UNIVERSITY PARK — Ohio State’s defensive players are prepared to face a fast-paced, multiple-look, no-huddle offense.
Matt McGloin is ready to run one.
When No. 9 Ohio State (8-0) visits Beaver Stadium tonight, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions (5-2) will collide as two of the conference’s most accelerated offenses will tangle, each trying to keep the opposing unit off the field.
For the Buckeyes, this is as new-look Penn State team as they could possibly see after all but two coaches from Joe Paterno’s staff were retained following Bill O’Brien’s hiring over the winter.
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O’Brien has subsequently expanded an offense that has increased its play-calling and execution paces over the last few weeks. Since, O’Brien has dubbed it the ‘NASCAR’ package due to the speed the Lions get to the line and snap the ball following the end of each play.
“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “They’re averaging — (my) staff just told me earlier (Tuesday) — almost 90 plays a game. It’s not a panic, up-tempo offense. It’s very under-control. They’re going to try to uncover what (defense) you’re in.”
For the season, Penn State averages 79 plays per game. But over the last three games, as McGloin and his offensive teammates have grown more comfortable with O’Brien’s offense, Meyer’s sources are accurate.
It has all come down to McGloin, who, despite a risky throw here and there, has not turned the ball over — he’s thrown just two interceptions to 14 touchdowns — and is attempting nearly 37 passes and throwing for 255 yards per game.
Although they work at similar paces, Ohio State is averaging nearly 70 offensive snaps per game, the two offenses are manned by completely different quarterbacks. Ohio State’s speedy attack leans heavily on quarterback Braxton Miller’s running ability.
Meanwhile, McGloin is having his best season serving as a true field general, allowing his knowledge of the offense and opposing defenses take over.
“I don’t really consider myself a dual-threat quarterback or anything like that, that’s not what I consider playing quarterback in this offense is about,” McGloin said. “You have to have great pocket awareness, which I think Coach O’Brien and (quarterbacks coach) Charlie Fisher have done a great job with me. You have to be able to move in the pocket well, move in it and find your throwing lanes. That’s what they have helped me with.”
As for on-field communication, the Nittany Lions have multiple players and assistants signal in to the offense. McGloin said he can actually hear O’Brien yell from the sideline as college quarterbacks don’t have the luxury of an earpiece, which O’Brien recently noted was a big adjustment for him from the NFL.
In the hurry-up, McGloin will get everyone on the same page as to the snap count and formation. Ultimately, he can opt out of a certain play at the line depending on the matchup with the defense.
“This quarterback, you can tell, is a really good quarterback at getting in the right play against the right defense,” Meyer said. “It’s up to the quarterback or the sideline to get you into that. It seems like this quarterback does that a lot on his own.”
His downfield options and chemistry with them, including young playmakers Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter, have kept most secondaries honest.
The Buckeyes are surrendering on average over 275 passing yards per game. Their four starters in the secondary, cornerbacks Travis Howard and Brandon Roby and safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, have combined to play in 28 of a possible 32 man games. Howard is the lone senior of the group while Bryant and Barnett are juniors. Roby is a sophomore.
While the Buckeye secondary looks vulnerable on paper, they’ve made quarterbacks pay this season, combining for seven of the team’s 11 interceptions this season.
They know to shut down Penn State’s offense — a unit that has had its way with much of its opposition for the last six weeks — they’ll have to slow McGloin.
“He’s in and out of his checks really fast,” Bryant said of McGloin. “He looks at the defense, observes all their tendencies and checks to different things. He’s a confident quarterback. We’re going to be prepared for him. He’s having a fabulous year so far.”