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COLLINS: Penn State capable of stunning No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday

DONNIE COLLINS
YorkDispatch


Penn State can beat top-ranked Ohio State on Saturday.

Surely, it has the defense to at least slow the vaunted Ohio State offense that used three quarterbacks brilliantly, gained 499 yards and scored 42 points in the last three quarters of a 49-28 win over Maryland. The Terps and Indiana don't provide the same type of problems, create the same type of mayhem, the Nittany Lions do with their front four.

Surely, Penn State has the play-makers in the return games to flip field position once or twice, especially the way DeAndre Thompkins attacked a few of Indiana's punts.

Surely, the Nittany Lions have plenty of emotion and perspective on what this game means, too, at what looks very much like a watershed moment in the season. They're one win away from bowl eligibility with easily the toughest part of the schedule — the Buckeyes next, and Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State down the stretch ranking somewhere between world-beaters and not-exactly-pushovers.

And surely, the Nittany Lions have shown they have the offense — the players, the attitude and, yes, the scheme — to be the team that topples the defending national champions.

After that last statement, here's what you have to be thinking: Surely, you can't be serious.

But the thing about Penn State's offense that isn't getting the credit it deserves is that, in flashes, it has shown the ability to do anything.

Offense doing whatever it takes: Coach James Franklin and his players call it, simply, "whatever it takes to win the game." Fans and many in the press who live in the fantasy football-crazed society where you can only measure success with statistics call it "winning ugly."

But since the season-opening loss to Temple, here is what Penn State has done on offense:

— Rushed for 200 yards in a heavy, drenching rain against Buffalo. Won, 27-14.

— Rushed for 330 yards in another storm against Rutgers. Won, 28-3.

— Threw for 328 yards in dry weather against a funky San Diego State defense that likes to crowd the box. Won, 37-21.

— Ran for 108 yards on the messiest weather day of the season against Army. Jumped out to an early lead and won, 20-13.

— Threw for 266 yards and rushed for 154 more on a perfect weather day against a Hoosiers defense that plays consistent man-to-man coverage. Won, 29-7.

With the exception of the Temple loss, this team has run the ball when it has had to, and it has thrown the ball when it was given an opportunity to do so. It hasn't always been the best-looking offense, for sure. But the offense has limited turnovers, largely made the offensive line's weaknesses a sidebar and not the main story, and really, wouldn't you have signed up for that after week one?

"At the very best, you want every win to be just a beautiful win," right tackle Andrew Nelson said. "But at the end of the day, all we're concerned with is winning. If it's an ugly win, we'll take it. Every time.

"Obviously, every game, you just want to dominate in all phases. That's the plan. But at the end of the day, whether we have to run the ball every play or throw the ball every play, a win is a win."

Telling statistic: Here's a telling statistic: Since Sept. 12, Penn State has played 300 minutes of football. It has trailed for just 9:20, and it has not been behind at all in the second half.

So many are talking about Penn State playing the way it "has to" play to be successful. But really, Penn State is playing the way it "can" play to be successful. There's a subtle but significant difference between the two.

"They were basically daring you to throw the ball," Franklin said Saturday about Indiana, basically reiterating what he said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "We knew we were going to have to do that."

Franklin's postgame press conference, even after a convincing win, seemed a bit more feisty than usual. Predictably, it had an "I-told-you-so" type of feel, as if Franklin didn't want the media that questioned the conservative passing attack the week before in that rain against Army to feel as if the coaching staff took its advice to heart the very next week.

"We just wanted to play as ugly a football game as we possibly could for four weeks," he deadpanned, "because we were just saving all of that stuff up for this week."

In position to win: What is Penn State saving for Ohio State? Too early in the week to tell. The Nittany Lions are very young and ultra talented and absolutely gritty, but that's different than being good enough to beat a team as strong as the Buckeyes in Columbus. But this coaching staff, beleaguered as it has been in some circles, has certainly done its part lately to put a team that is limited in some key ways in position to get the victory.

Let's see who continues to question them if they figure it out again, on college football's biggest stage.