Through 3 Games, Penn State is the Surest Thing in the Big Ten East

By Matt de Bear on September 17, 2017 at 1:03 pm
Sep 9, 2017; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin leads his team on the field prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Through three games, Penn State is 3-0, outscoring opponents 141-14, and out-gaining them 1,407 yards to 821. Fellow preseason division favorites Ohio State and Michigan are also through three games. The Wolverines defense has been as good as advertised, but the offense has struggled to find a rhythm, scoring just one red zone touchdown in 10 trips. In Columbus, the Buckeyes passing woes have continued, and a green secondary has struggled against both Indiana and Oklahoma. 

To be clear, the opposition faced by Penn State has not been on the level of the Florida or the Sooners. However, heading into the conference schedule, it sure feels like the Nittany Lions have staked their claim as the favorite in the division.

Michigan's offense has certainly had no trouble moving the ball. The Wolverines are averaging over 400 yards per game. The trouble has come in turning all of those yards into six points, rather than three. Through three games, Quinn Nordin has been the biggest red zone threat, going 11-for-13 on field goals, while the offense has mustered just one touchdown once driving inside of the 20.

All told, Wilton Speight, Ty Isaac and co. have found the end zone just five times in three games. Michigan's defense has scored three more times, with Donovan Peoples-Jones adding a punt return on Saturday versus Air Force. Things could get a little more interesting for Harbaugh's squad as well, as they play three of their next four away from Ann Arbor. After heading to suddenly fun Purdue this week, they are off before hosting Michigan State, and back-to-back road challenges vs. Indiana and Penn State.

Meanwhile, down the road in Columbus, a 38-7 victory over Army likely has not done much to calm nerves after the season's first two games. In the season opener in Bloomington, a secondary with three new starters gave up 420 yards through the air to Dicky Lagow and the Hoosiers. A week later, Baker Mayfield torched the Buckeyes defense to the tune of 386 passing yards. That makes no mention of Ohio State's continued issues in mounting a consistent air attack of their own. If not for J.K. Dobbins and the Buckeye ground game, things would be even more dire.

The good news for Urban Meyer is that teams are averaging just 126 yards on the ground. That number is even inflated by run heavy Army racking up 259 yards on Saturday. However, with Penn State's potency through the air, and no real aerial threat on the schedule before the Lions visit Ohio Stadium, concern is high in Ohio. And as long as freshman phenom Dobbins continues to flash his immense potential, the Buckeyes will remain a threat.

The Nittany Lions certainly have their issues, chief among them an inconsistent rushing attack through three games, but the offense is still moving the ball, and the defense has allowed but one touchdown in 180 minutes of football. Penn State will get its first big test of the season this weekend in Iowa City, but until a glaring weakness is exposed, the defending conference champs ought to be the favorite to return to Indianapolis through one quarter of the season.

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