all year. The Buckeyes’ deep stable of receivers may struggle to get open, and that could leave quarterback CJ Stroud running off his spot more than he wants to.
Of Porter, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said, “You just notice his length and his ability to get his hands on you. He gets his hands on a lot of passes, so we have to get creative with our play calls.”
Stroud has looked mortal when rattled on a few occasions, so that might be Penn State’s best path toward an upset. Look for the Buckeyes to use a lot of play-action to freeze Penn State’s active linebackers.
It appears receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba will play against Penn State without restriction. He was in for 22 plays against the Hawkeyes and caught one pass for seven yards.
Penn State has intercepted at least one pass in each of the last five games and has limited two of the last three opponents to less than 41% completions.
Day knows that Stroud will be challenged, but he isn’t the only one who will have to work hard.
“You just have to identify what you did well and what you didn’t do well and make those corrections moving forward. Your result is a reflection of your preparation,” Day said.
Michigan gashed Penn State for 418 rushing yards and four touchdowns, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Buckeyes decide to lean on their two-headed rushing game of TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. It would give the offensive line a chance to prove that last week’s issues were a fluke and might prove the surest way to wear down the Nittany Lions.
“They do a good job of being balanced,” Franklin said. “[Stroud] is what makes them go. He’s the one that distributes the ball to all those different playmakers and does a really good job doing it. He throws on the run as well as he throws from the pocket.”
Buckeyes will face veteran leader
It seems as if Clifford has been at the controls forever. The Cincinnati native is his sixth year and fourth as a starter. He has not beaten Ohio State and would love nothing more than to go out a winner.
“Big challenge,” Day said. “The combination of quarterback and wide receiver will be the biggest challenge so far.”
Clifford has completed nearly 62% of his passes with 13 touchdowns through the air and four more on the ground. Accuracy and consistency have been issues for him, but grit and determination have not been.
Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is impressed with what he has seen of Clifford.
“The quarterback is veteran, he’s very smart,” he said. “He’s just a really good quarterback, he’s an operator. And the receivers, they’re skillful. They can go up and win a 50/50 ball. I just think that whole operation will be a challenge for us.”
Those receivers are a good one-two punch, with sophomore Parker Washington (30 catches, 1 TD) and senior Mitchell Tinsley (28 catches, 4 TDs), a transfer from Western Kentucky. Tight end Brenton Strange is a big and inviting target who has four touchdowns.
There may be a few tricks in Knowles’s bag after his charges forced six Iowa turnovers.
“The growth process in terms of us implementing the entire system, we’re getting there,” Knowles said. “There are some things we haven’t had to use yet. Maybe this is the week. A lot of it depends on what we see from them, formations and tempo.”
Penn State’s problem a year ago was an inability to run the football, and for the running backs to stay healthy. There is no such issue in 2022 as freshmen Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen have combined for nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, and together average over 5.5 yards per carry. Ohio State is sixth nationally in yards allowed per carry (2.85) but has yet to face a ground game as good as this one.