Location: College Park, Pennsylvania
2017 Record: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten)
Head Coach: James Franklin
2018 Record: 4-0 (1-0 Big Ten)
All-time record vs. OSU: 14-18
What has happened thus far in 2018:
No. 9 Penn State began the season with a light schedule, with three of their first four matchups having combined for a 9-27 record last season. Penn State handled all three of those opponents by 39 points or more. Appalachian State, however, took the Nittany Lions to overtime, though Penn State held on to beat the Mountaineers 45-38. Penn State leads the NCAA in points per game with 55.5.
Junior running back Miles Sanders has made a sizeable impact so far in the Penn State offense following Saquon Barkley’s footsteps, but all eyes are on redshirt senior quarterback Trace McSorley for a reason. As Penn State’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (59) and total touchdowns (77), McSorley is a dual-threat quarterback that has made his way by making plays at the right time, and doing it in enthusiastic fashion. This season, McSorley has swung his imaginary bat on 14 total touchdowns, with only two interceptions on 998 yards of total offense.
There’s a reason this is the highest scoring offense in the nation. With the combination of McSorley and Sanders, Penn State has won its games this season by dominating opponents on the offensive end, mostly through the run game, ranking No. 10 in the NCAA with 275.0 yards per game on the ground. The offensive and defensive lines have also done a great job avoiding and creating sacks, respectively. The Nittany Lions have allowed only one sack per game, tied for the 18th-fewest in the nation.
McSorley has led Penn State to only No. 62 in the country in passing yards, but has also not needed to rely on his arm much yet to win games. The Nittany Lions have been susceptible to the run game, allowing the 48th-most yards on the run at 172.5 per game. But Penn State’s Achilles heel thus far has been the first half. The Nittany Lions outscore opponents 149-35 in the second half and overtime, with 28 of the opposing points coming against Appalachian State. But Penn State only outscores its opponents 73-43 in the first half so far, allowing for lower-level teams to stay in the games until the offense inevitably blows it open in the third and fourth quarters. This issue won’t matter much against teams like Kent State and Illinois, but in a matchup like the one against No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday, a slow start could make all the difference.