It didn’t take Johnny Dixon long to come up with an answer.

When was the last time a Penn State cornerback faced a wide receiver like Ohio State’s?

“Last year’s group was just as good,” Dixon said.

Oh right.

In a testament to the Buckeyes’ uncanny recruiting prowess, they responded to the loss of a pair of first-round picks at the position by replacing them with more potential NFL stars.

The Nittany Lions won’t have to deal with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olaway — the No. 10 and No. 11 overall picks last spring, respectively — when Ohio State visits Happy Valley on Saturday.

But the second-place Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat, with Marvin Harrison Jr. — son of the Indianapolis Colts Hall of Famer — and Emeka Egbuka stepping into starting roles. Quarterback C.J. Stroud leads the nation with 28 touchdown passes, and that’s largely without the services of arguably the most talented member of the group, Jackson Smith-Njigba.

Smith-Njigba played sparingly after suffering a hamstring injury in the season opener, but is expected to play Saturday even if his snaps are limited.

And that’s before even mentioning Julian Fleming, the former Southern Columbia star who was heavily recruited by Pennsylvania and would have been the crown jewel of the Lions’ past recruiting class had he signed with the Lions. It took an injury to Smith-Njigba for him to finally see big moments for the Buckeyes.

It all adds up to the biggest challenge of the year for the Lions secondary, which leads the nation in turnovers. Joey Porter Jr. (11) and Cullen King (10) are among the top ten in the nation.

“If you were to evaluate all three levels, that’s definitely our strength,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys and we’re going to need that.

“But I also know those guys are talented enough at tackle, tight end and running back, and if you put too much emphasis on that, they can beat you the other way running the ball.”

Buckeyes starter Treveyon Henderson returned from injury to share carries with Mian Williams. The duo has combined for just under 1,000 yards on the ground thus far.

Ohio State’s balance will put pressure on Pennsylvania’s postsecondary education in particular. Porter, King, Dixon and Dequan Hardy will all be targets at some point and will need to hold their own for Penn State to have a chance at an upset.

“I told my group this week that if we just show up and be the best version of ourselves, we’ll be good enough to handle this team,” quarterbacks coach Terry Smith said. “We don’t have to go out and do anything special or spectacular. Just go, be consistent and play.”


Meeting in the tent

Penn State vs. Ohio State usually draws a small horde of NFL scouts to the booth. And they will certainly pay attention to any shot where No. 9 in blue matches No. 18 in white.

Certainly, second-generation stars Porter and Harrison have a long way to go to reach the same heights as their parents, whose names they inherited.

But both have potential, with the 6-foot-2 Porter having a chance to become Penn State’s top-drafted cornerback this spring. The 6-foot-4 Harrison is only a redshirt freshman but already has a staggering 10 touchdowns in seven games.

“Those two guys are very similar in height,” Smith said. “Both of their parents played in the NFL for a long time. They will be competitive. These are two high caliber players. They’re two kids playing the best football and guys like that are embracing the moment.

“They are looking forward to the challenge. They just can’t wait to get started, showcase their talent and put it all in the spotlight.”

Infirmary report

Many of Penn State’s upsets at Ohio State were characterized by an outstanding rushing performance.

Whether it’s Tamba Hali’s iconic strip from Troy Smith in 2005 or Garrett Sickels’ huge game after a first-half suspension in 2016, it usually takes something special to beat the Lions.

One of the top contenders this season didn’t play last week against Minnesota, but he could be back for the Buckeyes.

Chop Robinson may have only had one sack in 2022, but the Maryland transfer consistently wreaked havoc and was Penn State’s top-rated quarterback by Pro Football Focus.

After sitting out against the Golden Gophers, Robinson returned to practice in a short period open to the media on Wednesday.

Franklin used his typical line when discussing injured players, saying he was “hopeful” Robinson would play Saturday.

“It’s still early in the week, but he was able to practice today,” Franklin said. “Obviously, he’s been an explosive playmaker for us on the defensive end.”

Less certain is the status of Penn State’s two starting offensive linemen. Left guard Landon Tengvall suffered an undisclosed injury during warmups before the Michigan game and has missed the last two games entirely. Right tackle Caydon Wallace left last week’s second half of a win over Minnesota with an apparent lower-body injury and did not return.

If neither can play Saturday, the Lions will likely go with Hunter Noorzad at left guard and Bryce Efner at right tackle.

Receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith has also been dealing with a lower-body injury that has kept him out of all but a handful of the past three games. He appeared to practice as usual on Wednesday.

White stripes

It will be the first time since 2009 that Ohio State’s visit to Beaver Stadium will not begin in prime time. Since Fox acquired the rights to the game this year, the network picked it up for its prime timeslot, “Big Noon Kickoff.”

It will mark the first time Fox will bring its traveling pregame set — its answer to ESPN’s “College GameDay” — to Happy Valley for its pregame show.

All of which explains why Penn State decided to hold its annual White Out last week against Minnesota instead of its usual game against Ohio State.

Instead, Penn State will bring back another relatively new tradition in “Stripe Out,” in which only the student section wears all white while all other parts of the stadium alternate between blue and white to create a striped effect.

Fans can visit to see if they are sitting in the blue or white section.