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Penn State Football: Five Things to Watch as the Nittany Lions Take on Ohio State

by on November 22, 2019 2:00 PM

Playing with house money or playing with a legit chance to win? That question will be answered and more on Saturday as Penn State faces Ohio State for the Big Ten East crown and what could amount to a playoff ticket punching win. Of course both teams will have to continue to win to truly make the postseason, but a loss for either team will likely end that hope.

But first things first, can you even beat the Buckeyes? Penn State will give it a go, and here are some of the keys to watch.

Chase Young:

That's the entire thing. Penn State will not be able to stop the Buckeyes' talented defensive end, but the more that they are able to limit his damage the better off the Nittany Lions will be. Young had two sacks against Penn State last season in Beaver Stadium so there is some familiarity with his skillset from the previous meeting, but knowing how to slow a guy down and being able to do it are two very different things. Playing teams like Ohio State is all about mitigating damage instead of keeping it from happen. Young is only one of a few players that Penn State has to focus on, but it starts there.

Start It Off:

Penn State doesn't have to score on its opening possession, but it would be well served to get a first down or prove to Ohio State (and itself) that it is here to play. The Nittany Lions will need to match the Buckeyes confidence and getting off on the right foot is a big step here. This will mean Sean Clifford will have to execute his best opening quarter on the road of the season. Clifford has been solid overall on the road, but his mistakes against Minnesota and slow start against Iowa will have to disappear in a hurry if he's going to help pull off the upset. It doesn't all come down to Clifford, but you go as your quarterback does.

Keep It Going:

Penn State's special teams, penalties aside, has been fairly consistent all year when it comes to solid punting, kicking and field goals. These kinds of games often come down to special teams and Penn State is certainly a team that knows the value of a block. (Does anyone remember that they blocked a punt against Ohio State in 2016?) Blake Gillikin will be key in a game like this and the more Penn State sees of Jake Pinegar and Jordan Stout the better. It remains to be seen what KJ Hamler's status is this weekend, but a big return would help the cause from either him or Jahan Dotson. End of the day this group doesn't need to do anything different, it just has to continue to do things well.

Step Up:

With or without KJ Hamler, Penn State will need to find players to step up for big games if it wants to pull off the upset. Maybe this will finally be Justin Shorter's time to shine? Dotson playing a big role couldn't hurt either. Best bet is Penn State goes with a heavy dose of Noah Cain, it gets the Nittany Lions yards and it milks the clock. Penn State had the horses to play a high-scoring game in the past with Ohio State, but it doesn't want to get into that kind of contest this time around. Even if Penn State plays more of a ball control kind of game it can't win with just Hamler, Cain and Freiermuth. Somebody else will have to step up and have their moment. 

Don't Miss It:

Ohio State is probably the first team to really showcase Penn State's general weakness defending the screen pass. The Nittany Lions don't want to get beat on something as simple as that. In a similar sense can Penn State contain Justin Fields? Getting into the backfield is one thing, catching him is something else. Copy and paste that objective when it comes to JK Dobbins who has solidly added his name to a long list of quality Ohio State running backs. Dobbins would be issue enough for most teams; add in Fields and suddenly you have to be careful with your aggression or it could bite you back. Problem is, can you beat this team without being aggressive? 

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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