Week 9 Preview: Penn State vs. (13) Ohio State

Following their second bye week of the 2014 season, the Nittany Lions will host a Penn State White Out when they welcome Big Ten rival Ohio State into Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Penn State (4-2, 1-2) is looking for new life as it prepares to start the second half of the season. The team began the season under new head coach James Franklin 4-0 before suffering back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Michigan. The Lions will enter this weekend’s game well-rested, and coach Franklin will be sure to have his team ready to face the Buckeyes in an important Big Ten East division game.

Under third-year head coach Urban Meyer, No. 6 Ohio State (5-1, 2-0) heads into the match up looking to remain undefeated in conference play. The Buckeyes have won their last four games, all of which have been decided by no less than three touchdowns. Last week, the Buckeyes cruised to 56-17 win over Rutgers in Columbus, Ohio.

Ohio State’s offense, which ranks second in the Big Ten and fourth nationally in scoring at 46.5 points per game, is led by Big Ten reigning Offensive Player and Freshman of the Week, quarterback J.T. Barrett. When news broke that starting quarterback Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, many decided to write the Buckeyes off. However, Barrett has put together a solid season in his absence and has kept the Buckeyes in contention for the College Football Playoff.

The freshman has thrown for 1,615 yards and 20 touchdowns to go along with five interceptions, while completing 65.2 percent of his passes. In his last three games, he has produced 14 total touchdowns and zero interceptions. Barrett leads the Big Ten in completion percentage, touchdowns and total offense (333 ypg). He is also averaging 269.2 passing yards and 63.8 rushing yards per game.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott is Ohio State’s leading rusher with 531 yards on 88.5 rushing yards per game and four touchdowns, while wide receivers Michael Thomas and Devin Smith have been Barrett’s favorite targets through the air. Thomas leads all receivers with 21 receptions for 377 yards and five touchdowns. Smith has 12 receptions and five touchdowns on 29.6 yards per catch.

Defensively, Ohio State ranks 25th in points allowed (20.2), 15th in yards allowed (319.5), and has forced 16 sacks and 14 turnovers. Linebacker Joshua Perry leads the team with 45 tackles and defensive lineman Joey Bosa has forced a team-best three fumbles, with nine tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks, among his 20 tackles.

The Nittany Lions head into this weekend’s contest after a week-long layoff from their night game in Ann Arbor. After suffering two consecutive losses Penn State continues to try to fix its offense, which has been held to 21 points or less in four of its last five games.

The Nittany Lions offense has been largely ineffective for much of the season due to its young and inexperienced offensive line, which has allowed sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg to be sacked 20 times this season. However, coach Franklin said that the return of offensive lineman Matt Dieffenbach will help the Lions’ offensive line woes moving forward. It’s unclear whether Dieffenbach will return to the field this week as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. But Franklin has upgraded his status as week-to-week, and added that his condition depends as much on the mental as it does on the physical.

While the offensive line continues to search for answers, Hackenberg is completing just 59 percent of his passes for 1,637 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. In his last four games, he has thrown only one touchdown and has at least one interception in five of the team’s six games played. The Lions passing offense currently ranks 32nd in the nation.

The running game has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry and has yet to produce a 100-yard rusher in a single game. Running back Bill Belton leads the team in rushing with 258 yards and three touchdowns on 43 rushing yards per game. Wide receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis have combined for more than 1,000 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Hamilton leads all receivers with 43 receptions for 560 yards and one touchdown, and Lewis has hauled in 32 catches for 512 yards and one touchdown.

On defense, Penn State ranks sixth in points allowed (15.2) and sixth in total yards (283.3), while forcing 16 sacks and nine turnovers. Linebacker Mike Hull leads the team and is among the nation’s top tacklers with 10.7 tackles per game for a total of 64. Defensive tackle Anthony Zettle has seven tackles for loss.

Saturday’s contest will mark the 30th meeting between the two schools. Ohio State leads the series with a 16-13 on-field edge against Penn State. The last time the two met was Oct. 26, 2013, when the Buckeyes claimed a 63-14 victory in a primetime clash inside Ohio Stadium.

Ohio State enters this weekend’s game as a 13.5-point favorite.

*Section Photo credit to Jamie Sabau, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Daily O’Collegian

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