No. 4 Ohio State at No. 9 Penn State
When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 29, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa., 7:30 p.m. EDT.
It’s a Top 10 showdown that will award the inside track to the West Division of the Big Ten to the winner Saturday night when ninth-ranked Penn State hosts No. 4 Ohio State in Happy Valley for the marquee game of the week in college football.
Both teams have high-powered offenses averaging better than 50 points and 500 yards. The Buckeyes boast a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Dwayne Haskins, who already has 16 touchdown passes, while the Nittany Lions have a potent 1-2 attack in quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Miles Sanders.
Buckeyes keep rolling as Meyer returns to sidelines
Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten East) rolled through Tulane 49-6 last weekend as it welcomed back coach Urban Meyer to the sideline after he served a three-game suspension as a disciplinary action regarding his handling of former assistant Zach Smith, who was accused of domestic violence.
The Buckeyes hardly missed Meyer aside from a few tense moments in their win over TCU the previous weekend, and Haskins continued his sizzling start to the season. He completed 21 of 24 passes for 304 yards and five touchdowns, giving him 16 scoring passes on the season.
The redshirt sophomore is in the mix for Heisman Trophy talk, completing an impressive 75.7 percent of his passes for 1,194 yards while averaging 10.38 yards per attempt.
“I had Alex Smith at Utah and obviously when Cardale got hot. It’s so early, though, I hate to put him in those — game 5 coming up. This one is a big one coming up, so I’m pleased with his performance,” Meyer said after watching Haskins live for the first time. “I remember when I watched him throw at one of his workouts, either right before we signed him or right after, and you could see he had that part of the game.
“That’s just a part of it. He’s getting the command of everything, and the players are just responding to him so playing very well.”
Equally impressive is Haskins’ distribution to his receivers. Four players have at least 10 catches and four players have at least 200 receiving yards. Parris Campbell has emerged as the top option with 19 catches for 299 yards and five TDs.
‘Being able to have him in the locker room, being able to have him, to talk to him, before the game, you miss that not having him …,” Haskins told The Associated Press. ”Being with him before we go out on the field together, the excitement he brings, the energy he brings, it was definitely missed.”
Haskins’ accuracy has also allowed the running game to thrive. The Buckeyes are averaging 234.3 yards on the ground, with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combining for 622 rushing yards. Overall, Ohio State is averaging 54.5 points and 599.5 yards while rolling up at least 526 in every game.
The Buckeyes held the Green Wave to 263 yards, but they were also facing the rarely seen wishbone offense. Ohio State’s defense has been dominant against lightweights, holding hapless Rutgers to 134 yards, but it was breached for 903 yards in its wins over Oregon State and TCU.
The defense is expected to be without star defensive end Nick Bosa, who underwent surgery last week for an abdominal injury. Bosa had already recorded four sacks and 14 tackles before suffering the injury against the Horned Frogs.
Nittany Lions storm past Illinois to stay perfect
Penn State (4-0, 1-0 East) was given a tussle for two-plus quarters on the road by Illinois on Sept. 21 before scoring the final 42 points of its 63-24 win over the Fighting Illini.
Sanders continued to show he is a worthy successor of Saquon Barkley at running back, racing 48 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and finishing with a career-high 200 overall to go with three touchdowns. The junior has 7.0 yards per carry and churned out 495 yards through the first four games.
“We’re been in these situations before,” Lions head coach James Franklin told Philly.com. “Whenever we get in those situations, we don’t panic. We make the adjustments. We believe in each other. We just were a little more consistent.
“Once we were able to get them settled down and play some more base defense, I think we were fine from that point on. Early on, turnovers hurt. I talked all week long how with this (Illinois) team, the turnover ratio was going to be critical, and in the first half we didn’t do a good job of protecting the football and it came back to hurt us.”
McSorley added a career-best 92 rushing yards and finished with 160 passing yards and three touchdowns. Penn State rolled up 591 yards as it set a school record by scoring more than 50 points for the third straight game.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) September 27, 2018
While much has been made of Haskins’ rise to national prominence, McSorley has quietly been an effective dual-threat quarterback for the Nittany Lions, totaling 14 touchdowns through the air and ground while accounting for 999 yards of total offense. He also has spread the wealth as six players have at least six catches and five have topped 100 yards.
Penn State has averaged 55.5 points and 514.5 yards overall.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions are also a work in progress, but their pass defense has improved since their season-opening 45-38 overtime win over Appalachian State. Penn State has given up 133.7 passing yards per game in its last three contests and recorded three interceptions.
Penn State is:
- No trends of note.
- The over is 6-1 in its last seven Big Ten games.
- The over is 7-2 in its last nine games as a home underdog.
- The over is 8-0 in its last eight games following a straight up win.
Ohio State is:
- 9-4 ATS in its last 13 games as a road favorite between 3.5 and 10 points.
- 36-16-1 ATS in its last 53 road games vs. teams with a winning home record.
- 5-1 ATS in its last six games as a favorite.
- The over is 6-1 in its last seven games as a road favorite.
- The over is 5-0-1 in its last six games as a road favorite between 3.5 and 10 points.
- The over is 9-3 in its last 12 Big Ten games.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Three of the last four games between these teams have been decided by seven or fewer points and the last two featured late touchdowns as the winning team rallied. Ohio State came back from 15 down last year in Columbus for a 39-38 victory, getting two TD passes from J.T. Barrett in the final 4:20.
The concern for Penn State in this game is two-fold. One is whether McSorley and Sanders can keep up with Haskins and this fast-break Ohio State offense. Sanders is good, but he’s no Barkley, and that big-play potential put the Nittany Lions on the verge of a victory.
The other is whether Penn State’s pass defense has really turned a corner, or whether it will revert to how it played against Appalachian State. Haskins has already played an elite defense this season in TCU, and after some early hiccups, he still finished with 344 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns without an interception.
What has made Haskins a superstar in the early going is his accuracy. Barrett was no slouch last season at 64.7 percent to go with his 35 scoring tosses, but at 75.7 percent coupled with only one interception and three sacks in 118 dropbacks, Haskins is reading the game phenomenally.
This game will be close in a raucous Happy Valley, especially with the expected “white out” by the home crowd, but in the end, look for the Buckeyes to find some separation and to make just enough plays defensively without Bosa to pull out a victory.
Prediction: Ohio State -4.5 (-110)
Full-Game Total Pick
Neither defense has shined in the early going, and Ohio State has more question marks to answer playing without Bosa and a more limited track record in playing two offenses in Rutgers and Tulane that were never going to pose a serious threat. The Nittany Lions’ shortcomings in the secondary were addressed above, and with Haskins’ effectiveness, the points could come fast and furious in this game for the second straight year.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 68 (-110)
Full-Game Prop Bet
This is a confidence pick in Haskins and the Buckeyes offense, which has scored at least one touchdown in all but two of its 16 quarters played thus far. Ohio State has also scored three touchdowns in a quarter seven times in four games.
Prediction: Pick: Ohio State OVER 36.5 points (-115)
Half-Time Side Pick
With a game expected to showcase plenty of points, the chance to take the Buckeyes giving less than a field goal is too good to pass up.
Prediction: Pick: Ohio State -2 (-110)
Half-Time Total Bet
Again, there is little reason to have any confidence in these teams’ defenses, and with both offenses showing big-play ability, the over should hit in this instance.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 34.5 points (-110)
Half-Time Prop Prediction
While it would not be as likely the Buckeyes would have another three-touchdown quarter, the fact their offense can put up points in rapid-fire fashion make taking the over a no-brainer here.
Prediction: Pick: Ohio State OVER 18.5 points (-115)