Penn State enters this weekend as huge a underdog against Ohio State. Nonetheless, ESPN analyst Bill Connelly sees a path to victory for James Franklin’s squad.
The Nittany Lions have fallen short to the Buckeyes in back-to-back years – with both games coming down to the wire.
Ohio State is favored to win by more than two touchdowns, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any weaknesses. In fact, Connelly thinks the Buckeyes have a major flaw that could be exposed this weekend.
He noticed that Ohio State struggles to protect Justin Fields. The team ranks 86th in sack rate allowed, which is pretty shocking for such a talented roster.
If the Nittany Lions want to upset the Buckeyes on the road, they’ll need to force pressure early and often on Fields.
Connelly provided a full breakdown on how successful Penn State is at forcing negative plays, via ESPN:
Ohio State ranks 86th in sack rate allowed, 96th on passing downs and 117th on blitz downs (which I define as second-and-super-long or third-and-5 or more). Fields has been so natural in his new offense, and his receivers are so frequently open, that he rarely has to go to Plan B, and he takes a little too much time switching gears. It has been this way all season — it was the only improvement I could find for them to make in October — and hasn’t really changed.
This and PSU’s ability to force negative run plays — the Nittany Lions are stuffing 27% of non-sack rushes at or behind the line, fifth in the country — represent by far the Nittany Lions’ biggest opportunity. As good as Ohio State’s offense has been, and as efficient as it will be even on Saturday, negative plays are reliable drive killers.
Ohio State has the firepower on offense to put this game away quickly, so it’s crucial that Penn State doesn’t allow the score to get out of hand early.
It all starts with the Nittany Lions generating pressure on Fields and avoiding big plays over the top of the defense.
Kickoff for this game is at 12 p.m. ET from Ohio Stadium.