Posted by Adam Jacobi
PENN STATE WILL WIN IF: They can turn turnovers into points. It's become increasingly obvious over the course of the season that Penn State, despite its 8-2 record, doesn't have the offensive firepower to manufacture long drives with any regularity (even if Rob Bolden has finally, mercifully, been benched for Matt McGloin full time). Against a defense like Ohio State's, which ranks 15th in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed, those long drives are likely going to be even harder to come by. So really, the Nittany Lions are going to need a superlative effort from their defense (which, for the record, they have gotten often this season). That means turnovers that either get returned for touchdowns or at the very least give the PSU offense a short enough field that it can get into the end zone against a brutish Buckeye front seven.
OHIO STATE WILL WIN IF: Those road graders keep the chains moving. Ohio State has made no mystery of its predilection towards keeping the ball on the ground; QB Braxton Miller has more rushes than passing attempts this year, and on the whole, (quick and dirty estimates to follow) OSU has rushed on 72% of its plays. Even that stat belies how much OSU rushes with Miller in the game, though; that number jumps to 79% when Miller's the signal-caller instead of Joe Bauserman. Sure, those rushes come out of a variety of looks, including QB draws/scrambles out of passing sets, so it's not like you can just load up the box with 10 guys and have everyone go to town. But at the end of the day, OSU primarily gets the job done on the ground, while Penn State's rush defense is good but not great. That's the main vulnerability for Penn State in this matchup, and Ohio State needs to exploit it.
THE X-FACTOR: Whether Penn State can maintain its focus amidst ongoing distraction. It's one thing to react to a stressful situation by playing one inspired game. That happens more often than players or games reacting to a profoundly negative off-field event by coming out flat and laying an egg. It's the coming weeks where one might see the cumulative effects of the distraction and the stress of the upheaval that Joe Paterno's dismissal has caused. And yes, interim head coach Tom Bradley is shielding his players from some of that distraction by making them unavailable to the media, and that's certainly his right to do so. But the players still live there in State College and interact with each other and others on a daily basis. There's only so much of a bubble you can put them in, and only so much of the situation they can ignore. How the players maintain their focus and composure will be crucial in these final tough two weeks (and beyond). A division championship hangs in the balance here; let's see if the players have kept sight of that or not.