Posted: Friday October 7, 2005 12:09PM; Updated: Friday October 7, 2005 10:51PM
Penn State has returned to the AP top 25 for the first time in nearly three years, but are the Nittany Lions really back? We'll find out Saturday. Penn State was fantastic last week in a resounding 44-14 victory over Minnesota. The defense held Laurence Maroney to 48 yards rushing. Ohio State has also been impressive since losing to Texas on Sept. 10. The Buckeyes allowed only 12 points in back-to-back wins over San Diego State and Iowa and have had two weeks to prepare for Penn State. Both offenses have flash and both defenses have serious muscle. Penn State is knocking on the door of the elite again and a win here would send the message that the Nittany Lions belong.
(6) Ohio State at (16) Penn State
7:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Beaver Stadium (108,000-plus)
Troy Smith has been the Buckeyes starter since their loss to Texas and has his team looking like a true contender in the Big 10.
The problem with Penn State's offense over the past few years was that it lacked big-play capability. But with fantastic freshmen wideouts Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Justin King, the Nittany Lions can deliver the quick knockout punch again. That takes the pressure off quarterback Michael Robinson to make all the plays. Robinson is a terrific talent and dangerous in the open field, but he has a tendency to turn the ball over. He must limit his mistakes against Ohio State and the Lions need to establish the running game early with Tony Hunt (475 yards, 6.8 yards per carry).
Defensively, Penn State has been terrific. Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator Tom Bradley told me this week that his D has a knack for stepping up in key situations and getting the offense back on the field. Last week, Minnesota ran just 61 plays. The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where Paul Posluszny has a nose for the ball. And don't forget last year's defensive star, linebacker Dan Connor, is working his way back into the rotation after serving a two-game suspension.
As for Ohio State, ever since coach Jim Tressel went with quarterback Troy Smith as his starter following the Texas loss, the Buckeyes have rolled. They out gained Iowa 530-137 and can attack in a lot of ways. Antonio Pittman is a reliable running back, Smith can beat teams with his arm and feet and Santonio Holmes is the best receiver in the Big Ten. Then there's Ted Ginn Jr. After a phenomenal freshman season, Ginn has been quiet this year, but it's only a matter of time before he starts making big plays (He burned Penn State with a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown last year).
As good as the offense has been lately, the Buckeyes' defense has been even better. Ohio State has a Big Ten-best 16 sacks and the No. 1 rushing D in the nation. Linebacker A.J. Hawk is a, well, hawk around the ball, and Nate Sally is a stud in the secondary.
This will be a tough test for Ohio State, especially considering the Buckeyes haven't played away from the Horseshoe this season and Penn State has played Ohio State tough recently. The Buckeyes were lucky to get out of Happy Valley with a 21-20 win in 2003. But Ohio State is bigger and more physical than Penn State on both sides of the ball. I'd love to pick Penn State, but the more I think about it the more I think Ohio State is a Big Ten title contender and Penn State is still a year or two away.
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