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5 keys for PSU vs. Ohio State: Lions need to air it out against weak defense
October 26, 2012 - Cory Giger
Five things to look for as Penn State plays one of its biggest games in years -- for reasons on and off the field -- against No. 9 Ohio State.
SUBHD: No. 1: Let it fly
Colleague Neil Rudel has mentioned several times over the years that if the Nittany Lions had to throw the ball 40 times, they probably would lose. While largely true during the previous era, the fact that PSU likely will have to throw at least 40 times to win this game shows just how different the program is now under Bill O'Brien.
The formula is easy to figure out:
* Matt McGloin leads the Big Ten in passing at 255 yards per game and averages 37 pass attempts, with a high of 51 against Northwestern.
* Ohio State gives up 272 yards through the air.
* The Buckeyes have a weak defense overall, especially in the secondary and even at the linebacker spots.
* Since no one has been able to stop PSU's NASCAR offense yet, look for O'Brien to run it a lot.
* The Buckeyes have an explosive offense and also like to go no-huddle, so there almost certainly will be a lot of points scored by both teams. The Lions will either need to throw it a ton to outscore Ohio State, or throw it a ton trying to catch up if they fall behind.
The last time McGloin faced an Urban Meyer-coached team, he threw five interceptions in the 2010 Outback Bowl loss to Florida. McGloin is a very different quarterback now -- smarter, more efficient, less of a gambler -- he's working in a far more dynamic offense and he's going up against a bad defense.
Look for McGloin to be around 29-of-46 for 330 yards, four TDs and one interception.
SUBHD: No. 2: Protect McGloin
Since he's going to be throwing a lot, the Lions have to make sure to keep the Buckeyes away from the quarterback. That's tough to do with so many dropbacks, and you can bet Ohio State is going to bring loads of pressure whenever it can to try and drill McGloin. Left tackle Donovan Smith must have a good game to protect the blind side.
If McGloin were to get knocked out of the game, Penn State would have virtually no chance to keep up with the Buckeyes' offense.
SUBHD: No. 3: Special situations
Penn State's kicking game has been dreadful, while Ohio State has strong special teams, having blocked six kicks already. The Buckeyes have a big advantage at punter (Ben Buchanan averages 42.2 yards to Alex Butterworth's 35.7), and the Lions still have no idea what to expect on field goals.
Would O'Brien trust place-kicker Sam Ficken with the game on the line? Or would he go for it on, say, fourth-and-5 from the OSU 19 with a minute to go and down two or three points instead of trying a 36-yard field goal? That's the kind of decision the first-year head coach had better be prepared to make in this type of game.
SUBHD: No. 4: OSU running game
Quarterback Braxton Miller gets all the attention (see below), but running back Carlos Hyde gives the Buckeyes a big threat. The 6-foot, 235-pounder has had 140, 156 and 91 yards in his last three games and often takes direct snaps when Miller gets a breather.
SUBHD: No. 5: Player to watch
Miller is the most exciting player on the field in virtually all of Ohio State's games, but he's coming off a neck injury last week at Purdue and might not be 100 percent.
He's a dynamite runner, averaging 120 yards per game, but the Lions' have a strong front seven that will be geared up to stop him.
Whether PSU will devote one spy to keep tabs on Miller at all times will be interesting to see, as opposed to simply staying in the base defense.
Either way, the Lions must force Miller to try and beat them with his arm. Can he do that? We'll see.
The Buckeyes love to go for big plays, with Miller airing it out deep, and the Lions' secondary always has to be aware of speedy receiver Devin Smith (averaging 22 yards with six TDs on 23 catches).
Prediction: Penn State 33, Ohio State 30
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.
PSU (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) vs. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0)
Where: Beaver Stadium
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m.
Line: Danny Sheridan had PSU favored by 1 early Friday evening, but a few hours later Ohio State was favored by 1. Most Vegas lines had it as a pick 'em.