Ahead of No. 6 Ohio State’s toughest challenge to date, head coach Urban Meyer spoke on the Big Ten coaches teleconference Tuesday about the areas in Penn State’s game he believes will provide Ohio State with issues.
The defensive line has proven to be a dynamic aspect of the Nittany Lions’ defense, Meyer said, and that as a unit, everyone on the line poses a threat to the Buckeyes.
“Well, I like to group them together,” Meyer said. “I think they’re very similar in approach to the game and the one guy that steps up big time is [linebacker Jason Cabinda]. You see him all over the place. But to say one D-linemen is better than the other, I can’t do that. I just think they’re well coached and go extremely hard.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the clear standout behind the line is junior running back Saquon Barkley, whose name frequently pops up as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. However, the Nittany Lions have also received a boost from junior quarterback Trace McSorley, who currently leads all Big Ten quarterbacks in passing yards.
Meyer compared McSorley to Ohio State’s own quarterback, J.T. Barrett, as well as a few other quarterbacks Meyer has coached including former Utah quarterback Alex Smith and former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow for the competitiveness shared by the quartet of players.
“I really got to watch him on TV [Saturday against Michigan], I’ve never really done that before last week,” Meyer said. “One play in particular, going to his left in the red zone where he scored, made a couple people miss, he lunged and he’s not the biggest guy, but he competes so damn hard he got in the end zone.”
Penn State head coach James Franklin also spoke at the teleconference, and shared his thoughts on the talent he has seen from afar onOhio State’s offense. He said the Buckeyes possess one of the most potent offenses in the country, and even though his Nittany Lions have been one of the top defenses in the league this season, Ohio State will really test the limits of their defense.
“This isn’t one of those offense you feel like you’re going to shut down but you’re trying to limit them as much as you possibly can,” Franklin said. “I think it’s their speed and athleticism at so many different positions. That’s going to be a real challenge for us, there’s no doubt about that.”
Here are some more notes from the teleconference.
Meyer on linebacker Jerome Baker’s importance to the team: “We have such a good relationship with his family that his mom even told me after he committed somewhere else, ‘Just hang in there.’ Every family has their right to watch their son play football and I’m glad he’s here. This is critical, critical game for him. Not just his own performance, but lifting those around him and that’s where he’s grown up.”
Meyer on where right tackle Isaiah Prince has made improvements from last season: “In all areas. His practice, we’re a big believer in how you practice, how you play and just the way he approaches everything is much different, much improved. And this will be a great challenge for him because this is one where him alone with several others didn’t play very well last year against them.”
Meyer on whether this is a career-defining game for Barrett: “Any quarterback who’s played as long as he has, he’s had several of them. I wouldn’t say this is the one, but this is obviously a very important one.”
Franklin on Ohio State freshman running back J.K. Dobbins: “There’s no doubt he’s explosive. We recruited him. We knew he was going to have a chance to bring another level there and kind of a different look — speed explosion, quickness, those types of things. Talented guy, there’s no doubt about it.”
Franklin on Barrett’s career: “For programs, everybody is trying to find the guy that you know you can win with, and they have that. They got a guy that’s won a lot of games for them. [Barrett is] probably one of the leaders in a number of categories when it comes to Ohio State, when it comes to the Big Ten and when it comes nationally. It feels like he’s been playing there for 20 years and then he’s been surrounded by great talent … that’s a difficult challenge for anybody.”