1. Matt McGloin. The redshirt junior quarterback has replaced true freshman Robert Bolden as Penn State's starter after putting together two strong performances in consecutive weeks. McGloin threw for 475 yards and five touchdowns in the two games, and perhaps most importantly, did not turn the ball over once in either contest. He will face a new and more difficult challenge this Saturday when he takes on the Silver Bullets in the first road start of his career. Performing well against Michigan and Northwestern is one thing, but continuing that strong performance against a defense the caliber of Ohio State's is a more difficult challenge. If Penn State hopes to score enough points to win, McGloin will have to play well.
2. Defensive Philosophy. Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is intrinsically identifiable with his 4-3 Over, Cover 3 defensive philosophy. After taking over defensive duties for PSU, Bradley refined his system to a core philosophy that emphasizes avoidance of big plays, tough run defense, and sound zone coverage. There is nothing schematically unique to what the Lions do, but their strict adherence and belief in the system has created a distinct "brand" of defense tied to the Penn State defense. For more on the defensive scheme, see Along the Olentangy's breakdown.
3. Nittany Kittens in Columbus. Over the past twenty years, Penn State has played eight games at Ohio Stadium, and the most points they've scored in any one of those games is 13. The Nittany Lions average eight points a game on offense when playing in Columbus, and they are only 7-1 in Ohio Stadium since joining the Big Ten, with the lone victory taking place on their last visit, in 2008. In that win, Penn State was able to rely on a great defense and poor Ohio State offensive play to minimize the effect of their own poor offensive play. Ohio State's offense is one of the best in the Big Ten this season, while Penn State's defense is not nearly as good as it was in 2008. Clearly, there's a trend to struggle offensively on the trip west from State College, and the Nittany Lions can't rely on their defense to bail them out again this season.
4. Jim Tressel's Bye Week History. I do not accept that this is anything but the result of small sample size and coincidence, yet Jim Tressel's 2-4 record after bye weeks is still worth a mention, if not simply because so many people are pointing to it as an issue. Ohio State's last loss after a bye week, in a bit of cosmic convergence, came against Penn State in 2005, although it's important to note that the game was in Happy Valley, and against a much better Penn State team. And, like Jim Tressel said in his press conference on Tuesday, if Ohio State wins this weekend it will become a total non-issue, and if they lose, it will take on importance even if it really is a meaningless coincidence.
5. Ohio State's defensive line vs. Penn State's offensive line. This was the defining matchup in last season's game, with the Ohio State defensive line mauling the linemen from Penn State. The Nittany Lions reverted to Nittany Kittens again, with a nonexistent running game and trouble keeping QB Daryll Clark upright. Ohio State's defensive line does not have as much depth as last season, but Penn State's offensive line has struggled against every talented defensive line they've faced. They will have to raise their game this weekend if Penn State is to come away with the upset.