UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It’s been five years since the last time Penn State defeated Ohio State, but it was a memorable victory.
Under the lights, the Nittany Lions stormed back and scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, in front of a White Out crowd at Beaver Stadium.
For the current players on the roster the thought is bittersweet though. After all, Penn State has lost five-straight to Ohio State. The last time the Buckeyes invaded Happy Valley no fans were in attendance because of the pandemic. However, 108,000-plus will be on hand for Saturday’s Stripe Out. And everyone is embracing the magnitude of this matchup.
A win over the No. 2 team in the country will put the Nittany Lions back in the Big Ten East race. Not to mention Penn State (6-1) will also be a factor in the initial Playoff rankings.
Coach James Franklin was pleased with last week’s White Out in the victory over Minnesota. Now he wants the fans to bring that passion again. Beaver Stadium is arguably the loudest venue in the country when the fans are into it. So he can’t wait to see the crowd on hand for Saturday’s clash.
“I want to encourage and thank the fans from last week for how they showed up and supported,” Franklin said. “I want to encourage them to do the same thing this week, it’s going to be important that we have a significant home-field advantage.”
Ohio State (7-0) is No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring and total offense. And the Nittany Lions are going to need those noise levels to be very high from the fans. To the point where the noise levels cause false starts from the Buckeyes’ offense and force them to burn a few timeouts.
The players feed off that energy too. There’s probably no one on the roster that wants this victory as bad as quarterback Sean Clifford. He has beat every Big Ten East team in his career except for Ohio State. So there’s no denying a victory would nearly cement his legacy with the program.
All he wants is for the offense to control the pace of the game, and keep the Buckeyes’ explosive offense on the sidelines.
“I think we play really well when we get the first first down, and that’s very important to our offense because it leads to us getting and staying on schedule, being able to go tempo,” Clifford said. “It’s all about getting that first first down, so that way you can really propel yourself into a drive.”
That might be tough sledding against a Buckeye team that’s second in the country in total defense. Ohio State is first in the Big Ten in tackles for loss. Penn State’s offensive line will have a major job slowing down the pass rush and keeping defenders from penetrating the backfield. Senior center Juice Scruggs is confident the big boys up front will execute and give Clifford time in the pocket.
“It’s a matter of us coming out ready to play, and just being on the same page as the offensive line, playing as one and playing for each other,” Scruggs said. “We do that we’ll be okay.”
The Nittany Lions’ defensive line will have their work cut out for them slowing down one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Ohio State is the best in the Big Ten at protecting the quarterback. Still, players like defensive tackle PJ Mustipher studied what Iowa was able to do in the first half against Ohio State, and applied it to his preparation throughout the week.
The senior missed last year’s game against the Buckeyes because of an injury, so he’s anxious to get on the gridiron. Mustipher believes Ohio State’s offensive line is comparable to Michigan’s, but it has a unique style of play.
“They’re really stout at the point of attack, not too many guys are going to knock them back, they come downhill and they got really good feet,” he said. “They’re a big group, but also an athletic group, so in the trenches it’s going to be a battle, and we can’t wait for that.”
This will be the sixth time in the series that both team are ranked in the AP top-20. Although it won’t be under the lights, this game is still one of the marquee matchups of the season, that brings in a ton of ratings. And the Nittany Lions just want to get the monkey off their backs by snapping a long overdue losing streak to the Buckeyes.