Nittany Lions must keep offense on field, Fields off it
Saturday: Ohio State (1-0) at Penn State (0-1)
Time: 7 p.m.
Latest line: Nittany Lions are 11.5 underdogs.
If there’s one thing that last week’s loss at Indiana accomplished, it quickly took the shine off tonight’s matchup with Ohio State and the pressure that goes with it.
Almost no one expects Penn State to beat the Buckeyes so maybe that will work in the Nittany Lions’ favor.
Quarterback Sean Clifford, though, is not among those. Clifford, an Ohio native, said earlier this week, “I’m not here to hang with Ohio State. I’m here to beat Ohio State.”
For the Lions do so, they’ll need Clifford to play a whole lot better than he did in the first half at Indiana, when PSU’s uphill climb was etched.
After last week when everything that could go wrong did, Penn State fans would be satisfied just to be in the game tonight.
So what’s the formula?
Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields — the former Nittany Lion commitment — has established himself as one of the premier players in the country.
In fact, he’s currently rated as the second-best overall 2021 draft prospect behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Lion defense must — must — contain Fields, an excellent passer and a gifted runner, and limit his possessions.
How can that be done?
Not easily, but as much as it’s a huge night for Brent Pry and the Lions’ defense, the offensive line is this game’s most important position.
Even without an established running back, this offensive line — supposedly the best in James Franklin’s seven-year tenure — needs to control the ball and the clock.
It also needs to protect Clifford as he tries to develop a rhythm with a green receiving corps beyond Pat Freiermuth and Jahan Dotson.
If the line can do that, the defense plays well and the special teams can avoid all the mistakes they made in game one, well, maybe, contrary to Clifford’s pre-game mission, the Lions can hang with Ohio State.
But it’s hard to be overly optimistic.
I wonder how Nebraska is feeling about the Big Ten.
When the league initially decided to postpone the season, the Cornhuskers were outspoken in trying to seek other options. The Big Ten quickly assured them they could not, and Nebraska, seeing the dollar signs that the conference represents, walked back its displeasure.
Once a decision was then made to play eight regular-season games, Nebraska’s stance was rewarded with a schedule that opened at Ohio State and had Wisconsin and Penn State among its first four opponents. Touche.
Now, in the wake of today’s Nebraska-Wisconsin game canceled (not postponed) due to a COVID-19 outbreak at Wisconsin, the Huskers found a non-conference in Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Again, the league said no.
Which probably makes the Huskers long for their days in the Big 8.
Relative to the aforementioned PFF prospect list, Micah Parsons is rated the No. 5 draft pick, Pat Freiermuth is rated No. 30 followed by defensive end Jason Oweh at 49 and Journey Brown at 73. Brown is currently out indefinitely due to an undisclosed medical condition.
Of the list, Oweh is most intriguing since this is the first season that he’s been a full-time starter, and he’s not been as productive as Shaka Toney.
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour sent a letter this week to Nittany Lion Club members expressing an urgent need for fundraising to address a $70 million shortfall caused by the pandemic.
The letter outlined the #PSUOneTeam initiative, adding that furloughs, staff reduction, cost cutting and other “drastic” measures have already taken place.
Penn State is still trying to maintain its 31 varsity sports, to which Barbour concluded, “Penn State Athletics as we know it is at risk.”
It makes you wonder how much longer Penn State can avoid cutting some of its sports, something no one wants to see.
Rudel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to register for the Mirror’s free “Lion Online” newsletter, an account of Saturday’s game, click bit.ly/2SAy1J4. It’s emailed at noon each Sunday.