How safe of a bet is Ohio State against Penn State this weekend?

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 26: Thayer Munford #75, Josh Myers #71, Gavin Cupp #61 and Jonah Jackson #73 of the Ohio State Buckeyes (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 26: Thayer Munford #75, Josh Myers #71, Gavin Cupp #61 and Jonah Jackson #73 of the Ohio State Buckeyes (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

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Penn State vs. Ohio State Odds

  • Odds: Ohio State -18.5
  • Over/Under: 57.5
  • Time: 12 p.m. ET
  • TV: FOX
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio

The biggest game in college football Week 13 sure doesn’t feel like a big one given the point spread.

No. 2 Ohio State has been historically great so far this season, and its nearly three-touchdown point spread against No. 9 Penn State indicates that.

The Buckeyes defense — talented but sloppy in 2018 — has been unbelievable in 2019. Their 3.52 yards per play allowed is the second best mark of the last decade, trailing only 2011 Alabama.

Penn State has shown cracks in the last few weeks, with its normally stout defense allowing big passing plays to both Minnesota and Indiana.

But the biggest storyline for the Nittany Lions is the health of star wide receiver KJ Hamler, who left their last game with what looked like a head or neck injury. PSU is notoriously tight-lipped with injury news, but coach James Franklin is hopeful Hamler can play, and he was seen congratulating teammates after that game against Indiana that he left.

Can Penn State keep this thing close with or without Hamler?

Let’s break it all down.

Odds Moves for PSU-Ohio State

They’re just six spots apart in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, but according to oddsmakers, 18.5 points separate Penn State and Ohio State — at least on OSU’s home field.

Sixty-five percent of bettors (accounting for 62% of money) haven’t been turned off by the lofty spread, and have even convinced oddsmakers to tick the number up a bit from -18.

As for the total, Ohio State games almost always draw a majority of bettors to the over, and this one is proving no different, drawing 78% percent of tickets.

But the number has seen a bit of back-and-forth movement, at least from the earliest sportsbooks to market. Opening numbers ranged from 60 to 55, but most books have eventually split the difference and landed at 57.5. — Danny Donahue

Does Ohio State Have Any Flaws?

Not really.

The offensive line cannot be blamed for a sack rate just inside the top 100, as quarterback Justin Fields often tries to extend plays on his own. That’s about it in the advanced stats category.

The Penn State defense ranks 12th in havoc, led by 14 forced fumbles and 50 tackles for loss. Ohio State is a lowly 35th in tackles for loss allowed, meaning the Nittany Lions only shot at an upset is to play in the Buckeyes backfield.

It’s certainly possible given the talent, but Penn State has just five sacks and 14 tackles for loss over its last three games — significant drops from its season averages.

The explosive pass has been kryptonite to the Penn State defense. Fields leads an Ohio State attack that is 34th in pass explosiveness, which should unmask Penn State’s flawed secondary that ranks outside the top 100 in limiting big passing plays.

While Penn State defense deals with the Buckeyes air attack, the offense will face a Buckeyes defense that is No. 3 in opponent rushing success and No. 1 in opponent passing success.

Ohio State ranks in the top 10 in defending explosiveness, its biggest flaw from 2018 that is now very much corrected.

The Buckeyes are No. 1 in the Action Network havoc rankings, which may come into play against Sean Clifford and a Penn State offense that is 72nd in havoc allowed. — Collin Wilson

Hamler Injury Looms Large

Our Action Network projection makes the game Ohio State -17.5. The Buckeyes will be at full strength with the return of Chase Young from suspension.

As for the Nittany Lions, I wagered on +18.5 with anticipation that the health of KJ Hamler would move the needle closer to +17 if he was available. As of Tuesday after practice, head coach James Franklin remained “hopeful” on Hamler’s return from an undisclosed upper-body injury.

Make no mistake, Hamler is one of the biggest stars on the field and Penn State’s big play ability — something the Nittany Lions’ offense has relied on — is neutralized without the wide receiver and return man.

If you need proof, Hamler broke a 93-yard touchdown off a simple slant play in last year’s game.

With Hamler cleared to play, I will more than likely stay on the Penn State side. His explosive ability allows Sean Clifford and the rest of the offense extra room to operate.

Just look at how Hamler’s numbers stack up to the rest of Penn State’s wide receivers combined.

Collin’s Pick: Without Hamler, a play must be considered on Ohio State and the under, while a 100% Hamler will have me stick with Penn State at the current number with consideration to the over. Collin Wilson

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Ohio State’s Defense More Impressive

The weekend’s biggest matchup seems like it’s all but a formality to be a victory for the Buckeyes. Lucky for us, that’s why point spreads and totals were created, and I’ve got an angle in this game.

Ohio State has been flawless on both sides of the football, but I’ve been most impressed with the defense. A year ago, this group was much maligned and almost certainly cost the Buckeyes a trip to the College Football Playoff. This year, they rank first or second in every meaningful category besides explosiveness. Even in those categories they’re in the top-10.

Just look at where Ohio State’s defensive yards per play allowed ranks among all teams in the last 10 years.

Miller: Big Passing Plays Not OSU’s Game Right Now

Penn State has a good offense, but it’s not elite. The Nittany Lions lack the kind of explosiveness that they’ll need to score consistently against Ohio State. Penn State just won’t be able to put together long, sustained drives against this defense all day, and Hamler is the only chance PSU has of stretching the field and making big plays.

While Penn State’s offense is merely good, its defensive metrics are elite. Some of that has to do with the quality of competition they faced before Minnesota and Indiana, but the numbers are impressive regardless.

The one area where Penn State is vulnerable is explosive passes. While I’m sure that’s something OSU quarterback Justin Fields will be capable of someday, that’s just not his or Ohio State’s game right now. The Buckeyes are instead deadly efficient on the ground and through the air.

I expect this game to be played at a slower pace than these two teams have shown so far this year. Penn State will want to make the final score look respectable and the only way they’ll be able to do that is by taking its time on offense. Without a healthy Hamler, I just don’t see Penn State scoring many points at all. Kyle Miller

Kyle’s Pick: Under 57.5, Ohio State -18

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Stuckey: Finding Ohio State’s Weaknesses

We have a unique spread situation here, as we have a top 10 matchup with a spread of 17 or more, which has only happened four other times since 2005. Interestingly enough, the favorite is 4-0 ATS in those games, covering by a margin of almost 17 points!

2005: Texas (-17) beat Texas Tech 52-17
2013: Florida State (-21.5) beat Miami 41-14
2016: Alabama (-18) beat Texas A&M 33-14
2016: Ohio State (-17) beat Nebraska 62-3

Almost everywhere you look — whether on the surface or deeper into the advanced stats — Ohio State is elite on both sides of the ball (and even on special teams). I say almost because there are two potentially weak areas that could get exploited by the elite teams, especially once we get to the college football playoff:

Pass protection: While the offensive line is an elite run blocking unit (No. 1 in the nation in Standard Down Line Yards) the Buckeyes do struggle a bit with pass protection, especially on passing downs where they rank outside the top 100 in Sack Rate.

Defending Explosiveness: Ohio State had major issues defending explosiveness last year across the board. They’ve seemingly fixed the problems in the secondary (which is excellent on paper) against opposing pass offenses but they haven’t had the most grueling opponent pass offense schedule to date.

Also, the Buckeyes still seem to have issues defending rush explosiveness as they rank 100th in the nation in that category.

So can Penn State take advantage?

Well, I certainly think their front 7 can on passing downs, which they should be able to create even against an elite Ohio State run blocking unit in front of JK Dobbins and Co. The Nittany Lions actually lead the nation in yards per carry allowed and rank in the top 5 across the board in most advanced rush defense metrics.

Rush Yards Allowed:

Penn State will have to get to Justin Fields and create some havoc in order to stay in this.

While Ohio State has an elite run blocking OL, Penn State certainly does not. It’s offensive line has struggled at times this year, ranking 71st in Standard Down line yards. The unit also ranks outside the top 100 in passing down sack rate, which spells trouble on the road against a ferocious Buckeye defensive front that ranks second nationally with 4.2 sacks per game. Oh yeah, and they get Chase Young back.

In order for Penn State to score, it will need to put points on the board early as it has done all year long. Quarterback Sean Clifford seems much more comfortable during the scripted portion of the game early on.

Without Hamler, one of the most explosive players in college football, I can’t see the Penn State offense hitting enough big plays to stay competitive.

After digging a little deeper into the matchup, I agree with Collin and do think there is some slight value on Penn State IF Hamler plays.

But if no, Penn State could become another blowout victim of Ohio State. Especially if it can’t get on the board early. — Stucky