COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 5 Ohio State looks to continue its five-game win streak this Saturday when the Buckeyes face No. 20 Penn State at 7:30 in The Horseshoe.
Ohio State is coming off a 54-7 trouncing of Indiana in which the Buckeyes scored 30 points in the second quarter and held the Hoosiers to eight completions and less than 50 yards rushing.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions are coming off their second-straight loss after a falling in nine overtimes to Illinois at home last week.
Below are three things to watch for during Saturday’s prime time matchup.
Sean Clifford’s health
Ohio native Sean Clifford returns to the Buckeye state for a second time in his career. He’s hoping this trip goes better than 2019 when he got injured early in third quarter against the Buckeyes who won 28-17. Clifford has been dealing with an undisclosed injury, which forced him to leave the game against Iowa and watch as the Hawkeyes overcame a 14-point deficit to beat PSU in what was then a battle of top five teams.
Clifford was moderately effective against Illinois and lacked mobility, a big piece to his game but says he hopes to be close to 100% by Saturday.
“They are definitely a lot to handle but that’s what the week of preparation is for,” he said. “Making sure you’re getting all the looks, understanding the concepts and where the problems are and being able to see them, so I think they do a lot but I’m excited to take it on this week.”
Another player excited for this week is senior wide receiver Jahan Dotson who has more 20-plus yard touchdowns than any other player since 2020 (11), per Pro Football Focus. Two of those touchdowns of 20+ yards came against Ohio State last year when he caught eight passes for 144 yards and three total touchdowns.
Exploit Penn State’s weakness
Penn State ranks sixth in the country in scoring defense allowing 14.71 points per game. But something’s got to give against Ohio State, which ranks first in scoring offense (49.2 points per game).
The thing that’s going to give is the Nittany Lions’ rush defense. They rank 62nd in the country in rush defense allowing 146 yards a game — good news for a Buckeyes team that averages 6.18 yards per rush, second best in the country. The Buckeyes also have the best running back in the country in TreVeyon Henderson who has only gone above 20 carries one time this season because of the way the Buckeye have blown opponents out during the past four weeks.
“He’s extremely special at what he does and he can make a lot of plays a lot better,” Ohio State senior tight end Jeremy Ruckert said. “The whole world is starting to see what we already know he can do.”
Last week against Illinois, Penn State gave up a staggering 357 yards rushing, including 223 to Chase Brown. Illinois is above average but not elite when it comes to running the ball, it ranks 42nd in the country, so just imagine what the Buckeyes can do to that defense on the ground.
Stroud vs. Penn State’s pass defense
In the first half of Ohio State’s last three games, the Buckeyes have 17 possessions and 16 touchdowns. The other possession was a field goal. That type of effectiveness has a lot to do with quarterback C.J. Stroud’s efficiency. The redshirt freshman ranks second in the country in passing efficiency (192.79) and has 22 touchdowns compared to only three interceptions.
Stroud would be leading in more categories than he is right now if it weren’t for the fact that he hasn’t had to play in the fourth quarter in OSU’s last three games this season and also missed the Akron game due to injury.
But this is the first week Stroud will face a formidable passing defense. The Nittany Lions rank 15th in the country in passing yards allowed per game (178) and only give up 9.3 yards per pass, third best in the nation. Penn State has some solid players on defense, but the unit hasn’t faced a threatening passing attack.
Let’s break it down. So far, Penn State’s biggest test has been against Indiana who had an injured Michael Penix Jr. and an Auburn team with Bo Nix who isn’t exactly the most accurate or reliable quarterback.
Only one of Penn State’s opponents this year (Auburn) rank in the top 75 in the country in passing offense.
Two things can be true at the same time: C.J. Stroud has not faced a stout passing defense and Penn State has not faced a dangerous passing offense. We’ll find out which one is better this Saturday.