Game of the Week: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 24 Penn State
Ohio State run offense vs. Penn State run defense
Penn State is ninth in the nation in run defense and is allowing just 2.3 yards per carry, but the Nittany Lions have been vulnerable against the run at times this season. Michigan's Mike Hart rushed for 153 yards in a 14-9 victory over Penn State. Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall and Wisconsin's P.J. Hill failed to reach the century mark against Penn State, but each averaged around 4 yards per carry. Penn State could have more problems against the run the rest of the season because starting DT Jared Odrick broke his right ankle last week and will miss the rest of the season. Ohio State's Chris Wells delivered a star-making performance last week by rushing for 221 yards against Michigan State. Don't be surprised if he cracks the 100-yard mark.
Ohio State pass offense vs. Penn State pass defense
Ohio State QB Todd Boeckman has performed steadily in his first season as a starter, but he hasn't faced a defense quite this good or a crowd quite this hostile. Boeckman will have to look out for Maurice Evans, who has seven sacks in his past three games. Penn State leads the nation with 4.4 sacks per game and will try to harass Boeckman into mistakes. Penn State star CB Justin King struggled to cover Indiana's James Hardy last week and will need to do a better job Saturday against Ohio State's Brian Robiskie, who has seven TD receptions this season.
Penn State run offense vs. Ohio State run defense
Penn State has run the ball about as well as anyone could have reasonably expected since the suspension of season-opening starting tailback Austin Scott. In fact, the Nittany Lions actually have a better ground attack without the fumble-prone Scott. Rodney Kinlaw has rushed for at least 115 yards in two of Penn State's past three games, while Evan Royster has averaged 6.5 yards per carry in a reserve role. Kinlaw and Royster could struggle to find running room against an Ohio State defense that ranks second in the nation against the run and has allowed just 2.1 yards per carry.
Penn State pass offense vs. Ohio State pass defense
Penn State senior QB Anthony Morelli enters this game seeking redemption. He threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the final three minutes of a 28-6 loss to Ohio State last season. Penn State's fortunes this season have depended on Morelli's performances. Morelli completed less than half his passes in a loss to Michigan and threw three interceptions in a loss to Illinois. He has a combined 12 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in Penn State's six victories. Ohio State leads the nation in pass-efficiency defense and has nine interceptions while allowing only three touchdown passes this season.
Ohio State kicking game vs. Penn State kicking game
Ohio State kicker Ryan Pretorious is 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts, including 5-for-6 from 40-49 yards. A.J. Trapasso averages 41.9 yards per punt and has landed half of his 30 attempts inside the opponent's 20. Penn State's Kevin Kelly is 13 of 19 on field-goal attempts with a season long of 53, but he's only 2-for-7 from at least 40 yards. Penn State's Jeremy Boone averages 44.2 yards per punt. Ohio State's Brian Hartline (15.3 per return) and Penn State's Derrick Williams (13.7) both are ranked among the nation's top 16 punt returners.
Ohio State coaching staff vs. Penn State coaching staff
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has won just one of his three career games at Happy Valley, but that's one of the only smudges on a sparkling résumé. Ohio State's school-record 26-game regular-season winning streak is a testament to Tressel's coaching ability. Ohio State also has two of the nation's top assistants in offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. Penn State endured a two-game losing streak this season and has encountered plenty of off-field distractions, but Joe Paterno's staff has helped the Nittany Lions turn their season around by winning three in a row.
Ohio State will win if
The Buckeyes are more talented than Penn State and should win if they can establish enough of a running attack to take the pressure off Boeckman. Ohio State also must avoid turnovers. And it would help if the Buckeyes took an early lead to prevent the Penn State crowd from becoming even more of a factor than usual.
Penn State will win if
Penn State benefits from a low-scoring game that remains close into the fourth quarter. In a best-case scenario, Penn State grabs the lead in the fourth quarter, contains Wells and forces Boeckman to drive the ball down the field against a brutal pass rush in the final minutes.
Penn State's chances of winning could depend on how well its young defensive linemen fill in for Odrick, the defensive tackle who suffered a season-ending ankle injury last week. Sophomore Chris Baker likely will start in Odrick's place, and redshirt freshmen Ollie Ogbu, Tom McEowen and Abe Koroma also should receive more playing time than usual. Penn State probably needs one of those players to deliver a breakthrough performance Saturday.
Megarge's pick: Ohio State 17-14 Other Rivals.com expert picks: Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Ohio State 20-15 Mike Huguenin, college sports editor: Ohio State 20-14 Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Ohio State 21-17 Check out the rest of the Rivals.com Expert Picks.