D-line faces daunting task

Untouched, unpressured and with all day to throw, J.T. Barrett humiliated Penn State’s defense late in the game last season by completing 16 passes in a row and leading Ohio State to a 39-38 come-from-behind victory.

If the Nittany Lions fail to get any sort of pressure on Dwayne Haskins on Saturday night, the Buckeyes very well could light up the defense for 40 points or more.

It is imperative that PSU’s defensive line, which has been a weakness this season, plays very well against Ohio State. That will be a tall order against the Buckeyes’ outstanding offensive line, but that’s just the way it is in this matchup.

I’m not concerned about Penn State’s offense. Trace McSorley and company will score a bunch of points, and the improved offensive line will do just fine.

The Lions’ defensive line faces an enormous pick-your-poison challenge, going up against an outstanding running team that also can throw the ball at a very high level. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Penn State’s potent, versatile offense has used that formula to torment defenses for three years now.

The Lions have good edge players on the D-line in Shareef Miller and Yetur Gross-Matos. One or both will have to be terrific Saturday night.

The bigger concern is the middle of the line. Kevin Givens is a force at defensive tackle, and when he’s fresh can be very disruptive. To this point, the other starting tackle, Robert Windsor, has proven to be just an average lineman.

The big issue is that, unlike years past, PSU just doesn’t have the quality depth on the line to keep everyone fresh for the entirety of this type of tough matchup. The Lions will rotate guys in and out, sure, but the overall talent and inexperience of the backups leave the defense vulnerable.

On the other side, Larry Johnson will be rotating his Ohio State D-linemen in and out as always, something he also did during his many years at Penn State. Johnson has better overall talent and depth at his disposal, even with star defensive end Nick Bosa out with an injury.

There will be great pressure on the PSU D-line and linebackers to plug the running lanes to stop Ohio State’s strong ground game, while also getting in Haskins’ face.

Pitt and Illinois ran over Penn State at times this season, and the Buckeyes certainly are capable of doing the same. They’re also capable of destroying PSU through the air.

For Penn State to have a chance to win, the defensive line must have a big night and at least slow down one aspect of the Buckeyes’ attack.

Reach Cory Giger at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.