Ohio State has scored 54.5 points per game this season, which will make it the second-most prolific offense on the field Saturday night at Penn State.
The Nittany Lions are the only team in the country outscoring the Buckeyes. They are averaging 55.5 points. That means that Ohio State’s offense won’t just be playing Penn State’s defense. The Buckeyes will also be mindful of what the Nittany Lions can do when they get the ball.
“When we get our opportunities, we have to connect and capitalize because we could get into a shootout,” senior receiver Terry McLaurin said Wednesday. “We have to be prepared for that.”
The Buckeyes offense certainly has clicked. But it did sputter at times against TCU, its only opponent with a credible defense, particularly in the red zone. The Ohio State defense scored two touchdowns in the 40-28 victory.
Much of the attention will be on quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., who’ll be starting in a hostile environment for the first time. But the key could be his surrounding cast, particularly the offensive line.
“We’re an offensive-line driven program,” coach Urban Meyer said. “You’ve heard that before. When they’re on, we win, and they’re going to have to be on.”
The line has played well, but Thayer Munford at left tackle and Malcolm Pridgeon at left guard are new starters, and center Michael Jordan is playing a new position. The ability to communicate and maintain composure when it might be impossible to hear will be essential.
“Isaiah told me that you have to stay focused,” Munford said, referring to senior right tackle Isaiah Prince. “Block out the noise and pay attention to what you have to do.”
It should help that this does not appear to be a vintage Penn State defense. The Nittany Lions return only two starters from last year’s unit, and it shows. Ohio State’s mammoth linemen have a chance to overpower a smallish Penn State line, and Nittany Lions linebackers have been inconsistent.
“You have to stay on schedule,” Meyer said of avoiding negative plays, “and this is a team that takes great pride in getting you off of schedule with their pressures. It’s going to be a move-the-chains type game and continue to get first downs and play field position.”
Ohio State’s run game didn’t get untracked last week against Tulane, which put a safety closer to the line of scrimmage. The Green Wave paid the price through Ohio State’s passing game. Balance this week could be key. Meyer said that running back Mike Weber, injured last week, will play.
“First of all, we have to take care of the ball,” McLaurin said. “We can’t give them any extra opportunities. And we have to execute when we’re in the red zone. We have to get seven points instead of three.”
The Buckeyes are confident that their defense can slow Penn State. The Nittany Lions haven’t faced a defense remotely as talented as Ohio State’s in games against Appalachian State, Pittsburgh, Kent State and Illinois.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson joked that with all the hype about the offenses, the final score will probably be 7-3. He knows otherwise.
“We’re on the road,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be tough. It’s going to take every guy. It’s going to take more than 11 guys. We play with a lot more than 11. It’s going to take a lot of guys this Saturday night in State College.”