NU-PSU comes down to a few basic things:
The Big 10 thinks this could be a "nail biter." They could be right.
- 1. Can NU mount enough offense to keep the Defense off the field
- 2. Will Zack Mills, PSU's leading passer, repeat his performance the last time he played at Ryan.
- 3. Can Penn State mount enough defense to stop the NU running game?
- 4. Will Brett Basanez get enough protection from his O-Line to make the completions needed to keep the O on the field..
- 5. Will the Lions ignore all the "JoePa" should retire talk and concentrate on winning, and
- 6. Will the Lions rebound after a gut wrenching loss to Ohio State last week?
Then again, this could be an old style, grind it out Big 10 football game with NU winning by attrition - on the backs of Jason Wright, Noah Herron and Terrell Jordan.
NU has the running game [4+ yds per rush] to actually grind it out
against a shaky PSU run defense [allowing 4.3 yds per rush]. The stars
for the Lions this year are in their defensive backfield - Safety Yacov Yisrael, and Cornerbacks Rich Gardner and Alan Zemaitis are the three big "presences" where Brett Basanez would have to throw the ball. They''re the big 3 in the #1 pass defense in the NCAA right now and Yisrael and Gardner are from the Chicago area.
So I'm not sure we just don't pass downfield in this
game, [although we rarely pass downfield anyway]. The really major
fumbles last week came on two QB sacks and at the end of a run after a
pass - all related to passing.
Then we have the NU defense against the Penn State running game. The
front 7 [or is it 6 at times] on defense seems to be able to handle the
conventional running of our opponents. Maybe a little stressed when the
QB can run too, but its a lot better than last year.
I think Larry Watts got it right -- the NU O-Line starts to pass block and give Baz time
to make the plays, our offense runs well. A good balanced vanilla
passing attack should work against the Lions, especially if PSU gears up to stop the run early.
And don't kid yourself, the position switches by Matt Ulrich didn't help the O-line, but they seem to be improving. The right side of Ulrich and Zach Strief is getting better each week.
Now the left side, Baz's blind side needs to step up their pass blocking. In the middle, Trevor Rees is playing like a really good freshman, maybe not quite as good as Austin King was as a frosh, he was injured early, but he's closing in on that standard fast.
So this should be the week that the guys up front show their stuff - or maybethey have to for the Cats to win.
But while we've been better against the run this year [especially when Tim McGarigle and Louis Ayeniare
playing], our pass defense has been a little suspect [maybe even
shaky?]. But the Nittany Lions rush offense [3.8 yds per rush] is not
one of the conference leaders. They've got a young O-Line and they just
haven't put a running game together this year.
Which leaves the NU Defense [allowing 8.4 yds per attempt] against the PSU passing game [5.3 yds per att]. Expect Zack Mills to come in and rev up the Zack Attack the way he did against the Buckeyes: [27 of 42 passes for 253 yards and a TD]. What's important is that he only got the one TD - the OSU defense kept the Lions out of the endzone
Our D-back starters have been burned by the long ball more than a few times, and now there are
reports that Jeff Backes was also injured at Purdue.
Which leaves all the discussion swirling around Lion Head Coach Joe Paterno and last week's tough loss.
I know the jury is still debating the NU Secondary, but it would seem that the worse thing we could do would be to force the Lions to go to a long passing game Saturday.
There seems to be an even larger crowd of "dump the coach" people in Happy Valley than there are in the West Parking Lot at Ryan on Saturdays.
The great teams ignore the questions and rebound after tough losses. Teams in flux, can go either way.
2-7 overall and 0-5 in the Big 10 just doesn't cut it at Penn State,
and the prospect of not winning more than one Big 10 game, or maybe
even going 3-9 has both the sports commentators and many fans asking if
JoePa is just too old to keep winning with the Lions.
I won't go there, but it has to be confusing for the players and
disheartening for the Seniors, who haven't enjoyed the successes of
earlier Penn State teams.
At least we don't get a major newspaper story every week questioning Randy Walker's fitness to be a coach. Joe Paterno
gets asked in every press conference about whether he thinks he should
retire. Its got to have players asking questions deep inside.
NU had a tough loss last week, but the team can look at how Purdue scored
all those points and shake it off. Hey, we crashed the PU defense for
161 yards on the ground with our best runner on the bench most of the
I'll be honest, I don't have a clue who will win this thing.
PSU also had a tough loss to an overrated Buckeye squad last
weekend. Mills' 253 yards passing may be an indication of things to
come, or the only bright spot in a long season. In any case, Penn State will have to pull it all together and forget a game that they were really looking to win to turn their season around.
The big time Penn State fans figure this to be another blowout like last year. If Mills gets going, they could be right.
But if we see a return of the Zack Attack, look out. If not, we'll have win #5 and we'll be back to .500.
But I've got faith in the NU Defense. They've bent all year but haven't
broken down for an entire game since October. If we can just execute
the offense we ran against Wisconsin and Purdue, we should score enough points to win this thing.
Chat during the game, while some of us get to watch on ESPN2 and listen to Ted and Dave on WGN or the gang at WNUR-FM
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