Ohio State vs Penn State Pick & Prediction
Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS)
College Football Week 5
When: September 29 at 7:30pm ET
Where: Beaver Stadium
By: Ted Walker, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: OSU -3.5/PSU +3.5
Over/Under Total: 70
We haven’t even seen the first College Football Playoff rankings yet but Week 5 is going to have a lot to say about the eventual contenders for that final four. Penn State welcomes Ohio State to town this weekend and the implications of this game can’t really be overstated. The winner gains control of the East Division of the Big Ten and cements a clear path to the playoff. The loser not only loses control of a conference destiny but will immediately be put in peril of a letdown season as both teams have tough matchups later in the schedule. Ohio State is no stranger to big games in big arenas but Penn State has prepared a “white out” for the Buckeyes and no one is predicting anything other than fantastic game come Saturday Night.
That 70 point over/under total is not a misprint and a shootout is expected as both teams come in averaging 54+ points per game. Ohio State has the edge in total yards per game (599 to 514) and has a few more playmakers overall but Penn State has the most important player on the field in QB Trace McSorley. Both defenses are on notice but how OSU’s defense, specifically the linebackers, handles McSorley will be a huge key on Saturday. McSorley has rushed for 235 yards and six scores on top of throwing for 764 yards with eight touchdown passes. Buckeye QB Dwayne Haskins has been the picture of efficiency in completing nearly 76% of his passes and has 16 touchdown throws. Four different OSU receivers have cracked the 200 yard receiving mark to enter the week with Parris Campbell leading the way at five scores. Penn State DE Shareef Miller has three sacks and another three tackles for loss through four weeks and his ability to put pressure on Haskins will determine how comfortably OSU will be able to operate.
Nip and Tuck Series
James Franklin has done well in resurrecting Penn State from the NCAA sanction years and it has shown in this series. PSU snagged a 24-21 win at home in 2016 with Ohio State sneaking out a 39-38 comeback win in Columbus last year. Ohio State has won seven of the last ten games straight up against the Lions but PSU has fared better with the line, going 5-5 against the spread in those games. The Buckeyes are riding a 5-1 ATS record in their last six games overall but getting out Beaver Stadium with not be easy as Penn State is 6-0 against the spread at home against an opponent with a winning record. Overall, the Nits have 20 ATS wins in their last 27 games at Beaver Stadium.
The Difference Maker
I think that McSorley is the single biggest difference maker on the field and that is to Penn State’s advantage against an OSU defense that is 40th against the pass and 61st against the run. The Buckeyes are also without their best defender as Nick Bosa will miss the game. WIthout their best pass-rusher, the OSU secondary will have to maintain their coverages longer and put them at risk for the downfield throws. Losing containment is bad news for OSU as well as McSorley knows when to pull it down and tote it himself. OSU does have 15 sacks on the season but those have come against lesser competition and far-lesser QB talents. To support the pass game, PSU averages 6.3 yards per rush and Mike Sanders is fresh off a 200 yard rushing breakout against Illinois. Penn State could grind down the Buckeyes if they devote too many bodies to control McSorley.
It has to look downright scary to defensive coordinators to see all the playmaking talent on Ohio State’s depth chart. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are both nearing six yards per carry and Dwayne Haskins has spread the ball to a seemingly endless array of receivers. The only limitation of the OSU offense - if one truly exists - is that Haskins has been a lesser thrower under pressure. Penn State is just 82nd against the pass but much of that has been due to game script and the Lions have had no problems pressuring the QB with 14 sacks so far. That front-four has helped put opponents in bad spots with third-and-long chances and PSU has held opponents to a 33% conversion rate. The stadium is going to be rocking all night but that noise is going to peak with OSU trying to convert those key third downs.
The Appalachian State scare to open the season was probably good medicine for the Lions and they showed continued resolve in blowing away Illinois after the Illini pushed them early. Ohio State is probably the stronger and deeper team but it is to Penn State’s advantage that this matchup is still early in the season and the Lions are in good shape on the injury report. PSU is as ready as anyone to tackle this Buckeye challenge and there are few home field advantages that are greater, especially at night. McSorley will find his splash plays and that will keep Penn State in touch on the scoreboard. I think the sheer number of OSU offensive options will crease what is a sometimes problematic Lion defense but I’m taking Penn State and the points as Ohio State sneaks out 30-27 win.
Ted Walker’s Pick: Penn State