Here are the NCAA stats for Penn State versus Ohio State.
The over-all stat average difference this week (43.43 vs. 54.97) is even greater than last week (46.92 vs. 52.14 for Iowa.) And we all know how well that worked out for the Hawkeyes. On paper, Penn State should have an easier time with the Buckeyes.
The strength of Ohio State is their offense, and this is primarily on the ground. How much last week's injury to Braxton Miller will have an effect remains to be seen.
I actually am liking this match-up. We have the better passing offense, and they have a significantly worse pass defense. Both teams are tough defensively in the red zone, and against the run. Penn State's rank in red zone offense still includes early season struggles and a lot of missed field goals, so that stat is skewed. In other words, I think we are a better red zone team now than we were in the first four games.
Ohio State also appears to be better at fourth down conversions, but they have only attempted 8 conversions, making 6. Penn State, on the other hand, by virtue of no kicking threat, have tried on fourth down 23 times! And many of those were fourth and longer than a yard or two--I suspect most of the Buckeye's conversion were on fourth and short.
We are still woefully weak in almost all special teams areas--punting, kick-offs and returns. In a close game, special teams problems could be huge. I don't expect a quick fix here, so we have to hope that the offense can score enough points and control the ball like they did against Iowa to keep the special teams element a non-factor in this game.
It will be key for Penn State to jump on top quickly--it will keep the crowd in the game and put the pressure on the Buckeyes to respond in a hostile environment. It will also be key to limit the mistakes as much as possible--fumbles, returns for TDs, etc.
I also fear the referees. Neither of these teams is going to the post-season. The outcome means nothing in terms of Big Ten representation in the bowl season. But the Buckeyes are ranked in the Top 10, and one of only two Big Ten teams in the AP poll (THEM is ranked 20th, but may lose on the road to Nebraska this weekend.) Thus, in the eyes of the conference, it is essential that the Buckeyes prevail. Yeah, there's replay, if the Bucks don't line up faster than an offensive lineman at an all you can eat buffet and run a play before it can be reviewed. Mark my words--the calls on the field will go in Ohio State's favor if there is any question, and we can only pray that instant replay will right the wrong.
Check out the rankings for fewest penalties . . . PSU is 19th while the Bucks are 96th. The actual numbers are 4.57 penalties per game for Penn State and 7.5 per game for the Bucks. I will be more than surprised if those numbers aren't reversed Saturday.
But, it's not like this Penn State team hasn't faced and over come adversity this season.
Saturday is just one more test. One more game. One Team. Another win.