COLUMBUS, Ohio (WHTM) — No. 20 Penn State hits the road for one of its toughest games of the season against No. 5 Ohio State. The Nittany Lions (5-2) have lost two games in a row to Iowa and Illinois, and look to avoid a three-game slide.
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The Nittany Lions should have starting quarterback Sean Clifford back to full health, and will continue to test their lights out defense against the best offense in the country.
As Penn State prepares for the Buckeyes, here are five things you need to know before the game kicks off.
Penn State QB Sean Clifford’s health
Without Sean Clifford, the Penn State season seems lost. A limited Clifford against Illinois completed 19 of 34 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown. He was unable to run and looked like a shell of his former self.
Luckily for Penn State fans, head coach James Franklin says Sean Clifford will be fully healthy by kickoff against Ohio State.
“We expect to have a 100 percent Sean Clifford this weekend,” Franklin said.
Headed into Illinois, Franklin was reserved in discussing Clifford’s health and even went as far as to say backups Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux were splitting first team reps.
“Well I think the good thing is, as you know, last week we weren’t sure. We were trying to kind of see where he was going to be at,” Franklin explained. “Sean’s much further ahead now to being back to 100 percent. So that’s a positive. We feel really good about that. I know Sean felt great, physically, on Sunday.”
Bend don’t break
The Penn State defense has kept the Nittany Lions in some games the offense couldn’t. Thus, the motto emerged of bend don’t break. Even against Illinois, the defense made key stops to continue to give Penn State a chance to win and force overtimes.
This defense allows the fewest touchdowns in the Big Ten with nine (two came against Villanova when the backups were playing).
Penn State will have to find someone to plug the hole left by PJ Mustipher’s season-ending injury. Without the senior captain, the defense allowed 357 rushing yards to Illinois.
In terms of the passing game, Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr. will be essential to Penn State’s success. The pair have not allowed a touchdown pass in a combined 427 coverage snaps, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Ohio State season outlook
The Buckeyes are red hot this season scoring at least 50 points in four-straight games with at least 500 yards on offense in six-straight games (495 against Minnesota in the season opener).
Ohio State is coming off a 54-7 win over Indiana last Saturday. The Buckeyes tallied 539 yards, including 382 through the air. QB C.J. Stroud completed 21-of-28 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns. TreVeyon Henderson scored three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving, while rushing for 81 yards. The Buckeyes recorded 14 tackles for loss as they held Indiana to 128 total yards.
The Buckeyes are clearly led by Heisman hopeful Stroud. The QB has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week five times this season. The freshman leads the Buckeyes offense that is the best in the country with 49.3 points and 559.3 yards per game.
For the second week in a row the threat of rain follows the Nittany Lion’s season. We do not expect heavy rain during the game Saturday night, but a persistent bout of light rain is likely from Saturday afternoon to Saturday night. Temperatures will hold in the low to mid-50s with winds becoming northwesterly at 5-15 mph. This should be another weather test for the Penn State staff to run the ball effectively as the weather may work against the passing game.
Last time out vs. Ohio State
Ohio State has the recent edge in this matchup winning the last four meetings.
The Nittany Lions will meet Ohio State for the 37th matchup. Three of the last five matchups have been decided by three or less points.
In 2020, Penn State fell 38-25 in Beaver Stadium. Sean Clifford completed 18-of-30 passes for 281 yards (252 in the second half) and three touchdowns. All three scores were caught by Jahan Dotson (career high in touchdowns scored), who finished the game with a then-career high eight receptions for 144 yards. Ellis Brooks led the PSU defense with 11 tackles and one tackle for loss.
Ohio State was paced by quarterback Justin Fields, who completed 28-of-34 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Garrett Wilson caught 11 passes for 111 yards and had a 62-yard rush, while Chris Olave caught seven passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns and Jeremy Ruckert added a pair of receiving touchdowns.
Penn State outscored Ohio State in the second half but was ultimately unable to close the gap despite its three second-half touchdowns. Ohio State is 21-14 all-time against Penn State.
Game kickoff is set for Saturday, October 30 at 7:30 p.m. on abc27.