Shakes (13), Men’s Soccer, Villanova

Goalkeeper Kris Shakes (13) directs his team during Penn State’s match against Villanova on Friday, September 13, 2019 at Jeffrey Field.

Penn State has righted the ship since its season opener and will travel into Columbus to face a red hot Ohio State squad.

Before the season, the two teams were picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, but both the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes have had a promising start in nonconference play.

Penn State picked up a point on the road at then-No. 15 UCF and earned a 1-0 victory over an undefeated Villanova side last Friday who hadn’t allowed a goal until it came to Jeffrey Field.

“We want to build on a positive performance from Friday night,” coach Jeff Cook said. “I thought we handled the game really well but the next game is most important one on the schedule. We’re really excited to open up Big Ten play.”

Ohio State is 5-1-0 on the season, having won its five games by a combined score of 9-3.

Kuhn (17), Men’s Soccer, Villanova

Midfielder Seth Kuhn (17) dribbles the ball during Penn State’s match against Villanova on Friday, September 13, 2019 at Jeffrey Field.

The Buckeyes received eight votes in the latest NCAA rankings, meaning it will be the second consecutive matchup against a team receiving votes for the top 25 for Penn State.

For Penn State, Christian Sload has been the most productive forward- whether it be creating or finishing chances. Sload set up Seth Kuhn’s game-winning goal against Villanova, who had an outstanding performance against a pesky Wildcat side.

Cook went with the true freshman Kris Shakes in the Nittany Lions most recent game and while he didn’t have the busiest of days in goal, he came up clutch when he was called upon.

Whether Cook decides to go with the hot hand or the experience in Josh Levine to open up conference play is something to look out for heading into Saturday’s matchup.

Ohio State has relied heavily on the duo of Devyn Etling and Jack Holland. The two have combined for eight goals and four assists, which is 20 of the team’s 35 points.

After recent play from the Nittany Lions, scoring against them may not be as easy as it seems. Penn State hasn’t allowed a goal since the first half of the UCF game, which is five consecutive halves without an allowed goal.

Brandon Hackenberg, one of the main pieces to the Penn State backline, has seen the improvement in its early season weaknesses.

“We’ve done a much better job in terms of defending set pieces and corners,” Hackenberg said. “As a group, we’ve played more games together so we’re starting to get more chemistry with each other and that’s big with how we’ve been defining well.”

Sload (24), Men’s Soccer, Villanova

Forward Christian Sload (24) attempts to head the ball during Penn State’s match against Villanova on Friday, September 13, 2019 at Jeffrey Field.

The Buckeyes allow a little over a goal per game, with an average of 1.16 and 7 in total through 6 games, but they struggle in the second half.

Six of the seven goals that Ohio State has allowed occurred in the second half, which may bode well for the Nittany Lions if they can wear down the Buckeye backline.

Cook understands the importance of this game, but he doesn’t want his guys to lose focus heading into Saturday’s contest.

“The Big Ten games are a little bit special,” Cook said. “One of our key points every single week and practice session is to try and improve and get better. If we can keep hold of that principle, I think we have a chance of performing well this weekend.”

Penn State will face Ohio State on Saturday, September 21 at 7 p.m. in Columbus.

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