Penn State players have seen the two plays that changed the entire complexion of Ohio State’s most recent game against Iowa.
They’re burned into their memory banks — Braxton Miller’s right-to-left-to-right run to pick up a first down that set up Carlos Hyde’s relentless 19-yard touchdown run, the go-ahead score against the Hawkeyes in the fourth quarter. There is a lot more evidence that proves how dangerous the Buckeyes’ stars can be and the chances are the Nittany Lions have seen them.
Most of them don’t even need to. They’ve witnessed them firsthand. Take the first of Miller’s two touchdown runs during Ohio State’s 35-23 win at Beaver Stadium last season for example or any of his scrambles or designed runs that netted 134 yards or just over five yards per carry.
“It’s definitely a good tape to watch and it’s always good to have a tape of you playing the team from the previous year,” Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson said. “So I’m going to watch that a lot and definitely containing Braxton is one of the emphases of this week.”
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But Miller has taken a backseat to Hyde as the Buckeyes’ primary rushing weapon recently.
Miller’s 18-carry, 102-yard performance against the Hawkeyes marked the first time he rushed for more than 100 yards this season. Meanwhile, since returning from a three-game suspension, Hyde’s workload has increased. After combining for just 22 carries and 126 yards in his first two games back, the 6-foot, 235-pound running back carried the ball 50 times for 317 yards and five touchdowns against Northwestern and Iowa, respectively.
Although his stocky frame is perfect for downhill, bullish running, Hyde’s skill set isn’t limited to punishing opposing tacklers head-on.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien brought up Hyde’s second touchdown run against the Hawkeyes in which Iowa defensive back Tanner Miller plowed shoulder-to-shoulder into the Ohio State tailback knocking him backward about four yards before Hyde regained his balance, bounced to the outside and finessed his way down the sideline before diving in to the end zone to complete the play.
“It was just a great individual effort,” O’Brien said. “He’s obviously one of the better backs in the country. Again, we’ve got to make sure that we wrap him up, that we tackle him. It’s a huge challenge for us.”
The test will fall to Penn State’s front seven. The Nittany Lions had success using a five-man defensive front against the Michigan Wolverines and could deploy the same look against Miller, Hyde and the Buckeyes. In theory, the added pressure along the defensive line allows defensive linemen to occupy their offensive counterparts and allow linebackers to attack downhill freely and control gaps that runners with strong vision utilize to get up field for big gains.
With the hefty front at its disposal, Penn State was able to hold Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint to just one yard per carry and kept quarterback Devin Gardner out of the end zone. While Gardner finished with 121 yards on 24 carries, most of his damage was done on first and second downs and with scrambles. Only two of his runs extended drives on third down plays.
“The front four has definitely had a monumental impact,” linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. “Going back to the Michigan game, those guys were dominating up front, making it easier for the linebackers to work their gaps.”
Penn State defenders compared the running abilities of Gardner and Miller and believe the Michigan game was a good tune-up to what they’ll face in Columbus.
“They’re playmakers and when the game’s on the line I think they want to give the ball to those guys,” Carson said. “That’s where they’re very similar. They’re very elusive, good runners and just like I’ve watched a lot of Michigan tape on Gardner to see his tendencies, I’m going to have to do the same with Miller.”
As the game wore into its latter stages, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer put the ball in Miller’s hands last season at Beaver Stadium.
And while the Penn State defense was largely able to corral him early, it progressively ran out of steam as Miller got loose time and time again in the second half.
Attacking Miller downhill, Carson, Mike Hull and former teammates Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were able to wrap Miller up early and often. The Buckeye quarterback managed just over three yards per carry on nine first-half runs when he was tracked by a Penn State linebacker.
In the second half, Miller doubled that average and added two short scoring runs that broke the game loose.
“He can make a play anytime regardless if you feel like you’ve got him,” linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. “One-on-one, he has the ability to make you miss so we have to crowd the ball when he has it.”
Obeng-Agyapong, who at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds is smaller — and quicker — than the prototypical linebacker, played against Ohio State last season from the safety position. In Columbus he will be following Miller’s every move from in close alongside linebackers Carson and Nyeem Wartman.
“He’s fast, he’s elusive so having a smaller linebacker like me in there to spy on him or contain him is better,” Obeng-Agyapong said.
Penn State appoints new administrators
The retirement of Associate Athletic Director Fran Ganter has sparked changes in the Penn State athletic department.
Director of Athletics Dave Joyner announced Wednesday alterations to the football administration following Ganter’s retirement.
Troy Fisher, Jeff Garner and Mark Wharton have all joined Penn State’s athletic department. Fisher became the director of human resources while Garner is the assistant athletic director for ticketing sales and services. Meanwhile, Wharton is the assistant athletic director overseeing the Nittany Lion Club.
Associate Athletic Director of Finance Rick Kaluza will help formulate non-conference football schedules in addition to handling budget administration and oversight of compliance-related issues such as student-athlete exit interviews and faculty senate approval of schedules.
Jim Bernhardt, special assistant to O’Brien, has assumed additional responsibilities and is now working with Director of Football Operations Kirk Diehl. Bernhardt will also work on non-conference scheduling.
Wally Richardson, a former Penn State quarterback, returned to Penn State this summer as director of the Football Lettermen’s Club.