One team’s one of the four best in the country. The other is coming off of arguably its biggest win in the past two seasons. Add the two together, and you get what Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer predicts will be a “street fight.”
Meyer’s Buckeyes enter this Saturday’s matchup against Penn State with a 7-0 record and the No. 4 ranking in both major polls, as well as the all important BCS standings. But the second-year OSU head coach knows that getting to 8-0 won’t be so easy, as his team prepares to face a Nittany Lions squad not only one week removed from an off week, but two weeks past a quadruple-overtime victory over formerly unbeaten Michigan.
“There’s momentum,” Meyer said of Penn State, who sits at 4-2 on the season. “Guys are looking forward to coming and playing Ohio State when they win a game, especially a four-overtime game. I watched it. A lot of juice, a lot momentum going into this week. This is going to be a street fight for us.”
Not boding well for the Buckeyes is that what the Nittany Lions do best, the Buckeyes have seemed to struggle with the most.
OSU has been less than stellar in pass coverage this season, a problem that’s only been amplified by the season-ending injury suffered by safety Christian Bryant on Sept. 28. Conversely, Penn State has displayed a proficient passing attack -- the 26th best in the nation -- led by true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who has already accumulated 1,672 yards and 11 touchdowns in his rookie campaign.
The 6-4, 220-pounder has clearly caught the eye of Meyer, who is noticeably concerned about his team’s pass defense heading into Saturday’s Big Ten battle.
“He’s getting better and better as you would imagine a freshman would get better. Big, strong strapping guy. A really good arm,” Meyer said of Hackenberg. “Giving this guy time's a problem.”
So could be junior wide receiver Allen Robinson. The 6-3, 210-pound playmaker has proven himself to be Hackenberg’s favorite target this season, hauling in 43 receptions for 705 yards and five touchdowns.
After the Buckeyes struggled so mightily with Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, Meyer admit that he’s worried about the potential of Robinson, who just might be the best receiver in the Big Ten.
“The one receiver for Wisconsin had a day against us. (Robinson)’s as good, maybe better,” Meyer said. “He’s a terrific receiver.”
The challenge of covering Robinson will likely fall on the shoulders of OSU redshirt junior Bradley Roby, who has struggled thus far this season, and was ejected in the first quarter of last weekend’s win over Iowa due to the NCAA’s new targeting penalty. Meyer admitted that this week will be a challenge for Roby, a preseason All-American who could bounce right back with an impressive showing against one of the Big Ten’s best.
"He's gotta play well," Meyer said of Roby. "The whole backend's gotta play well. We haven't had our best game back there yet. It should've been a strength and I'm counting on them this week to be a strength."
Playing in another night game at Ohio Stadium that will air on national television, this much is clear: Meyer isn't overlooking his upcoming opponent. The Buckeyes head coach still carries the same respect for the Nittany Lions that many did just two years ago, before scandal and sanctions took the shine off of the PSU program for some.
"You'd expect that from a school like Penn State or Ohio State, to rebound. And they have. They're very good," Meyer said. "This is Penn State."