Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer knows what it’s like to run an offense with a dual-threat quarterback.
He describes it as an offense playing with 11 1/2 players, utilizing a quarterback that has the tendency to tuck and run on an option, along with an accurate throwing ability in the passing game.
This is an offense that Meyer is familiar with. This is an offense Meyer ran with former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett at the helm for the previous four seasons.
“We’ve had a lot of yards around here over the last years and years and years because of having that ability to do that,” Meyer said. “So that’s a real threat. And that’s something that you have to game plan for.”
This is an offense Ohio State has already faced this season with then-No. 15 TCU and sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson. The Buckeyes were successful in stopping his running ability, limiting a runner who has averaged over six yards per carry in each of his three other games to seven yards on eight rushes.
Trace McSorley is different.
With two games having started against Ohio State under his belt — throwing at least one touchdown and recording a rushing touchdown in each one of those games — the redshirt senior quarterback leads a Penn State offense that paces the nation in scoring, averaging 55.5 points per game.
Through four games, McSorley has thrown eight touchdowns while recording six more touchdowns on the ground, averaging a career-high 5.7 yards per carry.
“Any time you are facing explosive athletes, a quarterback that is as good as there is in college football at what he does, there’s a cumulative impact of them running the style of offense that they use,” co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Alex Grinch said. “There’s multiple plays on any given down to defend.”
Grinch understands there are multiple aspects of a dual-threat option offense to be aware of defensively. He said it is difficult to “get numbers at the point of attack” when defenders at every position have to be prepared for multiple plays on any given down.
With the running ability of both McSorley and junior running back Miles Sanders, Penn State has what Ohio State had last year: Barrett and the combination of the two running backs still on the roster — J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber.
Sophomore linebacker Pete Werner has had to defend this type of offense before. From an outside linebacker’s perspective, he said he’s going to have to “spy” McSorley, making sure he watches and is ready in the event of a quarterback option.
“You just have to keep your eyes in the right place and you can’t get over leveraged,” Werner said. “Can’t get sucked into the line and not be able to get off and get to the quarterback.”
For the defensive line, redshirt junior defensive tackle Robert Landers said after the TCU game the unit has to “cage the pocket,” limit the quarterback from getting outside the pocket, making plays with his feet and therefore, extending offensive drives by rolling out left and right.
Penn State’s offensive approach is Ohio State’s worst nightmare.
The Nittany Lions thrive off big plays, whether they are long runs or pass plays by which McSorley shows off his confidence and ability to throw.
This is something that the Ohio State defense is prepared for Saturday.
“They live off the big play, so if we do the right thing and focus on our jobs, we will give up that opportunity to make big plays for them,” Werner said. “After that, they don’t have much.”
Grinch feels as though the Ohio State defense has not reached its ceiling. He said the standard is not even close to being met, and the goal remains the same: to hold the opposing offense to one less point than Ohio State scores. However, he said his defense strives for much more.
After four games, Ohio State has allowed 17 points per game, allowed opposing running backs to average 3.8 yards per carry and allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 53.6 percent of pass attempts.
For Grinch, heading into Penn State, facing the top scoring offense in the country, this is the time for the Ohio State defense to show what it can do.
“We have not played our best game. We believe that,” Grinch said. “The personnel that we have suggests we can be better, we need to be better, we should be better.”