Ryan Day used a term he hasn’t used all season to describe Ohio State’s matchup against Penn State.
"This is a talent-equated game," the Buckeyes’ coach said Tuesday. "We all know we have been in some games that we have had more talent than some of the other teams we have played."
Yes, we do. Ohio State has outscored opponents by an average margin of 51-10. The point spread for Saturday’s game opened at 19 points. That may seem high against the No. 8 team in the College Football Playoff rankings and an opponent that has held fourth-quarter leads before losing by one point to the Buckeyes the past two years.
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Second-ranked Ohio State (10-0, 7-0) expected to get tested against several teams. Except for Wisconsin, which briefly closed to within 10-7 early in the third quarter before the Buckeyes scored the final 28 points, that hasn’t happened. Ohio State hasn’t won by fewer than 24 points all season.
Penn State (9-1, 6-1) is the first team on the Buckeyes’ schedule that recruits on a level similar to Ohio State. When talent is equated, as Day put it, other factors must prevail.
"It goes back to discipline," Day said. "It goes back to fundamentals. It goes back to toughness — all of those things that come into play when your talent no longer matters. We’ve got to do a good job putting a game plan together and prepare the guys to go. The team that's more prepared will win the game."
The Buckeyes might have as close to a full roster as they’ve had in a while, starting with their star defensive end. As Penn State coach James Franklin put it in his news conference Tuesday, "Obviously, Chase Young is back just in time for good old Penn State."
Young will return from a suspension related to an improper loan. As for receiver Austin Mack, linebacker Baron Browning and defensive end Jonathan Cooper, Day said he was "certainly optimistic" that they could play Saturday after missing extended time.
"It’ll be good to get them back," Day said. "We were overly cautious probably last week, but I’m looking forward to having those guys ready."
Penn State might not be as fortunate regarding injuries. Some key players, including star receiver KJ Hamler, are dealing with issues that could keep them out or limit their effectiveness.
Especially with Hamler, Penn State has an explosive offense. Sean Clifford has succeeded Trace McSorley at quarterback and played better than most expected.
Penn State’s defense yields only 2.1 yards per carry, the stingiest in the country. But the pass defense has been vulnerable, something the Buckeyes will try to exploit.
Ohio State would clinch the Big Ten East and a spot in the conference championship game with a victory. If Penn State wins, it would need only to beat Rutgers in its regular-season finale to earn a trip to Indianapolis. A Buckeyes loss would put their College Football Playoff hopes in a precarious situation.
"We always know playing Penn State is going to be a rough game, whether it’s on the road or at home," defensive tackle Robert Landers said. "They always play us tough. We always go a full four quarters with them. So I think the biggest excitement is just going to see how we respond to this test."