STATE COLLEGE — Penn State coach Bill O’Brien glowed as he talked about the challenge his team faces against No. 4 Ohio State this weekend in Ohio Stadium.
The normally stoic coach has been one to embrace challenge since his tenure at Penn State began in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The Nittany Lions will be facing the toughest obstacle they have faced all season against Ohio State Saturday night. The Buckeyes, led by head coach Urban Meyer, are currently riding a 19-game win streak, the longest active streak in college football.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” O’Brien said. “Penn State versus Ohio State…the tradition of both schools and two great coaching staffs with a lot of good players on both sides of the ball, you know, it’s a lot of fun. Gameday, that’s the best day of the week for me. We’re just really looking forward to the challenge.”
O’Brien provided a glowing review of the weekend opponent, addressing all facets of the Buckeyes’ game, starting with junior quarterback Braxton Miller.
Miller — a player O’Brien referred to as “one of the top five players in the country” — has 831 yards and eight touchdowns by air and 335 rushing yards in seven games for the Buckeyes. He heads the best offense in the conference, putting up an astounding 45 points per game.
The Lions got a taste of a dual-threat quarterback against Michigan’s Devin Gardner, who ran for 121 yards against the Lions. Miller and Ohio State’s running backs will likely be an even tougher task for the Lions — last week against Iowa the Buckeyes combined for 273 rushing yards.
O’Brien also had a lot to say about Meyer, the brains behind the Buckeyes’ operation. Meyer has not lost a game since he came to Columbus before the 2012 season.
The coach has one of the most impressive resumes in college football, winning championships with Florida in 2006 and 2008.
“First of all, he’s smart, a smart guy, he’s a mentally tough guy,” O’Brien said. “He’s won two National Championships with different types of teams. In my opinion, he’s obviously able to do it in different conferences. He’s done it in the Southeastern Conference. He’s done it in (Utah), he’s done it obviously successfully in the Big Ten. There’s a guy that understands what he wants in a football team, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
Penn State has played around with lineups all season long, but two of the most notable roster moves were made against Michigan. All-Big Ten defensive end Deion Barnes did not start for Penn State, replaced by redshirt sophomore Anthony Zettel, however the Philadelphia-native still played considerable minutes against the Wolverines.
Barnes is listed as the starter on the Lions’ weekly depth chart.
“One of the things that we do a good job of on defense is we rotate guys in on the defensive line,” O’Brien said. “I don’t look at it as Deion coming off the bench. I just look at it as Deion being a good team player and rotating in there and fulfilling his role when he’s in there.”
Questions also surrounded starting running back Zack Zwinak, who gave up a costly fumble at the beginning of the second half and did not play for the rest of the game. Bill Belton shouldered the load in the second half on his way to 90 yards and the game winning touchdown in the first overtime.
O’Brien says that both backs are expected to play.
Ryan Keiser who injured his hand against Penn State and played with a cast on against Michigan is full-go for Ohio State.