Cory Mccartney
Thursday October 23rd, 2008

While No. 1 Texas continues its run against top 25 opponents, the Game of the Week focuses on the Big Ten's big clash where No. 3 Penn State takes on No. 10 Ohio State.

1. The stakes couldn't be higher. The Big Ten doesn't have a conference championship game, so for all intents and purposes, this game will serve that function. Penn State's playing for something bigger, though, as a victory here would provide as clear a path to the national title game as anyone could want.

If the Nittany Lions win Saturday, all that stands between them and a likely place in Miami on Jan. 8 are a trip to Iowa and home games against Indiana and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions should be heavily favored in each of those contests. First, Penn State must end its Horseshoe hex. It's lost seven straight at OSU since joining the Big Ten in 1993 and hasn't won in Columbus since 1978.

Of course, a Penn State loss would put the Buckeyes on the path to a fourth-consecutive conference crown, downgrade the Lions' BCS title-game chances to "nearly impossible" and put Ohio State back into the national-title picture.

Indeed, the game is so big, it's given Jim Tressel Scarlet Fever. He showed up at his weekly press conference Tuesday wearing a red blazer and spread the word on the Buckeyes' entry into the recent rash of color-coded big-game ploys. "We need to make that place a sea of red," he said.

2. The Beanie and Terrelle Show is a hit. The Chris "Beanie" Wells-Terrelle Pryor pairing has become as sweet a duo as Ben and Jerry and has given new life to an Ohio State offense that has been mostly lethargic this season.

The 45-7 win over Michigan State was this duo's breakthrough, as Pryor threw for 116 yards and a touchdown and ran for 72 yards and another score, while Wells had 140 yards and two TDs on a career-high 31 carries.

Pryor, a Pennsylvania native who spurned the Lions for the Buckeyes, seems to be growing more and more in the starter's spot. He took every snap against the Spartans and avoided some mistakes from earlier games, like when he sidestepped a charging Michigan State defender to avoid a 15th sack and instead complete a 56-yard pass to Brian Hartline.

Wells appears to be as close to 100 percent as he's been since the season opener and Tressel has increased Wells' work load each week, getting him 14 touches against Minnesota, 23 against Wisconsin, 24 against Purdue and 31 against Michigan State.

Together, they're averaging 181 yards per game on the ground, though as a pair they haven't faced a top 10 defense like Penn State, which has allowed only one runner (Michigan's Brandon Minor) to hit the century mark.

3. The key to the game will be the Nittany Lions' offensive line. Yes, it's cliché to say the game will be won in the trenches, but it couldn't be truer for Penn State.

Ohio State ranks 10th nationally in total defense and has one of the game's top linebacking duos in James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, but has often been hampered by the defensive line's inability to tie up opposing linemen, as was the case against USC, who ran for 164 yards against the Buckeyes and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

If Ohio State can't stop the Penn State O-line from reaching the second level, it'll be a problem. Led by center A.Q. Shipley, the Lions' unit has paved the way for 234.6 yards per game on the ground (10th nationally), including 7.7 per carry for Evan Royster, who has the nation's highest average for backs with 100-plus carries. The line has also been impressive in pass coverage, keeping QB Daryll Clark off the ground in the last two games and giving up only five total sacks.

The Buckeyes did stiffen up against Michigan State, holding Javon Ringer & Co. to 52 total yards on the ground, but if Ohio State can't put pressure on Penn State up front, the Spread HD, which is racking up 45.4 points and 482.1 ypg, could go wild.

What problems does Penn State's Spread HD pose for defenses? I spoke to an assistant coach from one of the Nittany Lions' opponents to get his impressions. Here's what he had to say:

"Penn State is a well-oiled machine. It's very sound in all facets of the game and the quarterback did a very good job of reading the defense and the running backs were very athletic, They did a very good job of running the ball and the offensive line is probably the best we've faced. They've got a lot of seniors on that offensive line and they're going to cause a lot of problems for a lot of people.

"Early on [against] us, [Clark] didn't throw the ball very much. When you have the ability to run with a quarterback who's versatile in both areas, it's very difficult because you have to prioritize what you want to stop first.

"[The wide receivers] have been around for a while so they know the system. They run the routes and they're very athletic. They cause a lot of problems because they can stretch the field or they can break off on sharp routes and they run good routes. The experience-level makes it hard to take care of them and keep them from doing what they expect to do with the football.

"[You have to] try and cover all the facets of their game. They do a great job in all areas: running the ball, passing the ball, play-action, running the quarterback, screens. They've done a good job with the offensive system and I think the players have adapted to it very well and it's tough on any defense when their cylinders are all clicking at the same time.

"It takes a total defensive effort in all areas of the game because they can exploit several different ways if you allow them to do that."

Penn State 27, Ohio State 21. The Nittany Lions will be facing their toughest test of the season, but Clark & Co. have the exact elements that have caused Ohio State problems: a quarterback that can run and an ability to spread things out. Those advantages will be enough to end Penn State's Columbus woes and pave the way to a Big Ten title -- and maybe more.

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