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Is Ohio State Vulnerable at All Against Penn State?

Buckeyes Now publisher Brendan Gulick scouts Ohio State, its prolific offense and its evolving defense.

Ohio State went from Big Ten favorite to flawed pretender and back to Big Ten favorite in seven weeks, a swing understood by those who know the team's roster best.

Brendan Gulick, the publisher of SI.com's Buckeyes Now site, has watched Ohio State take shape since its early struggles against Minnesota and Oregon. The No. 5 Buckeyes have won their last four games by an average margin of 46.8 points, scoring 50+ in all of them.

How did Ohio State put it all together? And where might Penn State be able to find some flaws? Gulick breaks it down in this Q&A.

When did things begin to click for quarterback C.J. Stroud?

Things really started to click for C.J. Stroud after he sat out the Akron game. He certainly played well at times during the first three games of the season, but he was battling a right shoulder injury that was clearly bothering him. He missed some throws high and over the middle in those first few games. It was hard to tell at first if it was because of the injury or because he was basically playing for the first time in two years. Once he sat out against Akron and got his shoulder healthy, I would argue he's been the best player in the country the last six weeks and has certainly put himself in the Heisman conversation.

2. Ohio State's offense has run over its last four opponents. But has it seen a good defense in that stretch?

That's the big "knock" right now from most national fans who don't want to buy into Ohio State's hype just yet. Without question, Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers and Maryland don't have the best defenses the Buckeyes will see all year. But I would argue Rutgers is a bit better than people give them credit for. Look at what they did to Michigan in the second half of that game. Indiana's defense was certainly the best Ohio State has seen the last six weeks, but they were also missing a couple of players. Still, Ohio State did an outstanding job neutralizing Micah McFadden, who is having an awfully impressive season. Their toughest tests are still ahead, but if you really watch and analyze what the Buckeyes are doing offensively right now, there aren't many defenses in the country that can slow them down.

3. Running back TreVeyon Henderson: What's the plan of attack for stopping him?

Honestly, I have no clue — and I'm not sure many other defensive coordinators do, either. He's different. This kid is the real deal. It's looking likely that Henderson is going to have the best freshman season in Ohio State history, as long as he stays healthy. In just his third career collegiate game, he broke Archie Griffin's freshman rushing record. He's physical and has break-away speed. I'm not sure how to bottle him up, but I can tell you it's going to take a team effort to keep him at bay.

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Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson averages 8.8 yards per carry and leads the Big Ten with 11 rushing touchdowns. (Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch)

Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson averages 8.8 yards per carry and leads the Big Ten with 11 rushing touchdowns. (Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch)

4. Where would a healthy Penn State offense be able to find weaknesses in Ohio State's defense?

Ohio State's defense is evolving and has gotten much better as the season progresses. But make no mistake about it: That was a big issue for the Scarlet and Gray in the first two weeks. They've changed their scheme, mixing in some 2-high safety looks. The linebackers are playing with much more confidence, and the defensive line is starting to create a lot more pressure. The first two weeks of the season, they got pushed around too often. Minnesota and Oregon have very good offensive lines, and Ohio State's defensive line looked overmatched. I'm very interested to watch the line of scrimmage this week. If Penn State can get any push when they have the ball, they can stay in the game. The secondary has gotten a bit better and still allows some passes underneath a cover 2 or cover 4. The "home-run plays" bit them too often last year and at the beginning of this season.

5. Give the Penn State fans some hope: Where are the Buckeyes vulnerable?

Offensively, I really don't think they are vulnerable. Right now, the Buckeyes are out-pacing both the 2020 Alabama offense and the 2019 LSU offense in scoring, yards per game and yards per play. Considering they have a redshirt freshman quarterback in Stroud and those two national championship teams had veteran QBs, that's pretty scary. Ohio State has lost only once in their 132-year history when scoring more than 35 points. Their record in such situations is a ridiculous 349-1-1. I think Penn State's defense is the best the Buckeyes will see this season and I don't expect it to look as easy as it has the last few weeks, but I'm not sure the Lions' defense is going to be able to keep Stroud and company under 35 points on Saturday night. This year's offense is significantly out-performing last year's Justin Fields-led unit. All that said, if Sean Clifford can get the ball to Jahan Dotson in space and give him a chance to make big plays, they can keep it entertaining for a while. I think they're going to struggle to run the ball against a group that hasn't allowed a rushing score the last five games combined.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud has thrown 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last three games. (Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch)

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud has thrown 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last three games. (Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch)

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