Preview: Contest with Ohio State will Make or Break Penn State’s Season

Penn State football is coming off a strong whiteout performance against Minnesota last weekend, winning 45-17.

The Nittany Lions were able to manipulate a Minnesota secondary that allowed 304 yards through the air. Things looked shaky at first, with Penn State coming out with consecutive 3-and-outs followed by an intrepid interception thrown by quarterback Sean Clifford.

The Nittany Lions eventually ironed things out. A stout defense held Minnesota standout running back Mohamed Ibrahim to just over 100 yards. Offensively, Penn state accumulated four touchdowns through the air and ran for another two.

Minnesota’s offense and defense, however, will be nothing compared to the gauntlet of an Ohio State team that No. 13 Penn State must face at Beaver Stadium this week. Saturday’s contest in Happy Valley kicks off at noon ET and airs on FOX.

The Week Ahead

At 6-1, the Nittany Lions have the ability to control their own destiny and make a run at the Big Ten championship or at least a New Year’s Six bowl. Just about the only tangible threat facing them is the Buckeyes and their high-powered offense.

Led by quarterback C.J. Stroud, power-runners TreVeyon Henderson, and Miyan Williams, and a depth of wide receivers not seen before in college football, the second-ranked Buckeyes will undoubtedly score points. It will be up to the robust Penn State defense to contain the Buckeyes as much as they possibly can.

Keys to the Game

The real factor in this game is Clifford and the Penn State offense. They have to be able to score points and match the Buckeyes. The running tandem of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen must produce yards, and early.

If the Nittany Lions come out and start the game as they did against Michigan and Minnesota with consecutive 3-and-outs, running the ball up the middle to no avail, they will get boat-raced — just as they did against Michigan earlier this month.

If the run game does not develop early, Penn State must look to the air. It must rely on Clifford’s arm, which makes the blood pressure and nerves of Penn Staters everywhere start to swell up. Many seem to forget that although the Buckeyes have a corps of outstanding receivers, so do the Nittany Lions.

If they are able to connect with Mitchell Tinsley, Parker Washington, and their versatile tight ends, they can trade blows with Ohio State. Finding playmakers in space and giving them an opportunity is key to this game. If Penn State can throw on an untested Ohio State secondary, it may find some rhythm on offense.

That would keep the defense off the field and give it time to rest throughout the game. It may be Penn State’s best hope to contain the Ohio State juggernaut offense.

Another key to this game is, of course, the other side of the ball — the Penn State defense. Coordinator Manny Diaz has done a great job of continuing the bend-don’t-break mentality of the defense, holding many of its opponents in the red zone to field goals.

That won’t be enough for the Nittany Lions to win this game. In order to win this game, the Penn State defense has to force at least two turnovers. The Nittany Lions have to have the momentum in their favor and create chaos for the Buckeyes’ offense.

Without the defense and offense firing on all cylinders, Penn State has a bleak chance to win on Saturday. The Nittany Lions have to play an essentially perfect game and definitely their most complete game by far this season in order to compete with their biggest challenge and rival this upcoming weekend.

How do you think the game will go? Can Penn State do the unthinkable? Leave score predictions and game takes below.

Featured image credit: Mark Selders/Penn State athletics