Five things: Penn State at Ohio State

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
7:00
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The Buckeyes are riding a 19-game winning streak and the Nittany Lions are once again hoping to overcome the odds to upset the nation's No. 4 team. Penn State is the only team in the last 10 seasons to beat OSU multiple times at The Horseshoe, but it's certainly not going to be easy this time around.

Here are five things to keep an eye on:

1. Braxton Miller on play-action passes. There's no question that kind of throw is where Miller is his most dangerous. The dual-threat quarterback is attempting 45 percent of his passes off those play-actions, and he's completing 80.4 percent of those throws compared to 60.7 percent otherwise. He's also passed for seven touchdowns and no interceptions off play-actions, compared to one score and two picks otherwise. Bill O'Brien said Penn State will have to know its keys and stick to its assignments against Miller because, if the defense bites, Miller has a great track record of taking advantage.

2. CB Bradley Roby vs. WR Allen Robinson. This is bound to be the most entertaining matchup in the Big Ten. Roby has a lot to prove after an awful performance against Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis, while Robinson is looking to make a bigger name for himself against the returning All-American. There's a good chance that both players will be competing in the NFL next season, and this game is certain to be dissected by NFL coaches and scouts. Robinson is the team's best route-runner and it's something he takes very seriously, but Roby is great at picking up on routes and has terrific closing speed. It should be quite the battle Saturday night.

3. Penn State's run defense -- in the second half. The Nittany Lions' run defense has performed pretty well so far, as it's ranked No. 21 in the country and is limiting opponents to just 3.08 yards per carry. But PSU's defense lacks depth, and OSU tailback Carlos Hyde is at his best in the final two quarters. And that, obviously, isn't a great combination for Penn State. Hyde averages 82 yards per game in the second half -- the third-most in the FBS -- and has scored all five of his touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters.

4. Which Christian Hackenberg will show up? At times this season, he's looked like a seasoned vet. At other times, he's looked like what he actually is -- a true freshman. He's done incredibly well -- there's really no question about that -- but he's also been inconsistent. Hackenberg didn't perform great against Michigan but did his best when it counted most, driving his team downfield in the final minute of regulation. He went 6-of-25 in the final three quarters against Kent State, but also completed 75 percent of his passes (no interceptions) against UCF. He has the ability to take over a game -- but to also making head-scratching turnovers. A lot of PSU's success will hinge on the young quarterback and just how well he can adjust to his biggest road test of the season.

5. Penn State's backfield. For the first time all season, an "OR" appeared next to Zach Zwinak's name to signify that he might no longer be the guy. He could still start, but Bill Belton is also making a strong push to the main ball-carrier. Zwinak's problem has been his inability to hang on to the ball, as he's fumbling once every 42 carries -- compared to the national average of once every 91 carries. (Belton hasn't fumbled in his last 126 carries.) Zwinak can wear a defense down, but he's also fumbled seven times since last season. Whoever plays well this game could be the starter going forward. But it will be a big test against Ohio State. The Buckeyes boast the nation's No. 7 run defense and are limiting opponents to 2.95 yards a carry.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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