Better Know An Opponent: Michigan State (aka “The Final Countdown”)

November 22, 2008

LAST TIME OUT: November 17, 2007 – Michigan State struck first to go up 7-0 but PSU responded swiftly by putting up 24 unanswered points, including a TD run by Kevin Kelly off of a fake field goal at the start of the third quarter.  At the time, such a play seemed to be a back-breaker to Sparty’s confidence and would lead to the Nittany Lions cruising to an easy victory in East Lansing.

But, as a certain former Big Ten football coach once exclaimed: “NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND!” Sparty came to life as QB Brian Hoyer continually decimated PSU’s “bend but don’t break” defense which resembled something more along the lines of “it’s broke and we can’t do a damn thing to fix it.”  Before anyone realized what had happened, Sparty had regained the lead with just a few minutes to play.

PSU tried desperately to respond, relying on the legs of third-string tailback Brent Carter to carry them down the field all the way to the MSU 24-yard line before JayPa, in all his infinte wisdom, decided to give Anthony Morelli one final shot at getting rid of his “can’t get it done in the clutch” image by allowing Morelli to throw four straight incompletions and seal the worst choke job in the Joe Paterno era (17 point-lead blown). This was shortly followed by Yours Truly screaming obscenities to himself in a local Damon’s parking lot.

OFFENSE: No surprise here folks, Javon Ringer is the heart and soul of Sparty’s offense.  Mark Dantonio’s gameplan will likely involve getting the ball to Ringer at least 30 times in order to try to wear down our D-line while also shortening the game and thus, giving our offense fewer opportunities on the field. However, Ringer has looked rather pedestrian against teams that have a defensive pulse.  Thus far, Cal, Ohio State, and Wisconsin have kept Ringer from reaching the century mark for rushing and two of those three teams ended up delivering Sparty its only defeats this season.  Certainly, a very encouraging sign for our defense which ranks 2nd against the run.

Unfortunately, there’s another person on MSU’s offense to worry about:  Brian Hoyer.  Yes, that same Brian Hoyer who college football analysts have labeled “inconsistent” all season long due to his sub-50% pass completion rate and his paltry 9 TDs/6 INTs.  The same Brian Hoyer who looked like John-fucking-Elway against our secondary during last year’s collapse, going 16-for-21 passing with 257 yards and 4 TDs.

Words cannot emphasize enough how important it is for PSU’s defense to get consistent pressure on Hoyer whenever he tries to make our defense pay for zeroing in on Ringer.  Case in point: Wisconsin held Ringer to a season-low 58 yards rushing but allowed Hoyer to throw for 251 yards through the air which made all the difference as it helped set up MSU’s game-winning field goal.  Aaron Maybin will need to lead the 4-man rushing attack once again, and it wouldn’t hurt to try blitzing linebackers not named Josh Hull.

HHV hopes to see plenty of a different shade of green on Brian Hoyers jersey

HHV hopes to see plenty of a different shade of green on Brian Hoyer's jersey

Receiving-wise, Mark Dell and Blair White are consistent big play threats as both have racked up nearly 600 yards receiving each.  Fortunately for our secondary, Dell is questionable due to injuries and may not play.  Tight end Charlie Gantt has also made some noise for Sparty as a great secondary option and in fact, leads the Spartans in receiving TDs with 4 of them.  So, while there may not be a Devin Thomas in this group, MSU still has guys who are more than capable of burning us for a score (or at least setting up one) if we’re caught napping.

DEFENSE: The pass defense is pretty decent, ranking 39th in the nation (191 yards per game).  Otis Wiley is the clear leader of the secondary with 4 INTs, one of them going back for a pick-six.  Wiley will have to come up with a big turnover or two if MSU wants to have a serious shot at winning consecutive games over PSU for the first time since this “rivalry” began in 1993.

Sparty’s greatest concerns though, lie in its rush defense which currently gives up on average about 148.5 yards a game and ranks 73rd in the nation.  PSU’s offensive gameplan had better involve a shitload of handoffs to Evan Royster and Stephfon Green and several instances of Daryll Clark calling his own number.  The key matchup here will be our O-line against their D-line.  If the O-line can regain its swagger from earlier in the year, it could be a very long afternoon for Sparty’s defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Brett Swenson is perfect on extra points and is 19 of 24 on field goals with a very impressive 6 for 7 between 40-49 yards.  His long is from 50 yards out.

Bottom line: Don’t let this game come down to a field goal.

PREDICTION: I realize Michigan State is technically still alive for a Rose Bowl bid should they do the unthinkable and win tomorrow.  Unless I’ve interpreted the tiebreaker rules incorrectly though, if PSU loses tomorrow and OSU takes care of Michigan as expected, then the Buckeyes earn the Rose Bowl bid.  Why do I bring this up?  Because OSU-Michigan is a noon game whose outcome will be known before Sparty and PSU kickoff at 3:30.  If the Buckeyes indeed have the win wrapped up, then there will be a little less motivation for Sparty as they wouldn’t have a BCS bowl to play for and are already headed to a January bowl game regardless of the outcome.

This is not to say that PSU has no reason to be motivated:  It’s senior day for the high school class of 2005 that is credited with turning around the fortunes of a fallen program in its darkest hour under the bright lights of Beaver Stadium with a Rose Bowl berth and second Big Ten championship in four years on the line.  If there is ever a time for PSU to regain its early to mid-season swagger, THIS is the game to do it in.

While on paper, PSU has the clear edge talent-wise, one cannot underestimate the coaching brilliancy of Mark Dantonio.  He is the MacGyver of college football coaches, being able to do a lot with very little.  It was less than two years ago that Dantonio accepted the MSU coaching job, taking over a program racking dis-a-prin and toughness and brought an old-school smashmouth style of play to East Lansing.

While Dantonio’s methods may be as outdated as Betamax, the fans sure as hell aren’t complaining.  Anyone who can take a 4-8 team to 9-2 and January bowl bound in just two seasons deserves the highest of accolades.  The comeback win over PSU last year surely had to have been a major confidence-booster to the program, and undoubtedly Sparty knows they stand a chance tomorrow as well.  Suffice it to say, this is not your older brother’s Michigan State football team.

With that being said however, PSU has rose to the occasion in all of their much-hyped games this season (see: Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State) and I see absolutely no reason why they can’t do the same tomorrow.  MSU will put up a fight no doubt, especially since they’ve had a bye week to rest up and are a little more fresh than PSU.  However, a bye week is a double-edged sword whose downfall is that it can also take a team that’s on a roll out of its rhythm as they try to shake off the rust(see: PSU at Iowa).

Ergo, PSU will get off to a stronger start, come up with a few more big plays, and will feed off the frenzied Beaver Stadium crowd/student White-Out.  The victory bell win ring one final time for the seniors as Derrick Williams stands in the end zone, clutching a giant red rose with his teeth.

Penn State 27Michigan State 17

Oh, and of course.  How could I end a PSU-MSU post without displaying the ginormous abomination that is the “Land Grant Trophy?”

Come home to Papa Baker!

COME TO PAPA BAKER!!!


Advertisements

Better Know An Opponent: William and Mary

November 14, 2008

No, that is not a typo:  I’m not bothering with a football preview this week.  It’s Indiana, for crying out loud.  If we don’t come out pissed off and beat them by at least 3 TD’s then I might as well just go ahead and predict a loss against Sparty next weekend. You can hit up BSD and The Nittany Line if you want a full-fledged preview. I want to focus right now though on the basketball season opener.

WHO’S PLAYING: William & Mary (CAA, 2007-08 record: 17-16)

WHAT TIME: 6:30 PM ET

WHERE AT: The “cold, characterless” Bryce Jordan Center

I CAN’T MAKE IT: Well, you’re in luck.  The Big Ten Network’s televising this one.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The “Tribe” is no team to take lightly.  This is a squad that managed to upset VCU in last year’s CAA conference tournament, en route to the conference championship game where they came up short against George Mason and they return three starters from last year’s team.  Additionally, they will get added help at point guard with addition of Arkansas transfer Sean McCurdy who is described as phenomenally athletic and can create shots for his teammates so it sounds like Talor Battle and company will have their hands full tonight.

The Tribe also like to play a slower, pseudo-Princeton style of offense that emphasizes lots of backdoor cuts and 3-point shots.  Actually, they REALLY love three-point shots because they set a CAA record last year with 257 made 3-point attempts.  Look for PSU to try and force the tempo and turn the game into a track meet and attempt to force turnovers with their full-court press and man-to-man defense.  Whoever controls the tempo of this game likely gets the win.

Height will also be an issue for our guys as William & Mary boasts several guys 6’7″ or taller who have excellent shooting range including forward Danny Sumner who shot 47 % from downtown during last year’s conference tourney run.  If the Tribe are allowed to run their offense, it could be a long night for the Fighting DeChellises defensively as they will have to pick their poison of easy points in the paint or wide-open perimeter shots.  So once again, I can’t emphasize it enough, PSU needs to come out pressing from the get-go to throw the Tribe out of rhythm and rattle their psyche.

The line on this game is 10.5 points in favor of the Fighting DeChellises.  That might be a tad high if you ask me, given our uncertainty with interior defense (let alone defense in general) and the Tribe’s shooting ability.  Not to sound like a broken record but the key to this game tonight will be tempo, tempo, tempo.  If PSU can get its fast-paced style of play going from the start and jump out to an early commanding lead, it will make life much more difficult for the Tribe and their slower-paced style of game to crawl back.

Given that this is the season opener, there will likely be plenty of kinks being worked out and the Tribe are a serious threat to pull the upset if PSU comes out lethargic.  However, I think the team is more on the same page than they would be at this time of the year thanks to their exhibition games in Canada back in September.  For that reason, I’m taking PSU to win this game by about 12-15 points and cover the spread.

I also would like to announce that for the second straight year, I will be involved in a “Pick the Spread” contest for the basketball season.  I originally tabbed fellow PSU hoops blogger Crispin and Cream to replace my friend John, whose blog Rants From The District was shut down earlier this year.  Recently, however, John has expressed interest in firing RFTD back up and entering the contest again, so it looks like we’ve got ourselves a little menage-a-trois this year.

John(RFTD) and C&C are both picking William & Mary to beat the spread which means Yours Truly will either be ahead or behind both of them after approximately 8:30 PM ET tonight.  In the meantime, enjoy the season opener, and get your ass over to the BJC if you are close enough.


Better Know An Opponent: Iowa

November 8, 2008

I apologize for the lack of postings this week, I’ve been extremely busy with real world stuff.  Not to mention the fact that I’m scrambling to get Part One of my basketball preview finished.  Look for that to be up Sunday afternoon, right around when the Fighting DeChellises tip off in their lone exhibition against Bloomsburg.

In the meantime, it’s time to better know this week’s opponent: The Iowa Black Heart Gold Pants

LAST TIME AROUND: October 6, 2007.  The Nittany Lions were fresh off back-to-back WTF losses at Michigan and Illinois respectively and the calls for Anthony Morelli’s head had reached a fever pitch after Morelli had made costly fuck-up after costly fuck-up in the previous two losses.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, starting tailback Austin Scott had been kicked off the team following a rape charge that would later be dismissed.

This however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Nittany Nation was introduced that day to Evan Royster and his 86 yards rushing before Royster got injured, bringing in Rodney Kinlaw to clean up and finish with 168 yards and 2 TDs himself.  Morelli did throw a couple interceptions but also had some brilliant long bomb connections to his wideouts, including a beatiful TD strike to Derrick Williams and another one to Chris Bell that was dropped in the end zone.  The defense was its usual dominant self, holding Iowa to 194 total offensive yards, including a measley 48 yards rushing. The end result was a 27-7 shellacking by the good guys.

OFFENSE:

Shonn Greene is the leader of the pack, hitting the centennial mark in rushing yards for each one of his games this season and inspiring yet another lame idea for an “insert color here”-out.  He has been a nightmare for opposing defenses thus far and that won’t change this weekend either.  However, if the PSU defense can successfully stack 8 guys and take away the power running game like they did with Beanie Wells at Ohio State, they should be able to negate Greene enough to the point where he’s not consistently ripping off huge chunks of yardage.

Such a focus on stopping the run though could lead to us being susceptible to some big throws via QB Ricky Stanzi, better known as “The Stanz.”

Just one of many talents of The Stanz. Eyyyyyyy!

Jumping sharks: Just one of many talents of "The Stanz." Eyyyyyyy!

The Stanz relieved the ineffective Jake Christensen earlier in the year and along with Shonn Greene’s emergence, also helped ignite a passing attack that had laid dormant most of the season.  His numbers are not eye-popping though as he’s only thrown for 200+ yards once this year and additionally has been susceptible to making mistakes as evidenced by his 6 INTs to go along with his 9 TD passes.  This is surprising given that he’s got a couple of quality receivers in Andy Brodell and Derell Johnson-Koulianos.  The key for PSU’s defense will be getting pressure on Stanzi and forcing him to run for his life and make a bad throw or two.  That seemed to work wonders for the Illini last week.

DEFENSE:

Very comparable to OSU.  The Hawkeyes rank in the Top 10 in scoring defense in the country, anchored by D-lineman Mitch King and his 11 tackles for loss, including 3 sacks.  No doubt they are going to try to negate Evan Royster to start the game so Daryll Clark had best be ready to start throwing a few deep balls to keep the defense honest and give Royster a little breathing room.  Fortunately, Iowa’s secondary does feature a weak spot according to BHGP:

The only weakness, week-in and week-out, is free safety Brett Greenwood, who is attacked mercilessly by smart coordinators and seems to be perpetually out of position against the deep ball down the sideline.

Speaking of running games: It sure would be nice to see a return of Stephfvan Roygreen this weekend…Though I’m not going to hold my breath on it.  There, now go out and prove me wrong!

Stephfvan Roygreen searches for its next town to terrorize

Stephfvan Roygreen searches for his next town to terrorize

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Given the defensive nature of this game (and the predicted “Big Ten weather conditions” of cold, breezy, and a mix of snow/rain), kicking will be ultra-important.  Kevin Kelly’s clutchness we’re all well aware of by now, so we’ll skip that.  Iowa’s field goal kicking game leaves something else to be desired though as Trent Mossbrucker (sounds like Brent Musberger’s alter ego) while 13/15 on the year has a long of only 39 yards.

Return-wise, Andy Brodell does have a punt return for a TD on the year.  This is easily trumped however by Derrick Williams’ 3 special teams TDs (2 on kickoffs, one on a punt).  As always, any team that punts the ball straight to D-Will should have its punter and coaching staff take a mandatory IQ test.

PREDICTION:

This game will resemble the classic, rough-and-tumble, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust, Big Ten football that us longtime followers were used to.  Iowa’s defense will be stingy enough to prevent PSU’s offense from exploding and should keep this game close throughout.  However, the Hawkeyes appear to have a disturbing inability to win close games, as their 4 losses this season have occurred by a combined 12 points.  Additionally, The Stanz showed us last week against Illinois that while he has the ability to lead his team down the field, he also carries the ability to shoot his team in the foot at critical moments.  Look for that to be the difference-maker as PSU pulls away in the fourth quarter following a costly mistake by The Stanz.

Penn State 24, Iowa 13.


Better Know An Opponent: Ohio State

October 24, 2008

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: After an incessant amount of hype and ESPN talking heads offering their two cents on who’s going to emerge victorious, Penn State and Ohio State will finally take the field tomorrow night at 8 PM in the Horseshoe in what should be an epic battle between two Top 10 teams; one of whom is looking to shut up the few naysayers who claim they haven’t played a legit opponent (i.e. Mark May) and the other whom is looking to shake off the stigma of wilting in big games over the past few years…May the best media-hater win.

LAST TIME OUT: October 27, 2007 – #1 Ohio State came into Happy Valley for PSU’s annual 8 PM home game and for the 20th straight years, College Gameday was there to cover it..flying beer cans and all.  The game itself started out promising, as Anthony Morelli *gasp* led a responsive first drive downfield for a TD to counteract OSU’s field goal to give PSU a 7-3 lead.  However, that was about it regarding the positives as Beanie Wells ripped apart PSU’s defense on the ground and Todd Boeckman led an unstoppable aerial attack that allowed the punter to roast smores on the sideline since he didn’t see the field once that night.  When the dust had settled, OSU came away with its most lopsided win in Happy Valley by a score of 37-17.

OFFENSE: The media would have you believe that it’s mostly about the battle of the QB’s Darryl Clark v. Terelle Pryor and which QB will step up on Saturday night.  Both teams will be facing arguably the toughest defenses, but this should bode more of a question mark for Pryor, who has yet to be forced into having to throw a lot in order to win games.

Pryor’s amazing running ability has been more than good enough thus far, as it allowed him to run all over Michigan State last weekend and also led to a clutch TD at Wisconsin with the Buckeyes trailing with under a minute to play there.  I cannot emphasize this enough: If PSU wants to win this game they ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY must contain Pryor’s ground attack and force him to throw the football more than he would like to.

Consequently, PSU’s defense will also have to contain Beanie Wells and not allow him to pick up consistent 7+ yard chunks that Brandon Minor seemed to be getting in the first half against Michigan last week (which is way easier said than done).  You know damn well that OSU will look to establish the run first by pounding Beanie down our throats and Pryor zig-zagging off-tackle, so look for PSU to come out stacking the box with 8 guys to try and prevent this from happening.  Take away OSU’s favorite offensive strategy though, and suddenly Pryor is forced to start chucking it to his wideouts, which is something he’s not accustomed to doing on a regular basis…”Costly mistake potential” anybody?

The Buckeyes’ offensive line apparently is having some issues of its own, as they’ve been plagued by inconsistency and injuries and are being forced to start a true freshman in one of the spots.  This does not bode well for OSU against a PSU D-line that is proving to be one of the most formidable in the country, led by rising superstar Aaron Maybin.  If OSU continues with its O-line struggles, look for Maybin to get his share of “shout outs” from an inebriated Brent Musberger and his closet PSU fan partner Kirk Herbstreit.

DEFENSE:

James Laurinaitis shouldn’t be the only thing garnering hype for the Buckeyes D.  Therefore, I’m going to spread the wealth and give a shout-out to the entire Buckeye defensive unit which has given up on average only 97 yards passing (10th in the nation) and 97 yards rushing (17th in the nation).

In other words: We’re in a for a stiff test offensively as well.  The key matchup here will be PSU’s O-line versus the Buckeyes’ D line and whether they can open holes for Evan Royster and the occassional Darryl Clark draw/sweeps and also give Clark enough time to hit his numerous receiving threats in stride.  I don’t doubt we’ll have some success doing this, but will it be consistent enough to put double-digits in points on the board for the first time in Columbus?

SPECIAL TEAMS:

This is the segment in “Better Know An Opponent” where I pray to Allah that the opposing team sends all its punts and kickoffs straight into the arms of Derrick Williams.  If he gets a chance to cleanly field a kick, then the Buckeyes deserve what is about to come them…

OSU’s Ryan Pretorius has proven himself to be an accurate kicker from inside 40 yards (8/8 on 20-29 yarders and 3/4 on 30-39 yarders) but is shaky when you go beyond that (2/5 on kicks beyond 40 yards).  However, it’s Aaron Pettrey to the rescue as the kickoffs guy for OSU has been perfect thus far on kicks greater than 40 yards, including 2/2 on 50+ yarders.

Kevin Kelly though, will also be a key factor with his perfection inside 40 yards and his 2/3 performance from 50+ yards.  He could help us get points where other teams with less stable kickers would come away with zilch.

PREDICTION: This game, along with Wisconsin, was one in which I had crossed off as a “sure-fire loss” in the preseason.  Of course, I never imagined the Spread HD would become something to be taken seriously.  Jay Paterno challenged the Big Ten to an honor du-el and got laughed at, but nobody’s laughing now.

This is hands-down, the best PSU team to enter Columbus since they joined the Big Ten and with the way everything has been clicking offensively and defensively, PSU has a realistic chance at not only scoring 10 points or more but actually coming away with the long-coveted “W.”  If there is ANY time to put conventional wisdom aside and allow yourself to float in the Bizarro World, now is the time to do so.  So screw you history, I’m taking PSU in this one…And I won’t regret it for one minute if I’m wrong.

Penn State 24, Ohio State 20.


Better Know An Opponent: Wisconsin

October 10, 2008

Alright, this is gonna be super-short compared to previous “Better Know An Opponent” segments but I still have a few things to get off my chest.

Last Time Out: Oct 13, 2007 – Homecoming weekend in Happy Valley, PSU capitalized off an early fumble by Wisconsin deep in the Badger’s own territory, scoring a TD and never looking back in a 38-7 romp in which Anthony Morelli’s passes were surprisingly on target and Evan Royster and Rodney Kinlaw ran roughshod over the Badger defense.

Offense: No surprises here: Wisconsin relies heavily on its ground attack with a combination of PJ Hill and freshman John Clay.  They will have their hands full with a PSU defense that seems to be improving and gelling together with each passing week.  Shut down the Badgers’ running game and you’ll force their struggling QB Allan Evridge to put the ball in the air, which seems to be when trouble starts offensively for Wisconsin. Evridge’s play hasn’t exactly earned him a vote of confidence from his head coach Bret Bielema, who has hinted at backup Dustin Sherer seeing some playing time if Evridge continues to struggle tomorrow night.

This isn’t to say Wisconsin lacks any receiving threats though, as TE/WR Travis Beckum could very well emerge with a few clutch grabs to keep PSU’s defense honest and not just solely focused on stopping the run.  This will be absolutely critical for the Badgers offensive gameplan if they want to put an end to their losing skid tomorrow night.

Defense: Much more balanced here.  They feature a solid linebacking corps led by Jaevery McFadden, the D-line as JoePa himself said this week “Will stop your run” and the secondary isn’t too shabby either, ranking 18th in pass efficiency defense and garnering 7 interceptions thus far on the season.

Obviously, a balanced run/pass attack will be critical to keep the Badgers honest.  Throwing on 1st downs and in other least-expected situations (i.e. 2nd and short) could be key to throwing Wisconsin’s defense for a loop which will open up the running game for Evan Royster/Stephfon Green and even Darryl Clark.

Special Teams: Kicker Philip Welch is a solid field goal kicker (9 for 11) but he hasn’t figured out how to get his kicks sailing far enough into the end zone for touchbacks (only one thus far).  David Gilreath can also be a game-changer with regards to field position, averaging 27 yards per kick return so our kick coverage units had better be prepared or they could be in for a rude awakening.

Prediction: The Badgers are a wounded bunch, they are licking their wounds from last week’s dogfight with the Buckeyes that ended for them in heartbreaking fashion.  Top the Buckeye loss with the clusterfuck at Michigan and one has to wonder just how much more the Badgers can take mentally and whether they have enough left in the tank to endure another 4-quarter dogfight with a quality opponent.

Wisconsin will come into the game fired up and ready to prove to America that they’re not going to keel over and die, which has been a major concern for Badgers fans.  The difficult part will be keeping that same intensity going if they fall behind by a couple of scores.

PSU fans have concerns of their own as well..namely whether the offense will finally open up for a big road game.  It’s PSU tradition to play tight and conservative in games like these but like The Nittany Line, I’m feeling more optimistic than usual about the team and feel that the coaches have so much faith in Darryl Clark and the Spread HD that they’ll open things up enough to jump out to an early lead from which they can build upon.

Meanwhile, the defense will continue to hold steady and look like the increasingly cohesive unit they have become in recent weeks.  No doubt, Wisconsin’s offense will get its share of yards and points, but I don’t feel they’ll be able to do it on a consistent enough basis to win.

Penn State 27, Wisconsin 17


Better Know An Opponent: Purdue

October 3, 2008
Picture taken from the Boilermakers match.com profile

Picture taken from the Boilermaker's match.com profile

Last Time Out: Nov 3, 2007 – Coming off a humiliating blowout loss in a nationally televised night game at home to Ohio State, the Nittany Lions came into senior day at Beaver Stadium hung over like the day after an office Christmas party.  Purdue immediately drew first blood by returning the opening kickoff for a TD and later in the first quarter with a 10-3 lead and on PSU’s 1 yard line, Purdue was prepped to make PSU’s hole even deeper when Sean Lee’s heroics forced a fumble at the goalline which PSU subsequently recovered.  From there on, the tide turned in PSU’s favor as they managed to crawl their way back to a 13-10 halftime lead and would go on to win 23-16 in a sloppy, turnover-filled ballgame.

Offense: As always, expect Purdue to come out looking to throw in order to establish the run.  This was a concept unheard of in the Big Ten before Joe Tiller graced it with his presence beginning in 1997 but in the decade since, most teams in the conference have now adopted some variation of the spread offense…Okay, history lesson over.

Curtis Painter has lacked the receiving weapons he’s had over the past few years, which may explain why Purdue’s offense hasn’t been quite as explosive but nonetheless can still put points on the board.  However, Desmond Tardy and Greg Orton are not players you’d want to bat your eyes at, combining for a total of 19 catches for 265 yards and a TD last week at Notre Dame.

The real X-factor though will be tailback Kory Sheets and whether he will be able to get some quality holes to run through.  If Sheets is able to establish himself as a running threat, then suddenly the Boilermakers will have an easier time moving the chains through the air since PSU will be forced to respect the run by stacking more guys in the box and will thus make themselves more vulnerable to the pass.  Sheets needs to step up in a huge way in order for Purdue to even *think* about pulling the shocker in West Lafayette.

Defense: Abysmal, shit-tastic, vomit-inducing, non-existent.  There’s a myriad of words you can use to describe just how much Purdue’s defense blows ass but I think the fact that Sunshine Clausen threw for 275 yards on them last week speaks for itself.  Did I also mention that they rank 99th in the nation against the run?  Hmmmmm, I think a certain a two-headed running back monster is about to rear its ugly head again.

Stephfvan Roygreen.

Missing for the past two weeks: Stephfvan Roygreen.

In all honesty, the only chance Purdue has defensively is if PSU repeatedly trips over itself, fumbles the ball at least 6 times, and Daryll Clark starts suffering from “Anthony Morelli Syndrome.”

Special Teams: They sure are special…NOT!  The Boilers average 29 yards per punt.  I’ll repeat that:  The average distance on a punt by Purdue’s punter this year has been a whopping 29 yards. Something tells me PSU will see its share of short field positions and it won’t necessarily be due to forcing lots of turnovers.

The aforementioned punter, Chris Summers, is also Purdue’s field goal kicker and while his stats are nothing to write home about (5 for 8, long of 45) it does at least look pretty damn good compared to his punting skills.

As far as kick returns go: Dorien Bryant, the guy who took last year’s opening kickoff 98 yards to the house is gone and it doesn’t seem as if anyone else has stepped up in his place.  Kick coverage is uncertain, as there’s been no applicable data that I’ve found regarding such a thing.

Prediction: PSU will get off to its typical slow start on the road in a noon road game, Purdue will get an early TD or two and even lead for a bit.  However, the combination of the Spread HD offense plus a defense that should be able to contain Purdue’s running game and thus, focus on the pass will prove to be too much as Painter will get more and more desperate the further his team falls behind.  As a result, look for some key turnovers to crop up in the second half especially as PSU ultimately runs away with this one.

Penn State 41 – Purdue 21.


Better Know An Opponent: Illinois

September 26, 2008

I originally meant to do this earlier in the week, but like always, the procrastinator in me took over.

Previous Meeting: Sept. 29, 2007 – A Penn State team reeling from an inexplicable loss at Michigan the week before came into Champaign thinking that the Illini were just what the doctor ordered to get them back on the winning track…What they didn’t count on however, was a much more talented squad that featured a myriad of offensive weapons in QB Juice Williams, RB Rashard Mendenhall, and WR Arrelious Benn, not to mention a stifling defense featuring an All-American Badass for a linebacker in J. Leman, who famously “judo-chopped” a go-ahead and potentially momentum-shifting TD catch by Andrew Quarless late in the game.

Anthony Morelli also played a huge role that day:  Throwing 3 INTs and fumbling once, all in the second half, and most of the time with PSU’s starting field position being in Illini territory.  Meanwhile, a frustrated Darryl Clark could only sit back and watch as the coaching staff, out of fear of not fucking up Morelli’s already fragile psyche, kept Morelli in the ball game despite mistake after costly mistake in what would end up being a heart-breaking 27-20 loss.

Offense: The Juice gets increasingly loose every year, and so far he has shedded the label of being a “one-dimensional running QB who can’t throw the ball” by completing 60% of his passes thus far.  The actual results of his passes have still been mixed though w/ 5 INTs to go along with 7 TD passes.

Even more alarming is the fact that Juice Williams has carried the ball more times than any of the Illini’s tailbacks thus far (46) and although he’s averaging about 5 yards per carry with 2 TDs to his credit, somebody else needs to step up in order for the Illini to pull of the upset in Happy Valley:  I’m looking in your direction, Daniel Dufrene (45 carries, 300 yards but 0 TDs).  Nonetheless, expect Juice to give our linebacking corps a run for their money, as they will have to respect his running ability, which should give more leeway for the wide receivers to get open.  Speaking of which…

Receiving-wise, this team will probably be our stiffest challenge yet.  Will Judson, Arrelious Benn, and TE Michael Hoomanawanui are clearly the prime targets for Juice, combining for a grand total of 32 catches for 382 yards and 3 TDs thus far on the year.  FightOnState.com’s pre-game report talks about how dangerous Hoomanawanui could be, since he’s flying under the radar as a tight end and PSU’s defense has a recent history of giving up too many big plays to tight ends.

Arrelious Benn had his breakout performance against us last year, scoring his first collegiate TD on a kickoff return after PSU got on board first with a field goal, putting Illinois ahead for good.  Let’s hope our kick coverage team is ready for him this time around, otherwise don’t be surprised to see him return another one to the house.

Overall, one should expect the Illini to make their share of big plays against a shaky PSU secondary and also grind out some yardage on the ground with the Juice running loose.

Defense: There’s no sugarcoating it:  They have taken a step back from last season.  The Missouri game pretty much exposed Illinois’ weaknesses defensively, and the Illini currently rank 85th against the run (“Stephfvan Roygreen” is licking its chops right now) and 77th against the pass.

How many Illini will it take to bring down Stephfvan Roygreen?

How many Illini will it take to bring down Stephfvan Roygreen?

This is not to say that there are no quality defensive players on the Illini.  Even though J. Leman is gone, Brit Miller has stepped up his game, having racked up 36 tackles thus far (1st in the Big Ten, 3rd in the nation).  Martez Wilson is no slouch himself, with 26 tackles (including a team-leading 2 solo sacks) and Vontae Davis is a quality cornerback whom Darryl Clark should be wary of when trying to throw in his vicinity.

With that being said, I’d still look for PSU to take the blueprint Mizzou handed them and expose the Illini with their own vaunted run/pass attack that will have them thinking they’re back in St. Louis.

Special Teams: Kicker Matt Eller is 4-for-5 on field goal attempts with a long of 51 yards, but other than that the Illini have been rather quiet thus far with no TDs on punt or kickoff returns…Let’s hope that doesn’t change tomorrow night.

BONUS INTERVIEW: I wanted to have a talk with Chief Illiniwek but since the NCAA threatened to take action against me, I had to backtrack and instead bring on another Native American representative, Tonto.

Tonto also unexpectedly brought along his pals Tarzan and Frankenstein with him so what was supposed to be a one-on-one discussion ended up being a mini-roundtable of sorts…

Gentlemen, thanks for sitting down for this fake roundtable discussion. Now, let’s get right to our first topic and we’ll start with you, Tonto:  Football.

Football good.

Football good.

Football…Good!

Okay, that first topic was just my own little test to make sure you guys actually care about the sport of football.  Now, on to our first real topic:  Ron Zook.

Ron Zook good.

Ron Zook good, Kemo Sabe.

Grrrrrr..Ron Zook…BAD!

Alright, a little difference of opinion here, I like that.  Now, let’s move on now to some more pressing issues:  Penn State’s Spread HD offense.

Tarzan like offense.  Offense make football more fun to watch for Tarzan and boy.

Hmmm, me no trust offense, Kemo Sabe.

Grrrrrrr..RON ZOOK BAAAD!

We know your stance on Ron Zook already Frank, but what’s your take on Penn State’s Spread HD offense?

Uh, excuse me, I believe Frankenstein not understand question.

Alright, let me explain the Spread HD offense:  It’s a style of offense invented by Penn State’s QB coach Jay Paterno, it involves spreading the field with a combination of running/passing that can be very deceptive to an opponent if done properly.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrr..RON ZOOK BAD!  RON ZOOK BAAAAD!  (Gets up and smashes roundtable and runs out of the room)  RON ZOOK BAAAAAAAAD!

Alllrighty then, looks like that’s all she wrote for this roundtable.  Thanks for participating gentlemen.

(runs back into the room, arms failing wildly) RON ZOOK BAAAAD!  RON ZOOK BAAAAD!

Final Thoughts: Illinois will prove to be PSU’s stiffest test yet.  While they’re not the same team defensively they were last year, they will still prove to be tougher than anyone else we’ve faced thus far.  Of course, the real focus of the Illini should be on their highly potent offense which will most likely give our defense its first true glimpse at adversity.

PSU is more than up to the challenge though, and I’d put my money down on the Spread HD continuing its impressive statistical run against a weakened Illini defense.  It looks like State College’s 4th Fest will have some competition this year with regards to the “best fireworks show in Central PA” title as both teams should be lighting up the scoreboard offensively.

Furthermore, the home team will be feeding off a jam-packed “White House” in a night game on ABC with the revenge factor fully in effect.  I’m not buying the 15-point favorite that Vegas is trying to entice unsuspecting gamblers into taking the bait for, but I still think we win this game by more than a TD.

Prediction: Penn State 34, Illini 24