- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas and key players as No. 4 Ohio State looks to extend the nation's longest winning streak and stay on top of the Big Ten Leaders Division as it hosts Penn State at the Horseshoe (ABC, 8 p.m.).
Getting defensive: The Buckeyes haven't minced words about their effort before halftime in the last couple weeks, and it clearly hasn't met their high standards based on the profanity assistant Mike Vrabel needed to describe it. Ohio State was pushed around up front and had issues defending play-action passes last week against Iowa, and it was following a similar first-half script from its previous road victory over Northwestern that required some critical adjustments at halftime. Down the stretch, the Buckeyes have been fantastic and overall they still rank No. 15 in the nation in total defense. But they could use a complete game against a Penn State offense averaging more than 33 points per game.
Miller magic: Even when he didn't have his best stuff last year against the Nittany Lions, Braxton Miller still found a way to lead a relatively easy victory on the road and supply perhaps the highlight of his season with one of the more electrifying 1-yard runs you'll ever see. The junior quarterback was somewhat slowed down by a Penn State defense that was intent on making Miller throw, and he wasn't nearly as proficient as a passer at this time a year ago as he appears to be now. The Nittany Lions could have their hands full with an improved version of Miller who is healthy and playing arguably the best football of his career.
Taking back the corner: Extra motivation for a divisional showdown in prime time that features a one-on-one matchup with perhaps the best wide receiver in the Big Ten probably wasn't necessary. But just in case, the ejection that cut Bradley Roby's day short last week against Iowa gave him a little fuel for the competitive fire this week, and the redshirt junior will certainly be needed at his best against Allen Robinson. Roby has had something of a mixed bag so far in Big Ten play, missing a few assignments during a huge passing night for Wisconsin while also picking off a pass, then blocking a punt for a touchdown against Northwestern before getting tossed against the Hawkeyes. He might not get a better opportunity to impress NFL scouts this season than he will have against the Nittany Lions.
Pressure building: The Buckeyes have acknowledged where they stand in the BCS rankings, and they are well aware that they need help from teams across the country and potentially some style points to impress voters. But in addressing the standings with the team on Sunday, coach Urban Meyer tried to deflect some of that stress by instead having the Buckeyes embrace the challenge and focus solely on the process that has produced 19 consecutive victories. The outside distractions are starting to mount, and if the Buckeyes have let their guard down at all, Penn State is certainly capable of making them pay for it.
Still building: For all the success on offense already this year, Miller estimated midway through the week that the Buckeyes were still only operating at "92 percent" of their capability. Where will the other eight percent come from? The Buckeyes can start by continuing to integrate Dontre Wilson into the attack, and the versatile freshman certainly made life tough for Iowa last week despite touching the football just four times. Those plays accounted for only 25 yards, but Wilson's mere presence on the field and role as a decoy in certain packages opened up huge rushing and throwing lanes elsewhere -- and the Buckeyes are likely only going to keep adding to his arsenal as the season progresses.
1dJosh Moyer and Dan Murphy