Colin: Why does this big game feel bigger than other recent big games? Future implications? Revenge? Is it because Ohio State fans truly dislike Penn State?
Baver: The last two big game embarrassments at the hands of Clemson and Oklahoma have created a fragile OSU fan base. I’ve never seen Ohio St be a 6+ point favorite in a game and hear so many doubts from Buckeye fans. With Ohio State being: the team that has more talent, the team that has more depth, the team that has the better coaching staff, the team playing for revenge, the team that is at home, and the team that is off a bye…if that Buckeye team can’t beat a Penn St team that is far better at home than on the road, then this is a major dose of reality for Urban and Ohio St. So yes, future implications are huge here. Usually with those advantages, you simply check the win box if you are Ohio St. But you obviously can’t do that here. If there was any hope of doing so, those hopes were squashed when Penn State torched Don Brown’s vaunted Michigan defense last Saturday night. And that raised the stakes for Ohio State-Penn State even higher.
Colin: Who are you most concerned will hurt the Buckeyes: Saquon Barkley or Trace McSorley? Somebody else?
Baver: Probably McSorley, as his style is going to cause Ohio State problems. He is somewhat of Baker Mayfield clone, with the scrambling and improvising. The OSU defense couldn’t handle Mayfield in early September, but have they progressed enough to rein in McSorley? We shall see. With Barkley, I don’t see him grinding away at the Buckeye defense; it’s the plays where he breaks free for huge gains that I worry about more, but that of course is no small concern either. And the combo of the two, when McSorley runs the read option, is pretty hard to defend. McSorley will make you pay if you key too much on Saquon.
Colin: Can the Penn State O-line hold up against Nick Bosa and company?
Baver: I don’t think so. It’s an improved PSU O-line, but Ohio St’s D-line vs Penn St’s O-line is the biggest tangible advantage Ohio State has in this game.
Colin: Will Penn State use the same defensive formation employed by MSU, MICH, Clemson and Oklahoma and dare JT Barrett to throw downfield? (10 up / 1 safety)
Baver: I think they will indeed stack the box to make JT beat them with his arm, and adjust if JT starts making them start paying for it. I mean, that is certainly what I’d do. JT is now throwing the ball better? JT now has much more confidence? If I’m Penn State, I say, “Prove it”.
Colin: What can Ohio State do to finally score against a top caliber team?
Baver: From a strategy standpoint, Urban has to keep running his tailbacks, a strategy he has gotten away from as the games wore on in some high profile losses. Curtis Samuel had only two carries in last year’s loss in Happy Valley. That was criminal…especially when one of those two carries went 74 yards to the house. Unless Penn St goes to ridiculous measures to take the run away, Urban and Kevin Wilson have to keep giving the ball to JK Dobbins. From a performance standpoint, JT has to throw the ball with confidence, and trust his WR’s….a group that has come a long way since being shut down by the Sooners.
Colin: The forecast on Saturday is for rain. Who does this benefit?
Baver: OSU’s performances against Sparty the past two seasons tell me that bad weather is not a good thing for Ohio State. But from an X’s and O’s standpoint, I think the bad weather probably favors Ohio St. If both teams are reduced to mostly running the football because of the weather, I like Ohio St’s chances of stopping Penn St’s running game more than I like Penn St’s chances of stopping OSU’s running game. It doesn’t matter to me that PSU has the top-ranked run defense nationally; it’s going to be harder for the Penn St O-line to make that Buckeye D-line budge. Also of note, JK Dobbins actually has more rushing yards than Saquon Barkley this season on quite a few less carries. Urban just can’t abandon the tailback run in a big game again, or I’m going to have a mental breakdown.