Ohio State Buckeyes: 7 things to know about the matchup and series with Penn State

Ohio State is set to head out on the road for the first time in the 2020 season with a trip to Penn State on Saturday.

What was expected to be the Game of the Year in the Big Ten East lost some luster on opening day when the Nittany Lions were upset by Indiana, but Happy Valley is never an easy place to play and the nature of the coronavirus-shortened season means Ohio State likely has no margin for error if it wants to make the College Football Playoff.

The winner of this game still will carry the tiebreaker between the two division favorites should they end up at the top of the standings when all is said and done.

Here are seven things to know about the game:

1. Penn State returns 14 starters on offense or defense from a team that went 11-2 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten East last season.

The returning starters include 2019 All-Big Ten second-team selections Pat Freiermuth and Shaka Toney, third-team pick Tariq Castro-Fields and honorable-mentions Sean Clifford, Will Fries, Michal Menet, Jake Pinegar and Lamont Wade.

The offense lose promising running back Journey Brown to a preseason injury but returns multiple young talented options at that position, Clifford at quarterback and has a veteran offensive line playing for a new position coach.

The Nittany Lions also have a new offensive coordinator after hiring Kirk Ciarrocca away from Minnesota, though his offensive philosophy seems to align well with what Penn State has done for the past few seasons.

Also of note: Penn State was expecting the return of star linebacker Micah Parsons, but he opted out of the season to prepare for the NFL Draft.

2. Penn State is likely the second-most talented team in the Big Ten.

That is according to the 247Sports Talent composite, which measure rosters by the recruiting ranking of a team’s players.

Ohio State is No. 1 in the Big Ten and third nationally while Penn State is second in the conference and 13th nationally.

Brandon Smith, a five-star sophomore starting linebacker from Virginia, is the Nittany Lions' top-rated active talent on the roster while Freiermuth, Castro-Fields, Clifford, Menet and Wade were all four-star recruits.

3. The Nittany Lions entered the season expected to be Ohio State’s top challenger in the Big Ten East.

But they lost their opener 36-35 to Indiana in overtime.

The box score reveals this to be a fairly weird game in which the Nittany Lions had a total yardage advantage of more than 2:1. They also averaged 5.6 yards per play to just 3.4 for the Hoosiers, but Penn State lost the turnover battle 3-2.

The Hoosiers also had an advantage in the red zone, scoring on all five trips — including four touchdowns — while Penn State came up empty on three of its six red zone opportunities.

4. As far as traditional stats, Penn State had a solid offense and a down year on defense in 2019.

The Nittany Lions finished sixth in total offense in the Big Ten with the No. 4 running game and No. 8 passing game while coming in eighth in total defense with the No. 1 run defense but next-to-last pass defense.

When it comes to points, though, Penn State was in the top 15 in the nation in both — eighth in points allowed (third in the Big Ten) and 15th in points scored (second).

5. In terms of advanced stats, the Nittany Lions finished 2019 sixth overall in SP+ (a measure of play-by-play efficiency and explosiveness similar to on-base plus slugging percentage in baseball) with the No. 13 offense and No. 10 defense in the country. (Ohio State was first, fourth and second, respectively).

Football Outsiders rated the 2019 Penn State offensive line 48th nationally in adjusted line yards and 109th in sack rate while the defensive line checked in No. 9 and No. 25 in those measures.

6. Clifford is one of six Ohioans on the Penn State roster.

He is joined by sophomore defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins (Cincinnati Moeller), senior defensive tackle Antonio Shelton (Westerville North), sophomore offensive lineman Juice Scruggs (list Ashtabula as his hometown but attended Cathedral Prep in Pennsylvania), junior offensive lineman Mike Miranda (Munroe Falls) and junior long snapper Chris Still (Columbus DeSales).

Miranda is listed as the starting left guard while he and Scruggs are the second and third centers on the depth chart.

Shelton starts at defensive tackle and Stoll is the No. 1 long snapper.

7. Ohio State leads the all-time series 21-14.

Including a 38-14 win in 2010 that was vacated due to NCAA sanctions, the Buckeyes have won eight of the last 10 against the Nittany Lions and five of the last six.

Ohio State lost the first four against the Nittany Lions and was 2-6 against them when they joined the Big Ten in 1993.

Since then, Ohio State is 19-8 against the Nittany Lions.

The last three games in Happy Valley have been nail-biters. Ohio State rallied from down two scores late to win 27-26 in 2018, lost on a blocked field goal return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter in 2016 and won 31-24 in overtime in 2014 en route to the national championship.

Since the legend of Penn State’s “White Out” crowd stunt was essentially born with a 17-10 upset win by the Nittany Lions in 2005, Ohio State has won five of seven games in Beaver Stadium.

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