STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The booming fireworks that have rocked Beaver Stadium before each of the last few primetime games will be more fitting than usual on Saturday when two of the country’s most explosive teams meet.
The two highest scoring offenses will square off as No. 9 Penn State hosts the No. 4 Buckeyes. What’s on the line? How about a chance to play for a conference title and even a potential College Football Playoff berth.
“Three of the last four meetings have been decided by seven points or less,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “So this has been a very competitive series for the four years that we’ve been here.”
Never has there been this much firepower on each side.
The Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) are averaging 55.5 points per game and have racked up 63 on each of their last two opponents. The Buckeyes (4-0, 1-0) are getting by at a similar clip. They’ve scored 54.5 per game and showed off their potential in a 77-point eruption to open the season against Oregon State.
Both offenses run through their quarterbacks, but in different ways.
Penn State’s Trace McSorley has long been a Heisman Trophy hopeful with his dual-threat abilities. He’s tossed touchdown passes in 32-straight games and recently became just the second Penn State quarterback to rush for 1,000 career yards.
It’s his 26-5 record as a starter that has Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s attention.
“(He’s) a winner, a guy that can do it all,” Meyer said. “And a competitor.”
McSorley’s running abilities have kept defenses honest in the past. Now, Ohio State has to worry about what has emerged as one of the best offensive lines in the nation.
Penn State’s front five have paved the way for more than 200 yards in each of the last seven games. They’re averaging 275 rushing yards per game. Tailback Miles Sanders is fresh off a 200-yard, three-touchdown performance, too.
“I think we’re in a much different position than we’ve been in the past with our offensive line,” Franklin said. “Not only from protecting our quarterback, but also more consistently being able to run the ball.”
The Buckeyes will get a boost in that department with the return of running back Mike Weber. The junior suffered a foot injury in the second quarter of the Buckeye’s 49-6 win over Tulane a week ago and did not return.
Weber has had to work hard to produce against Penn State. In two games he’s carried the ball 28 times for 92 yards with a touchdown. Production from the Ohio State passing game has been much more pronounced.
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins is putting together a Heisman Trophy resume of his own. He’s completed 87 of 115 passes for 1,194 yards with 16 touchdowns and just one interception. He’s second in passing efficiency among FBS players and has been sacked just four times.
Haskins’ emergence has changed the complexion of Ohio State’s offense. It’s not the same option-based spread attack Penn State is used to defending with former Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett at the helm.
Instead of relying on his quarterback’s running ability, Meyer has counted on Haskins to hit his marks with his arm. And he’s done a good job spreading the ball to Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill. The two have combined for 40 catches for 558 yards and six touchdowns.
Meyer, who’ll coach in his second game after serving a three-game suspension to start the season for failing to report an assistant coach suspected of domestic violence, had a message for his young quarterback after last week’s game.
“I was driving home after the game,” Meyer said. “I called (Haskins) just with that message to stay focused. And we’ve had some pretty high-profile guys around here and I’ve seen it. One thing about Columbus, Ohio, is this is the show and they become bigger than life, but he’s a very humble guy.”