Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had the chance Saturday to kick back and watch Penn State’s win over Michigan from the comfort of his favorite chair at home.
Well, kick back might not have been the proper term, especially as he watched the Nittany Lions defense attack the Wolverines offensive front.
On Saturday at Ohio Stadium, his Ohio State offense will try to do what Michigan couldn’t, which is consistently block a Penn State front intent on wreaking havoc across the line.
“They just come after you,” Meyer said. “They're very aggressive. Their defensive line, it's not a read-and-react. They're up the field. And they menaced ‘the team up north.’ They were all over the place.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson saw the same thing. Even though Penn State has a remarkable offense led by running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley, Wilson knows Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and his group must deal with an aggressive Nittany Lions defense led by linebacker Jason Cabinda.
“I think like, with several of the best teams in the country, when you watch them play you feel it,” Wilson said. “You feel their energy, you feel them really playing aggressive.”
Indiana coach Tom Allen dealt with it a few weeks ago when the Nittany Lions won 45-14, and it started with the gap-jumping approach by the Penn State defensive line.
“They play so hard, they’re not out of position, they’ve got length to them on the back end," Allen said. "And (Cabinda), he’s a good one now, just great savvy, great nose to the ball. I think that’s an area, when I looked at Penn State, where they really improved the most. Their defensive play has been exceptional.”
Penn State leads the nation in scoring defense (9.6 points per game), is second in the Big Ten in average pass defense (167.6 yards), first in the conference in pass defense efficiency — largely because of having given up just three touchdown passes while making nine interceptions — and first in the conference in sacks (24).
Conversely, the Buckeyes are No. 1 in many of the Big Ten's major offensive categories. They are riding a streak of five 500-yard games, an Ohio State record, that began after a loss Sept. 9 to Oklahoma, although none of those opponents have been ranked.
“I think offensively you can kind of feel us, the way we play,” Wilson said. “I think it’s going to be a great game with a lot of emotion and guys going after each other.”
A major key will be how Ohio State’s line handles the pressure, especially right tackle Isaiah Prince and right guard Demetrius Knox, who will make just his second start.
In the fourth quarter of the loss last year at Penn State, the Nittany Lions were on the attack, especially on Prince’s side; the last two offensive plays of the game for the Buckeyes were sacks of Barrett.
But Meyer said Prince has improved “in all areas” as this season has progressed.
“We’re a big believer in how you practice-how you play, and just the way he approaches everything is much different, much improved,” Meyer said. “And this will be a great challenge for him, because this is one where him along with several others didn’t play very well last year against them.”