Ohio State was still playing Tulane when Dwayne Haskins Jr.’s thoughts turned to Penn State.
The quarterback’s day was done by halftime on Saturday after he threw five touchdown passes. So he said he spent some of the second half talking to Ohio State’s offensive linemen about the showdown this week against the Nittany Lions.
Truth be told, Haskins was thinking about the Penn State game even before playing Tulane.
“On and off,” he acknowledged Saturday. “I tried not to. I tried to focus on who we were playing this week. But how can’t you (think of Penn State)? They’re one of the best teams in the country.”
Penn State leads the nation in points per game, averaging 55.5. Resourceful quarterback Trace McSorley, an improved offensive line and the quick development of skill-position players has allowed the Nittany Lions to overcome the loss of running back Saquon Barkley.
The Buckeyes are second in scoring nationally (54.5 per game) and have been tested only once this season. They rallied past TCU 40-28 in their third game.
But this will be a different kind of challenge. Despite TCU’s proximity to Arlington, Texas, that was hardly a hostile environment. Buckeyes fans clearly outnumbered those for the Horned Frogs. That will not be true on Saturday. Penn State expects its customary 107,000 for its annual “White Out” game.
“That’s one of the tops in the country,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of the Beaver Stadium environment. “Very loud and the fans are very into it just like our Horseshoe. You’ve got to be ready for that kind of environment.”
Other than in his relief role in rallying Ohio State past Michigan last year in Ann Arbor, Haskins hasn’t faced a harsh road crowd. Haskins attended Penn State games as a recruit in high school. He remembers how loud the crowd was as a redshirting Ohio State freshman two years when Penn State upset the Buckeyes on a blocked field goal attempt returned for a touchdown.
“Seeing how hectic it can get, we just want to focus on how we execute at the maximum level, because they play really hard at home,” Haskins said.
Haskins’ predecessor, J.T. Barrett, announced his arrival as a leader in his first game against Penn State, in 2014. He led the Buckeyes to a double-overtime victory despite playing on an injured knee.
The Buckeyes lost several key leaders from last year’s team, but Meyer believes his team has the mettle to deal with a rabid crowd.
“We have some established guys,” specifically referring to receivers Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell, and right tackle Isaiah Prince on offense.
“On defense, we’re still trying to establish some leadership. Dre’Mont Jones has been one of our leaders, and Tuf Borland, obviously. I mean, it’s essential. You don’t win that game without good leadership.”