Penn State has a huge opportunity to expose a tough Buckeye defense that's missing it's star player – defensive end, and potential 2019 NFL Draft top overall pick, Nick Bosa.
In Ohio State's 40-28 victory over TCU two weeks ago, Bosa was largely responsible for tipping the scales in favor of the Buckeyes with an athletic play that included a beeline dash, huge hit, and strip-sack to Horned Frogs' quarterback Shawn Robinson. The Buckeyes fell on the loose ball for a defensive touchdown. Without Bosa's initiative and football IQ, that scoring opportunity likely wouldn't have been there, and TCU may have driven the length of the field for a score of its own.
But after an awkward landing during a later play, Bosa was seen down and in pain, attempting to nurse an apparent groin injury. He was then pulled from the game, checked in the locker room, and then ultimately returned to the field 15 minutes later in street clothes. Bosa's day was done, but the Buckeyes utilized the momentum he garnered for them and went on to get the W to stay undefeated.
The following week, it was revealed by Urban Meyer that Bosa had undergone core muscle surgery to repair the injury, effectively taking him off the depth chart for Ohio State's date with Tulane. There was no timetable for his return announced.
Though this is a huge hit to the Buckeyes as they open Big Ten play, Penn State was gifted with a huge opportunity to bury a conference foe and exploit Ohio State's affected defensive line. Not only does Ohio State lose one of its core leaders, it also must replace the massive game-changing plays Bosa brings to the table every Saturday.
Bosa has had at least one sack in his last six straight games, 17.5 career sacks and counting, 29 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, one touchdown, and 996 total snaps, but his effectiveness goes beyond his bloated stat lines. He's a terror that always has to be accounted for on every single down. Without his presence, Trace McSorely can relax (albeit a little bit) and focus on his receivers downfield rather than worrying about his six. If Bosa's not lined up opposite him, the offensive line has one less thing to deal with to protect their signal caller. Bosa also normally takes the brunt of double-teams (since he's an absolute freak), which frees up chunks of lane space for his teammates to rush the quarterback. Without him, are those lanes still available? Hardly so.
Not only does Ohio State lose one of its core leaders, it also must replace the massive game-changing plays Bosa brings to the table every Saturday.
Ohio State has listed sophomore Chase Young to replace the basically unblockable Bosa, and is relying on its opposite side DE Jonathon Cooper to take over Bosa's highly-touted role. The Buckeyes' only experience without their top defensive end was against cupcake Tulane, and that probably didn't provide much evidence on whether or not Bosa's absence had a huge effect. If Bosa is officially ruled out for Saturday night's showdown, Penn State's top offense in college football needs to have a field day up front – and it shouldn't wait until the second half to pounce this time around.
It's also worth mentioning that the Buckeyes may flip to their powerful offense to set the tone early and compensate for the blow the their defensive line. That's a scary thought in its own right when you consider how much the Nittany Lions' defense has struggled as a whole so far this season, and how well OSU quarterback Dwyane Haskins has played. It might end up in a shootout, with one minor turnover, special teams mistake, or timely defensive stop being the ultimate nail in the coffin for either team. A victory effort could also just end up being which team scores last, and that's it. With Penn State averaging a gargantuan 55.5 points per game, and the Buckeyes right behind them with a 55.4 average, this game could quickly turn into a barnburner right before our eyes.
Either way, we're in for a real treat this weekend.