While the Penn State-Ohio State matchup on Saturday doesn’t quite have the glamour it did before Minnesota handed the Nittany Lions their first loss on Nov. 9, the showdown in Columbus is still a marquee event.
For eighth-ranked Penn State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten), it’s an opportunity to keep its slim hopes alive for one of the four College Football Playoffs berths. The second-ranked Buckeyes (10-0, 7-0) can solidify their poll position as well as clinch a spot in the conference championship game Dec. 7 as the East Division representative.
If the Nittany Lions beat Ohio State, they would earn the trip to Indianapolis with a victory over Rutgers in the final game.
“Every play matters, every yard matter, every series matters,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.
The Nittany Lions present the Buckeyes their biggest challenge of the season, especially after Ohio State had no trouble getting past Maryland (73-14) and Rutgers (56-21) in its most recent games.
In between Penn State and a potential Big Ten title game, the Buckeyes close the regular season at Michigan on Nov. 30. Led by quarterback Justin Fields (31 touchdown passes, one interception), Ohio State is first in the nation in scoring (51.5 points per game). The Buckeyes also lead in scoring defense (9.8 points per game allowed).
“We’re kind of just focused on one game at a time, but at the same time, these are the most important two games of our season,” Ohio State defensive tackle Davon Hamilton said. “We know what we’re getting into.”
Penn State rebounded from the 31-26 loss at Minnesota to hold off Indiana 34-27 at home last Saturday.
It wasn’t pretty at times, but coach James Franklin said the Nittany Lions did enough right to be confident in their chances of winning at Ohio Stadium, something Penn State has not done in its past three visits since a 20-14 victory in 2011.
“We won the field-position battle, we won the turnover battle, we won the penalty battle,” he said. “And then we won the explosive-play battle, which was great.”
Franklin has been at Penn State since 2014 and sees this season’s Ohio State team is the most talented, “maybe in our time” at the school.
While Ohio State will get a star defensive player back from suspension, the Nittany Lions might be without a key part of their attack. Standout Penn State receiver/returner KJ Hamler left the Indiana game in the first quarter with an injury.
Last season against the Buckeyes, he had a 93-yard touchdown reception among his four catches for 138 yards.
Franklin didn’t reveal much about Hamler’s status at his Tuesday press conference.
“We were hopeful after the game, and I still remain hopeful,” Franklin said.
Ohio State star defensive end Chase Young returns from a two-game suspension for violating NCAA rules after receiving an illegal loan from a friend. He is second nationally with 13 1/2 sacks but first in sacks per game (1.69). The Buckeyes are tied with SMU for second with 42 sacks.
“He brings a big presence, and you know the other team, they’re scared of him,” Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison said.
–Field Level Media