Penn State Football

Gordon Brunskill: Beat OSU at the ’Shoe? I’m sayin’ there’s a chance

James Franklin and his Nittany Lions will have to come out strong to topple the Buckeyes.
James Franklin and his Nittany Lions will have to come out strong to topple the Buckeyes. CDT file photo

Since Urban Meyer took over as the head coach of the Ohio State football team before the 2012 season, the Buckeyes have lost just three games.

They have won 44.

That comes in the span of just 3 1/2 seasons.

In that same time period, the Buckeyes have lost zero Big Ten regular-season games.

None. Zip. Zilch.

That’s about as close to a lock as you can get in college football.

Some of the wins have been closer than expected, and they downright struggled to beat Indiana a couple weeks ago. But they keep on winning.

The roster is littered with players who are destined for the NFL. They’ve got three guys who are legit starting quarterbacks for pretty much any college program in the country, and all of them should get at least a taste in the NFL at some position.

The Ohio State defense will smack teams around pretty well, too.

The chances for a Penn State win Saturday night are somewhere between slim and none … but I’m saying there’s a chance.

It’s going to take practically a perfect storm to pull it off. And the storm would have been much more manageable if the game was being played at Beaver Stadium instead of Ohio Stadium.

The Nittany Lions’ chances would probably double — from one percent to two.

But it can be done.

First, Christian Hackenberg will need to be on target. He’s been missing some fairly easy passes this season, like quick slants and 10-yard out passes. The junior will have to be on the money. The Buckeye defensive backs will be less than forgiving.

Hackenberg also will have to be at his best at managing the game: Read the defenses and take what the team is given. Take a few shots down the field, maybe take a chance or two, but for the most part he needs to be Mr. Reliable. But, as just mentioned, he does need to take some shots down the field. Even if he doesn’t make any connections, it was good to see him throw some deep balls last weekend against Indiana. It stretches the defense and keeps them honest.

Having a pair of healthy and reliable top running backs also will help. After missing Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch the past couple weeks, the running game has suffered. Their presence, if the team doctors have given their OK, means there is the stronger threat of a successful running game, and that will make Hackenberg’s job as a passer easier.

The Nittany Lions also will need to plunge their paws deep into their bag of tricks. After running jet sweeps to Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins to pretty decent success, an enjoyable wrinkle was a play-action fake to Polk last week against the Hoosiers, with Polk then wide open down the sideline for a touchdown. More imagination could crack open the Buckeye defense.

Oh, and needless to say, the offensive line will need to stay healthy and turn in perhaps its best game of the season.

The defensive line will have to be absolutely stellar, the rotations they’ve been using to keep everything fresh will have to be at its best, and the front four will have to get a great push into the Ohio State backfield.

Ohio State has practically been sleepwalking through most of this season, figuring it has teams beat before the coin flip, and the Nittany Lions will need to take advantage of that overconfidence — not to mention quieting the crowd in the Horseshoe.

It’s a long list of things that have to go just right. Can it happen? Yes, but it’s a tall order. It’s even taller for a team that, as head coach James Franklin pointed out the other day, has the youngest roster with the most freshmen and sophomores playing, in the Big Ten.

More than likely, that number in the loss column for the Buckeyes will remain a big, fat zero.

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