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Game Day Keys: Penn State braces for another day in the trenches

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

The day's most pivotal players.

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DEVON STILL, Penn State. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound senior has been the driving force in the middle of a defense that's kept the Nittany Lions in low-scoring slugfests all year, and never more so than in last week's 17-14 heartbreaker against Nebraska. That was part of a pattern against zone-read attacks: Before his big game against the Cornhuskers, Still had ten tackles in a 10-7 win over Illinois — four of them for loss — a week after making a pair of stops in the backfield against Northwestern. For the season, Still has at least one tackle for loss in every game, leaving him fourth nationally and one off the Big Ten lead.

With a division title on the line against Ohio State, he's the lynchpin of the Lions' charge both between the tackles, where Buckeye tailback Dan Herron is averaging 119 yards per game since returning from suspension in mid-October, and against the zone read, from which freshman quarterback Braxton Miller is averaging more than 80 yards in seven starts. We know Penn State's not going to score much, but the more often the defense forces Miller into obvious passing situations on third down, the more likely it is to advance the cause itself.

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ROBERT WOODS, USC. Lane Kiffin has hemmed and hawed on the status of his star receiver for most of the week, telling reporters Friday that Woods would be a game-time decision at Oregon after Kiffin watches him warm up. That may be a bit of sand-bagging ahead of a big game — the Ducks are convinced Woods will play, and have prepared accordingly — but the question is worth the hype: The Trojans need every weapon at their disposal to keep pace with Oregon's warp-speed offense, and Woods' absence would leave them without the most productive target in the league.

KHEESTON RANDALL, EMMANUEL ACHO and KEENAN ROBINSON, Texas. Fozzy Whittaker's season-ending injury at Missouri left the Longhorns with no healthy running backs, which threatens to leave them with no offense: Fledgling quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy were overmatched (again) in Columbia with no semblance of a ground game to bail them out. Against Kansas State, that mission will have to fall to three senior leaders on the defense, who are charged with keeping the Wildcats off the board by forcing the most run-oriented offense in the Big 12 — and the most run-oriented quarterback, Collin Klein, in particular — out of its comfort zone on the ground.

ROY FINCH, Oklahoma. As critical as the loss of the NCAA's career receptions leader may be, the Sooners already know what they have behind Ryan Broyles: Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds, DeJuan Miller and Trey Franks still form arguably the deepest receiving corps in the nation. What the Sooners are still wondering is who's going to pick up the slack in the wake of a season-ending injury to leading rusher Dominique Whaley, a former walk-on who left his blue-chip colleagues in the dust beginning in spring practice.

First crack two weeks ago went to Finch, who responded with 99 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in a win over Texas A&M — a solid effort, but on only 3.8 yards per carry. Against Baylor's 112th-ranked rushing defense, OU should expect a legitimate breakout with style points suddenly at a premium.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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