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PSU a huge underdog against Buckeyes

Penn State’s players say they’re ready for Ohio State. Vegas disagrees — in a big way.

The Nittany Lions are 18-point underdogs for this week’s huge showdown in Columbus that will decide the Big Ten East regular-season champ and a whole lot more.

The Buckeyes have throttled everyone all season, and outside expectation is they’ll clobber PSU, as well.

No matter what, Penn State has a chance. It controls its own destiny, and that’s all any team can ask for in week 11.

If the Lions can pull off the big upset, then go on to win the Big Ten championship game, they almost certainly would make the College Football Playoff for the first time.

A win in Columbus against No. 2 Ohio State would be such a huge accomplishment that it ultimately should give PSU the best resume of any one-loss team.

“I’m very excited to be in the position that we are,” Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford said. “I can promise that this will be the best week of preparation that we will have. We will not be denied that. And we will be extremely, extremely prepared for next week.”

I have no doubt the Lions will be as prepared as they possibly can be for the game.

I also have no doubt that it won’t be anywhere near good enough to beat this juggernaut Ohio State team at the Horseshoe.

What we’ve seen from Penn State’s defense the past two weeks leads me to believe the Buckeyes are going to score and score at will.

Minnesota shredded the Lions’ pass defense two weeks ago. Then Indiana did the same thing on Saturday.

Those teams are nowhere near as good or explosive as Ohio State.

Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields is completing 69 percent of his passes for 2,164 yards with an incredible 31-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. You read that right: Fields has 31 TD passes and only one interception.

The Buckeyes also have a terrific running back in J.K. Dobbins, who has 1,289 yards rushing and 13 TDs. He runs behind an outstanding offensive line that is excellent at run blocking and pass blocking.

Good luck against all that, Brent Pry.

Honestly, there’s just not much hope that PSU’s defense will stifle Ohio State, especially since the Lions have struggled getting pressure on the quarterback the past two weeks.

For Penn State to hang around in this game, the offense is going need a big night — getting to at least 30 points against a sensational defense. That defense will have star end Chase Young back, as well, after he served a two-game suspension.

The Lions put together an awesome 9-minute drive to seal the deal against Indiana on Saturday, and did so running it 16 times in 18 plays. That was impressive.

They’ll need to run the ball like that the entire game to stay close against Ohio State. We’ve said it all year that PSU’s offense cannot afford to go quiet for long stretches and have a bunch of three-and-outs, and that definitely will be the case against the Buckeyes.

The offensive line has been solid this season, and it will need to be Saturday.

And the Lions desperately need to have receiver KJ Hamler back after he took a hit to the head and missed most of the Indiana game. You take Hamler out of the mix this week, and I’m not sure Penn State moves the ball at all.

“I think since the beginning of the season we’ve been underdogs,” PSU linebacker Micah Parsons said. “I don’t think nobody really counted us to be this good, and we’ve just got to keep going with that mentality. I hope that we’re the underdogs. I’m living for the underdog role. Underdogs always come out on top.”

Not 18-point underdogs.

Rewind to a year ago, James Franklin made probably his biggest blunder as Penn State’s coach when, following a tough 27-26 loss to the Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium, he promised to turn PSU into an elite program.

That statement set the bar incredibly high, and Franklin forever will be judged by it until the program backs up his words on the field in games like the one coming up Saturday.

The Lions have a good team this year. But they’re not close to being elite yet. No elite team is ever a 18-point underdog.

Penn State, as I keep mentioning, could be elite next year, as it returns just about everybody on both sides of the ball. Plus, Ohio State comes to Happy Valley next season, making that a much more winnable game.

Truth be told, this week is not a winnable game. Ohio State is just that much better on both sides of the ball, and the Buckeyes are at home.

But what this week’s game will provide is a chance to see how Penn State matches up against a truly elite team.

It will be a great learning experience for this Lions squad, which has overachieved this season with a 9-1 record but has come back down to reality a bit the past two weeks with less-than-impressive showings.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.

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