Fox Sports analysts are bullish on Ohio State vs. Penn State. Here’s why. – Chicago Tribune
Is Ohio State’s offense the one that embarrassed coach Urban Meyer on New Year’s Eve in that season-ending shutout loss to Clemson? Is it the one that Meyer termed “awful” after a 31-16 Week 2 loss to Oklahoma?
Or is it the one that has sizzled in the Buckeyes’ last five games, against Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska? Ohio State found the end zone just one time against the Sooners. The Buckeyes have scored 37 touchdowns since and have 44 for the season, most in the FBS.
Fox will broadcast the game, which has a 2:30 p.m. Chicago-time kickoff.
In asking game analyst Joel Klatt and studio analyst/former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt for their thoughts, this much became clear: Wannstedt likes the Buckeyes. Klatt indicated as much but called it “incredibly evenly matched” and added: “I genuinely believe this will be the best game of the college football season.”
Penn State has the better record (7-0 vs. 6-1) and higher ranking (No. 2 vs. No. 6). But the Buckeyes are six-point favorites, and here’s why:
Extra prep: Meyer has not lost after a week off since 2001. Yeah, 2001. His Bowling Green Falcons had trouble stopping Miami of Ohio quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a 24-21 decision. Since then Meyer’s teams are 20-0, beating five ranked opponents, all while he coached at Florida.
Wannstedt is tight with Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and said: “He’s dying to use some new stuff – blitzes and other pressures. The only concern is that Greg doesn’t (install) too much, and then have his players make mistakes.”
Penn State had two weeks to prep for Michigan and flummoxed the Wolverines defense with new looks, some involving direct snaps to Saquon Barkley. “The most valuable thing we have on this earth is time,” coach James Franklin said.
True, perhaps, but college players sometimes come out flat after their break, treating it as a mini-vacation. The Wolverines lost at home to Michigan State despite extra rest. Iowa played a strong first half Saturday in Evanston but fell to Northwestern in overtime.
“If you have great veteran leadership like Ohio State, it helps,” Klatt said. “They know: This is my opportunity to get healthy and remain focused.”
The Shoe fits: The Buckeyes’ Sept. 9 loss to Oklahoma was stunning not only because the Sooners outgained the Buckeyes by 140 yards. The game took place in Columbus. Meyer is 37-3 at Ohio State, 26-1 on the road and 19-6 on neutral fields.
“From my experience,” said Klatt, a Colorado quarterback from 2002-05, “atmospheres are only as good as the defense I saw in front of me. When we played Texas in 2005 it was loud, but more (important) than that was the strain that defense put on me.”
Klatt called the Oct. 7 Maryland-Ohio State game, which wasn’t even as close as the 62-14 final score.
Total yards: Buckeyes 584, Terrapins 66. Quarterback Max Bortenschlager got sacked on two of Maryland’s first three plays.
So on top of dealing with noise and communications issues, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley will have to evade Ohio State’s defensive ends, whom Klatt called, “the best in college football.”
Diversity training: The Buckeyes have racked up at least 500 yards of total offense in five straight games – the longest stretch in program history. J.T. Barrett, looking to re-enter the Heisman Trophy race, has thrown 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions during that stretch. He also has rushed for three scores and averaged 5.9 yards per carry – sacks included.
“I don’t think any team in the country has improved as much as Ohio State since the Oklahoma game,” Wannstedt said. “I don’t care who they played. J.T. is making better decisions, the offensive line is better and guys are making plays.”
Freshman tailback J.K. Dobbins is sensational, and Ohio State has five receivers – Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Terry McLaurin – with at least 18 receptions.
“I know that’s part of the Ohio State (fan) narrative: Who is our guy?” Klatt said. “They want to know who the star is. I can tell you that from a quarterback’s standpoint, it’s much better to be able to attack with five equal parts. That way you don’t have to rely on one guy.”
Klatt said this Buckeyes offense reminds him of one of the best in college football history – Oklahoma’s in 2008. Sam Bradford threw 50 touchdown passes for a crew guided by Kevin Wilson. The same Kevin Wilson, of course, who will call Ohio State’s plays Saturday as its first-year coordinator.
The 2016 Buckeyes, Klatt said, rarely stretched the field in the passing game. Bubble screens seemed to be on repeat mode. Noah Brown finished second on the team in receiving yards – and 35th in the Big Ten. This year’s Buckeyes have five in the league’s top 35, taking advantage of “mesh” concepts that call for multiple drag routes that challenge the decision-making of safeties of cornerbacks in zone coverage.