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Penn State-Ohio State Prediction: How the Lions Might Pull an Upset

Ohio State should roll, right? Probably. But here's a look at Penn State's best shot in Columbus.

Penn State faces Ohio State after a bitter overtime loss for the second consecutive season, providing yet another test of the team's psyche.

The Lions promise they have moved on from last week's nine-overtime loss to Illinois, but will that be enough against the Big Ten's highest-scoring offense? Here's the breakdown and prediction of Saturday's Penn State-Ohio State game.

No. 20 Penn State (5-2) at No. 5 Ohio State (6-1)

  • When: 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday
  • Where: Ohio Stadium
  • TV: ABC
  • Streaming: fuboTV
  • Betting Line: Ohio State is an 18.5-point favorite, according to SI Sportsbook
  • Series History: Ohio State leads 21-14
  • Last Meeting: Ohio State 38-25 in 2020
  • Streaks: Ohio State has won 4 straight vs. Penn State

Penn State faces a defensive stress test

Did you know that Penn State is the last team to hold Ohio State without a touchdown at home? The 10th-ranked Buckeyes made just two field goals in a 13-6 loss to No. 3 Penn State at the Horseshoe in 2008. Ohio State since has scored a touchdown in 87 consecutive home games.

Since the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in touchdowns (46), the streak likely will continue. Penn State has a counterargument in allowing the fewest touchdowns (nine) in the conference, two of which Villanova scored against Penn State's reserves. But the defense also brings an ankle weight to Columbus that clearly was an issue against Illinois.

Penn State's defensive line misses not only starting tackle PJ Mustipher, who is out for the season, but also the players it already had lost. Linemen Adisa Isaac and Hakeem Beamon have not played, though they were supposed to be two replacements for departed starters Odafe Oweh, Shaka Toney and Antonio Shelton.  Arnold Ebiketie and Derrick Tangelo have been essential defensive transfers, Jesse Luketa made the necessary move from linebacker to end, redshirt freshman Coziah Izzard became a starter and Amin Vanover has shifted between end and tackle.

The Lions have shaky depth on the line, particularly at tackle, and now have to face an Ohio State offense that averages 559 yards per game. The matchup does not favor Penn State and a defense that has labored physically through its past two games.

Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie makes a tackle against Villanova. (Matthew O'Haren/USA Today Sports)

Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie makes a tackle against Villanova. (Matthew O'Haren/USA Today Sports)

Penn State Players to Watch

Sean Clifford: Could Clifford be the most valuable player to any team in the country? If he's healthy, Penn State just might be 7-0 and ranked No. 2 headed to Columbus. His injury initiated a launch sequence of negative effects that now has Penn State facing its third consecutive loss. If he can't run, Penn State has little chance.

Mike Miranda: The center swapped places with guard Juice Scruggs after struggling against Illinois. Miranda said this week that the line needs to generate a more-physical presence and give the backs someplace to run. He's central to that.

Tariq Castro-Fields: Starting cornerbacks Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr. have not allowed a touchdown pass in a combined 427 coverage snaps this season, according to analytics firm Sports Info Solutions. Ohio State's unique set of receivers will test that streak.

Ohio State Players to Watch

Garrett Wilson: The Buckeyes' receiving trio of Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba have combined for 17 touchdown catches, and each has more than 200 yards after the catch. But Wilson has been particularly dynamic, with 103 yards after contact.

Jeremy Ruckert: Of course, the Buckeyes also have an NFL prospect at tight end in Ruckert, who blocks ferociously and has 16 catches.

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Haskell Garrett: The hugely disruptive defensive end (6 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) will wear down Penn State's toiling offensive line.

Five Things You Should Know

1. Penn State is 2-11 at Ohio State since joining the Big Ten (one Buckeyes win was vacated) and 0-3 under James Franklin.

2. The average margin of victory in the series' last five games is six points. The Buckeyes are 4-1 in those games.

3. Penn State's running backs have scored one rushing touchdown (Noah Cain vs. Iowa) in the last four games.

4. Ohio State has scored 50+ points in four consecutive games twice before: in 2014 and 2017. Penn State ended both streaks, allowing 31 and 39 points. The  Buckeyes won both games.

5. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford is a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, considered the academic Heisman. Penn State's last finalist was quarterback Trace McSorley. Offensive lineman John Urschel won the award in 2013.


Are Penn State's chances bleak? The matchup certainly isn't favorable. The defense must be near-perfect against college football's most prolific offense of the last month, because the offense can't keep pace in a shootout. Even if Penn State holds the Buckeyes to half their average scoring output of 49.3 ppg, where is Penn State coming up with 26 points?

The Lions might need to get funky: onside kicks, fake punts, trick plays, a bunch of defensive blitzes, anything that Ohio State hasn't seen yet this season. Throw everything at the wall, and if they still lose by 30, so be it.

Ohio State 38, Penn State 13 

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