Can Penn State pull off the upset?

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and the Buckeyes' Urban Meyer (left) shake after Ohio State's 35-23 win last year.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and the Buckeyes' Urban Meyer (left) shake after Ohio State's 35-23 win last year. (AP)
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and the Buckeyes' Urban Meyer (left) shake after Ohio State's 35-23 win last year.GALLERY: Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and the Buckeyes'… (AP )
Posted: October 27, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien has talked frequently this week about the challenge his team faces going into Saturday night's game against unbeaten and fourth-ranked Ohio State, which is currently the best team in the Big Ten Conference race by several furlongs.

The Nittany Lions will face multiple challenges on what should be a wild night with more than 105,000 folks packing Ohio Stadium. O'Brien, who had the benefit of a bye last week, will have them ready.

But can they pull off the upset of the Buckeyes, winners of 19 consecutive games?

It's not that the Buckeyes have played pristine football every single week. They had to come on strong in the second half of each of their last two games to pull out a victory. While that can be a risky plan from week to week, they have the confidence in knowing they can do it.

Whether the Nittany Lions have enough to shock Ohio State depends on several factors, the most important being how true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg responds to the hostile environment in what is only his second game played on an opponent's field.

O'Brien thinks Hackenberg has a calm demeanor, "a quiet confidence about him," and therefore can deal with what he'll find here.

"I think he focuses on his assignments," the coach said.

Ohio State is a rather ordinary 78th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in pass defense so Hackenberg could have some success going to Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's leading receiver, and his tight ends. But the Lions will have to rush the ball in order for the passing game to work, and that could be difficult against a defense that allows only 92.4 yards per game on the ground.

Penn State will have to put points on the scoreboard early. It has gone scoreless in the first quarter in its games (Syracuse and Indiana) away from Beaver Stadium.

On defense, the Nittany Lions must control quarterback Braxton Miller and a rushing game, led by Carlos Hyde, that gains nearly 280 yards per game, 11th in the FBS. It also has to come up with some turnovers; the unit has forced only nine, while the Buckeyes have committed eight.

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