Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 25, 2018 at 9:15 pm.

Showdown time: No. 9 Nittany Lions host No. 4 Ohio State

Even though he would eventually become one of college football’s biggest stars, former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was star-struck the first time he suited up against Ohio State under the glow of Ohio Stadium’s lights.

Barkley’s gone, but Penn State coach James Franklin is trying to ensure a bunch of players who’ll get their first taste of a primetime conference game with major postseason implications don’t get too starry-eyed when the No. 9 Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) host the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday.

“I remember Saquon talking about how for the first quarter he was like a fan talking about players that when he was in high school he grew up watching,” Franklin said. “We can’t afford that. We’re going to have to play really well for four quarters and can’t have a lull in the second quarter and are going to have to play really well in all three phases, which I think we’re capable of doing.”

Penn State is coming off its first Friday night road game, an outcome that on the surface looked pretty easy to come by. The Nittany Lions hung 63 points on an opponent for the second-straight week and piled up 591 yards of offense against Illinois despite playing most of the second half with second-stringers.

The Buckeyes should provide a stiffer challenge.

They’ll bring the nation’s 26th-best defense and an offense that will certainly be able to keep up in a shootout. Ohio State is ranked third in total offense and is averaging 624 yards and is second in points per game with 54.5 to Penn State’s 55.

The winner of this game has gone on to play for a lot more in recent seasons.

Conference championships and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff have been on the table for the winner of the last three Penn State-Ohio State games.

“They’re hearing it from everybody,” Franklin said. “They don’t need to hear it from us. So it’ll be standard operation for us. We just want to focus on today and maximize today and have the best practice we possibly could have.”