No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State: Here’s what you need to know

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Saquon Barkley (Getty Images)

Last week was the appetizer.

This week is the main course.

Penn State faces its biggest challenge of the season to date on Saturday, when the second-ranked Nittany Lions travel to Columbus to take on No. 6 Ohio State at 3:30 p.m. on FOX.

A win would give Penn State an inside track earning a chance to defend its Big Ten title and a shot at the College Football Playoff. A loss would vault Ohio State ahead of the Nittany Lions in both races.

The Buckeyes will be looking to avenge last season’s 24-21 loss in Happy Valley. While the defeat cost the Buckeyes a shot at the Big Ten title, Ohio State wound up edging out Penn State for the fourth and final berth in the college playoffs (a fact that most Lions fanatics are still pretty salty about).

Penn State went on to represent the Big Ten at the Rose Ball, falling to USC in a highly entertaining game. Ohio State was stomped 31-0 by eventual national champion Clemson in the playoff semifinal.

That backstory adds even more drama to what is already a highly anticipated matchup. Ohio State is 32-5 at home against Big Ten competition under head coach Urban Meyer, and the Buckeyes enter Saturday’s game as a six-point favorite.

Here’s what you need to know about the game:

No. 2 Penn State (7-0) at No. 6 Ohio State (6-1)


KICKOFF: 3:30 p.m.

BETTING LINE: Ohio State is a 6-point favorite

SERIES: Ohio State leads the all-time series 17-14, and is 15-8 against Penn State since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993.




ABOUT PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions put together their best performance of the season on their biggest stage so far with last week’s 42-13 rout of Michigan in a prime-time game on ABC. Playing in front of a delirious White Out crowd, Penn State jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, weathered Michigan’s second-quarter comeback attempt, and pulled away in the second half to maintain their grip on the No. 2 overall ranking.

Heisman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley continued to further his case for college football’s ultimate individual award, breaking loose for a 69-yard touchdown run on the game’s second play from scrimmage. The junior running back added another rushing touchdown and hauled in a 42-yard TD strike from QB Trace McSorley and finished the game with 108 rushing yards, three catches for 53 yards and 15 yards on kick returns. Barkley leads the nation in all-purpose yardage (211 yards per game).

McSorley also continued his hot streak, completing 17 of 26 passes for 282 yards and the TD pass to Barkley. He also was a force on the ground, racking up 76 yards and three touchdowns on 11 attempts. McSorley leads the conference in passing yards per game (268.4) and has completed 66.8 percent of his passes this season. McSorley has 1,879 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, while he’s thrown just five interceptions.

Wideout DaeSean Hamilton continued his strong play against Michigan, with 115 yards on six catches. Hamilton has caught 28 passes for 481 yards and four touchdowns this season. His reception count is second on the team behind Barkley, while has yardage leads the team, and his four scores match tight end Mike Gesicki for the team lead.

Meanwhile, Penn State’s defense turned in another solid effort against the Wolverines. The Nittany Lions are the only team in college football to have not allowed a single point in the first quarter. They held Michigan to 269 total yards, sacked Wolverine quarterback John O’Korn twice, and forced one fumble. Linebacker Jason Cabinda snagged a team-high 12 tackles, earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. Cabinda’s 52 tackles for the season lead the team.

Penn State allows just 115 rushing yards and 167 passing yards per game, and their average of 9.0 points allowed per game leads the nation. The Nittany Lions’ average of 3.4 sacks per game leads the Big Ten.

ABOUT OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes are coached by Urban Meyer, who is in his sixth season in Columbus after stops in Bowling Green and Florida. Meyer won two national championships with the Gators, and led Ohio State to the national title in 2014. The Buckeyes are 4-1 against Penn State under Meyer’s guidance.

Ohio State has won five straight games since falling 31-16 at home to No. 5 Oklahoma in the second week of the season. The Buckeyes were idle last week; their most recent victory was a 52-14 pummeling of Nebraska on Oct. 14. Ohio State has scored at least 52 points in its last four games and has racked up more than 500 yards of offense in each of its last five.

Led by senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, whose 21 touchdowns and 173.8 efficiency rating pace the Big Ten, Ohio State has outscored its opponents 262-56 during its current five-game winning streak. Their averages of 47.3 points and 577.3 yards per game lead the Big Ten and is second and third in major-college football, respectively.

Barrett is 32-5 as a starter at Ohio State. He has 1,838 yards passing, and is second on the team in rushing with 356 yards and five touchdowns on 70 attempts.

Freshman RB J.K. Dobbins has a team-high 775 rushing yards and five scores on 100 carries. Parris Campbell (28-405, two TDs) and K.J. Hill (28-274, three TDs) are Ohio State’s top receivers.

Defensively, Ohio State is yielding an average of 15.4 points per game, which ranks third in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes allow 305 yards per game and have forced 13 turnovers. Safety Damon Webb leads the team in tackles (34) and interceptions (2), while safety Jordan Fuller is second in both categories (33 tackles, 1 INT). Defensive lineman Nick Bosa, whose brother Joey is a former Buckeye standout, leads Ohio State in sacks with four.