PSU game could be a special one

As both potent offenses presumably march up and down the field in what could be a shootout Saturday night, it can be easy to lose sight of how such a game could come down to a field goal.

That actually has been the case for each of Ohio State’s past two close-call visits to Penn State. If it turns out that way again this time around, the Nittany Lions could be in some trouble.

True freshman place-kicker Jake Pinegar has made just one field goal this season — from 32 yards — in three attempts. He has missed 44- and 45- yard attempts.

Ohio State, on the other hand, has a veteran kicker, Sean Nuernberger, who has been around forever.

Go back four years to the 2014 double-overtime game, and Nuernberger, a true freshman then, was the Buckeyes’ kicker. He made a controversial 49-yard field goal that gave Ohio State a 10-0 lead with 11 minutes left in the first half.

Replay showed the play clock had expired before Nuernberger kicked the ball, so it should have been a delay of game, and those points shouldn’t have counted. The game finished tied, 17-17, at the end of regulation, so clearly those were three huge points for the Buckeyes.

Penn State also made a huge field goal that night, as Sam Ficken drilled a 31-yarder with 9 seconds left to force overtime. The Lions eventually lost, 31-24, in double-OT.

Amazingly enough, Nuernberger will be Ohio State’s kicker once again Saturday. He’s a fifth-year senior, and one story about him on an SBNation internet site has a funny headline: “It feels like Sean Nuernberger has been Ohio State’s kicker for a million years.”

The game two years ago at Beaver Stadium obviously came down to a historic blocked field goal by Marcus Allen that was scooped up and returned for a go-ahead touchdown by Grant Haley. It was one of the two or three biggest plays in the history of Penn State football.

But it wasn’t Nuernberger who kicked the ball for Ohio State. He was redshirting that year, so Tyler Durbin was the place-kicker. He came onto the field for what would have been a carer-long field goal of 45 yards, and ABC’s Chris Fowler said just before the kick that Durbin was “super reliable inside of 40; this is from 45.”

Then came the block. One incredible aspect of Haley’s touchdown return is that he was nearly chased down by remarkably speedy Ohio State holder/punter Cameron Johnston, who just missed a shoestring tackle at the 10.

As it all pertains to this week’s game, Nuernberger has been in these situations before, so we know what to expect from him. He’s 3-of-4 on field goals this year, 33-of-45 in his career and kicked two in Ohio State’s 2014 national championship game win over Oregon. The 49-yarder against Penn State in 2014 is his career best.

If Pinegar has to come onto the field in a crucial situation to make a kick, there’s really no telling how he will fare.

“We’re obviously not experienced, but I think Jake’s been great,” Penn State coach James Franklin said of Pinegar’s development. “I’ve been very impressed with him and the whole operation … and we got a lot of confidence in him. He’s hitting at a very high rate in practice, hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunities in games.

“(There was) probably one opportunity that I should have got him earlier in the season. But overall I’ve been pleased with him. I think he’s going to have a great career here. I think he’s going to have a great year this year. And he’ll continue to step up at times when we need him.”

One other interesting aspect about field goal kicking that fans may not realize. What Allen did two years ago to block the Ohio State kick is now illegal, with the rule being changed last year.

A player no longer can leap over the line of scrimmage to block a kick, as Allen did, because he could land on another player and potentially cause an injury. So if that rule would have been in effect in 2016, Allen would have been flagged, and Penn State would not have had one of its signature plays in program history.

RB Allen done

Second-string tailback Mark Allen’s season and Penn State career are over after he suffered an undisclosed injury. Franklin confirmed the news about the senior Tuesday.

“He talked to the team about it (Monday),” Franklin said. “He’s in great spirits.

“Mark’s got a very bright future,” the coach added. “He’s going to be very successful whatever he chooses to do. He’s talking a little bit about maybe getting into coaching. But we got a lot of love and respect for Mark and what he’s been able to do in his career here.”

Defensive eraser

This is the kind of game against an explosive offense that PSU will need at least one guy on defense to step up and be what Franklin has referred to in the past as an “eraser.” The coach was asked who could be in line for such a performance.

“I think our defensive ends as a group can be, and they’re moving in that direction,” he said. “I think Shareef (Miller) has the chance to be that type of player. I think Yetur (Gross-Matos) has the chance to be that type of player. I think Kevin Givens has the chance to be that type of player, and Robert Windsor.”

What Franklin actually did there was name all four of his D-line starters, then he mentioned linebacker Cam Brown and defensive backs Amani Oruwariye, Tariq Castro-Fields and John Reid, as well. So in his mind, there are a lot of players on defense capable of being an eraser.

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