How can Ohio State beat Penn State? Here are keys to OSU's road opener

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Find running legs

The Buckeyes’ running backs were fine in the season opener. But only fine. They averaged 4.45 yards per carry against Nebraska, but only four of the total 31 carries logged by Trey Sermon, Master Teague III, Steele Chambers and Xavier Johnson went longer than 10 yards. And none went for 20 yards or more. It was a ground game that lacked the explosiveness seen last fall from J.K. Dobbins. But Dobbins himself got off to a slow start in last season’s opener against Florida Atlantic before bouncing back in the following game. The Buckeyes should look for a similar upturn.

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Stall drives

Penn State missed three field goals in its season-opening loss at Indiana last weekend. Two of them were by Jake Pinegar, who saw a 25-yard attempt hit an upright at the end of the first half. The kicking woes left the Nittany Lions with once-promising drives that resulted in no points, a reason why they outgained the Hoosiers 488-211 in total yards, but still lost. The Buckeyes could benefit if they end up in field-goal range again.

Trey Sermon led Ohio State's running backs with 48 yards against Nebraska, but as a group the RBs had only 44 yards rushing on 14 carries in the first half.

Stay clean

Coach Ryan Day thought the Buckeyes tackled well, at least after the first few series against Nebraska. After an offseason that saw limited practice time due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams across college football have been plagued by missed tackles throughout the season. Facing its first ranked opponent this season, Ohio State can’t revert to sloppiness.

Key matchup

Ohio State defensive line vs. Penn State offensive line

The 210 rushing yards allowed last week by Ohio State's defense were the most it had given up since a game at Maryland in late 2018. Only one team even reached 200 rushing yards against the Buckeyes over 14 games last season, and only four others totaled 100-plus yards on the ground against them. The Nittany Lions are without running back Journey Brown and top backup Noah Cain, but have most of their offensive linemen back. OSU will still need to tighten up its run defense and plug holes at the line of scrimmage.

Key stat

The past four games between Ohio State and Penn State have been decided by an average of four points.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman