5 Wildcards to Watch Saturday Night in Columbus


By: Ryan Black

Websters defines a wildcard as a person or thing that can affect a situation that cannot be predicted.

The Lions of Nittany are headed East to Columbus in a few days and many are having a hard time figuring them out. They’ll be plenty of talk about quarterbacks, tackling, special teams, etc…Sometimes the basics don’t tell the whole story.

When Ohio State plays Penn State the outcome is usually unpredictable. Two years ago Ohio State sent the Penn State team straight to hell with a 63-14 smashing, while last year’s National Champion Buckeyes struggled mightily into double overtime.

I expect more wackiness this year and this will be due to some factors nobody sees coming.

Before we get started let’s get a brief overview of the Nittany Lions so far:

The Bad:

  1. Killed By Temple.
  2. Ugly wins against Army, San Diego State and Buffalo.
  3. Passing game is non existent 90% of the game.

The Good:

  1.  Sound wins against decent Rutgers and Indiana.
  2. Saquon Barkley is one of the most dynamic freshmen in the country (though he is 50/50 to play Sat.).
  3. The Penn State defense looks like last years stout unit; the defensive line is outstanding.


It’s hard to place a guess as to which team will show up in Columbus and it may not be as simple as execution, turnovers, boring football rhetoric etc. Let’s explore some other factors that may determine the story…


Here are 5 Wildcards to pay attention to Saturday night:



  1. Referee Payback

Last year there were two missed calls that went Ohio State’s way in the first half that had Penn State fans fuming. There was a replay malfunction that gave the Bucks an interception that hit the ground at the 40 yardline and a missed delay of game on a made OSU field goal.

Were these bad calls? Absolutely.

Did they giftwrap Ohio State 10 points? Hell no.

Many of the PSU fanbase honestly believe they beat the eventual champs last year with the simplistic logic that since Ohio State was “given” 10 free points by the refs, they should have won 17-7 in regulation.

They are just assuming that Ohio State wouldn’t have scored on their opening drive and that our favorite German would have missed the longer field goal. The calls were bad but they didn’t have anything to do with Penn State getting run over on their first drive.

The worry Saturday for Buckeye fans should be that a lot of the 50/50 calls will go the Nitt’s way to avoid the conspiracy of OSU being the Big 10 cash cow as many PSU fans believe. I’d bet money James Franklin has been in the Big 10’s ear since last year.

It seems every 50/50 call has gone against the Bucks this year (esp. at Indiana) and it is something to pay attention to Saturday.


  1. Penn State Offensive Line Shuffle

All the injury talk right now is about sensational freshmen running back Saquon Barkley but some injuries on the offensive line could spell disaster for Penn State.

The plan maybe to shuffle some lineman around to avoid a Joey Bosa vs Paris Palmer matchup in the trenches. Palmer has been very very bad in pass protection to put it mildly but some injuries may keep the matchup inevitable.

If this happens look for Bosa to feast on roast Hackenberg for dinner.


  1. Blackout Issues

Some are worried about how the Blackout planned for the game will affect downfield passes, myself included.

Will the ball blending in with a dark crowd be in issue? Maybe a couple times.

As a guy who has never caught a pass on any football field with any crowd, I am probably not the guy to give his expertise but I’m always good at worrying.


  1. Nickleback

Pardon my French but if Ohio State has another injury in the secondary then they will be headed straight to DB Heck.

Marshon Lattimore (freshmen) is now the teams nickleback after injuries to Cam Burrows, Erick Smith and the Damon Webb suspension.  He’ll be a good one but he may not be ready for a title run at this time.

Ohio State tried to mask this against Maryland by staying in the 4-3 set and moving Darron Lee out wide on many occasions. This limits Lee’s ability as a playmaker and is not ideal for the stretch run.

Against Penn State it may not be too bad as they are struggling a bit at wide receiver. Look for Ohio State to be in mostly 4-3 all night and see if Hackenberg will gamble downfield.


  1. Motivation

After the loss to Virginia Tech last season, Ohio State was the hungriest team on the field no matter who they played on the way to a Championship. They still made mistakes, every team will, but the motivation was never questioned.

After the win to Virginia tech this season, Ohio State has slept walked through the first half of every game. Do they need to lose again to bring back the fire?

If Ohio State can’t get pumped up for the school’s first blackout night against a rival who nearly took away everything from them last year, then it’s time to worry.


My gutless prediction: Ohio State 38 Penn State 17

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