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Five questions heading into Ohio’s Week 2 matchup at Penn State

The Bobcats were the only MAC team to pull off an upset in Week 1. What’s in store for them in a challenging Week 2?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Toledo at Ohio Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of college football’s most pleasant surprises in Week 1 was the Ohio Bobcats. Despite opening their season at home, the Bobcats were road underdogs at Peden Stadium against a Florida Atlantic team coming off a 43-13 Week 0 win over Charlotte.

However, Ohio was unfazed by the Owls, opening up a 17-point fourth quarter lead over the visitor before eventually escaping with a 41-38 victory. After securing its highest scoring output since November 2020, Ohio hopes to sustain its offensive firepower in a challenging Week 2 environment. The Bobcats must travel to the second largest venue in the country and battle a Penn State team coming off a thrilling Week 1 triumph over Purdue.

As the 2022 sample size still remains low, there are several unanswered questions about each team. Here are five that will be relevant when the Bobcats and Nittany Lions kick off at 12 p.m. ET this Saturday in Happy Valley:

Can Kurtis Rourke show consistency?

Ohio did not start a new quarterback in Week 1, but the quarterback it started looked like a new version of himself. Kurtis Rourke entered his third consecutive year as the program’s QB No. 1 in Athens, OH last Saturday, but this third go-around looks far better than the previous iterations. He notched career-highs with 345 passing yards and four touchdowns, all while accomplishing these numbers on a 79.4 completion rate without an interception.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Ohio at Northwestern
Kurtis Rourke threw for 1,817 yards, 11 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in 2021 on a completion percentage of 65.5.
Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rourke accounted for a fifth touchdown as a runner too, somewhat of a nod to his brother Nathan, who was a rushing touchdown machine as Ohio’s starting quarterback from 2017-19. While Saturday against Florida Atlantic was Rourke’s best performance to date, it wasn’t his first great outing as a Bobcat. He threw for a collective 519 yards and six touchdowns in wins over bowl eligible teams across a two-week span last November. However, such performances weren’t replicated on a consistent basis to end the season. With another offseason of training under his belt, Rourke needs to show consistency, proving this is the quarterback he can be on a weekly basis. If so, an imminent All-MAC selection is on its way.

Does Penn State notch a 100-yard rusher?

Penn State is currently riding one of the nation’s more baffling streaks. The Nittany Lions just completed their 17th consecutive game without a 100-yard rusher, dating back to the Michigan game on Thanksgiving weekend in 2020. In their past 23 contests, the century mark has been eclipsed just once. Fielding lethal running backs like Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders, and Journey Brown was one of the signatures of the James Franklin era in the 2010s, but no sign of the re-emergence of the rushing attack was witnessed in Week 1.

The Nittany Lions divided the carries across three running backs — incumbent Keyvone Lee and true freshmen Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton. The three produced nearly identical stat-lines winding up with 30, 31, and 31 yards respectively, with rushing averages amounting to 3.3, 3.9, and 3.1. Only one double-digit run, which attained 12 yards, transpired all night. Thus, expect Penn State to emphasize establishing the run early in against Ohio, as the program aims to revive the rushing attack before the schedule ramps up in Big Ten play.

Penn State v Purdue
Keyvone Lee is Penn State’s most recent 100-yard rusher after racking up 134 yards and a touchdown in a win over Michigan on Nov. 28, 2020.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

On the other side, Ohio hopes the success it had last week sustains in Beaver Stadium. The Bobcats showed marked improvement as a run defense by stifling Florida Atlantic to 100 yards on 29 carries — and no rush extended beyond 11 yards.

How often do the Bobcats target Joey Porter Jr.?

Penn State’s opener at Purdue was the last Thursday night of 2022 that will not feature an NFL game. However, viewers of that Week 1 collegiate matchup were treated to a clear-cut NFL star in the making on the Nittany Lion defense. Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. comes with professional bloodlines as the son of 5-time All-Pro selection and Super Bowl champion outside linebacker Joey Porter. But his talent is just as recognizable as the name.

Purdue targeted Porter on 14 occasions, and the results often ended up in favor of the Nittany Lions. Porter forced six incompletions in Week 1, and he collected a team-high eight tackles — all of them solo tackles — and a fumble recovery in the 35-31 victory. Porter typically shadows the opponent’s top receiver, so this week, the receiver that best fits that description for Ohio is James Bostic, who erupted with a MAC-best 136 receiving yards in Week 1 after seldom usage in 2021. That being said, how often is Kurtis Rourke willing to challenge one of the best cornerbacks in college football when surveying downfield? Porter didn’t notch an interception in Week 1, but after getting his hands on numerous passes, it’s only a matter of time before a team commits a costly turnover and instantly regrets throwing in his vicinity.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 Illinois at Penn State
Joey Porter Jr. is on All-American track as a likely 2023 NFL Draft selection. He ranks first in the nation with six pass breakups in addition to eight solo tackles and a fumble recovery.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Is Ben Johnson the star defender for Ohio in 2022?

Ohio tied for last of all 12 MAC institutions in fewest all-conference selections in 2021. The Bobcats witnessed only two roster members get honored with Third Team All-MAC selections — outside linebacker Bryce Houston and strong safety Tariq Drake. Both players returned to the defense for 2022 and demonstrated solid showings in the opener.

However, the headliner was free safety Ben Johnson, a new starter who converted from linebacker. Johnson’s first start as a Bobcat proved to be extremely fruitful as he collected a team-high 15 tackles — marking the most by an Ohio defender since 2019. Johnson was omnipresent on the field and proved to be vital in recording stops in the secondary and in hampering Florida Atlantic’s rushing attack. As the sample size begins to increase this weekend, it’s time to see if Johnson can replicate performances like this on a weekly basis, and if so, a coveted All-MAC selection is certainly in the redshirt junior’s future.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Northwestern
Ben Johnson totaled 15 tackles in Week 1 after collecting just 24 as a linebacker in 2021. Johnson is expected to serve a major role as the starting free safety all season.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the easiest pathway to an upset?

If Ohio beating Penn State sounds outlandish, look no further than the teams’ last meeting in 2012. In Bill O’Brien’s debut for his brief tenure in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions dropped their home opener in 24-14 fashion against the Bobcats. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton led the charge with 324 passing yards and two touchdowns, captaining a 21-0 second half charge in order to seal the victory.

The offensive coordinator that day was none other than current head coach Tim Albin, who enters his second year at the helm after taking over for the legendary Frank Solich — the namesake of Ohio’s newly named field on campus. Albin and the Bobcats must evaluate their own successes last week as well as the facets of the game Purdue excelled at in the Boilermakers’ near-win over the Nittany Lions.

Penn State University vs Ohio University
Last time Ohio and Penn State squared off on a football field, the Bobcats emerged victorious in a 24-14 result. Tim Albin returns to Happy Valley for his first time since.
Set Number: X155443 TK1 R3 F330

The main point of emphasis involves firing up the passing attack. While this wasn't exactly a strength of Ohio a year ago, it definitely was in Week 1 when Kurtis Rourke threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns. Purdue was able to find plenty of openings within Penn State’s secondary as quarterback Aidan O’Connell fired for 365 yards and established a strong, reliable connection with wide receiver Charlie Jones 12 times. Thus, generating a passing offense and picking apart the Nittany Lions with 10-15 yard throws is Ohio’s best strategy to pull off the unlikely upset.

On the other side of the ball, it involves keeping the Nittany Lions one-dimensional on offense, preventing the running game from ever getting jump-started. Then, the passing defense will have to rely on several turnovers because stopping the trio of Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith is no easy task.

Ohio kicks off at Penn State at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 10. The game is viewable on ABC.