Well, the next two games (at least) will be noon kickoffs. This is the way too far from prime time slot accorded to mediocre matchups by the schedulers at ESPN/ABC. The game desirability pecking order is further delineated by whichever particular Disney owned channel is chosen for broadcast, starting with ABC, then ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and, finally, ESPN+ regional coverage. For our Illinois game, we’re slated for ESPN2. So, from the prime-time heights of ABC at 8 PM, we sink to ESPN2 at noon. This means that unless you’re fortunate enough to be heading to State College for Homecoming or unless you’re planning to listen to Steve Jones and Jack Ham on the radio, you might have to put up with Pam Ward yet again.
It’s hard to start drinking in the AM hours. Not only is this a time of day that generally demands sobriety, but also when you leave your sports bar of choice after the game, the bright, mid-afternoon sunlight shocks your inebriated system. If you happen to be going out Saturday night, you can’t slide right into party mode after the game. You have to sober up and start all over again, creating an unnatural discontinuity in the weekend alcoholic continuum. Students who party long and hard on Friday night will not even know whose apartment they’re waking up in an hour before kickoff, and there will not even be enough lead time to be in the appropriate pre-game alcoholic stupor such as is required in order to go shirtless in 25 degree weather. It is no fun going to the game with a hangover but there’s no time to get rid of one, either. Moreover, after the game there’s nothing to do for hours and hours.
Even more ridiculous is the dilemma faced by west coast fans. Kickoff is at 9:00 AM for them.
Finally, how will it be possible for us to second-guess our coaches’ decisions if we aren’t drunker’n a buncha hoot owls? We might start thinking that they actually know more than we do! That’s no damn fun!
Thus, it goes without saying that high noon is the most undesirable of all kickoff times for the aforementioned multitude of reasons.
All that having been said, it’s important for our Nittany Lions to get back into the Top 10 so we can get some 3:30 and 8 PM kickoffs. It probably won’t happen this year—and it might be difficult to even find the Temple game on your cable or satellite box—but we need to start planning for next year.
And now, without further ado, The Nittany Turkey (who specializes in “ado”) presents his unscientific, uninformed, sophomoric analysis of the forthcoming Illinois game.
Most of you think that this game is a slam-dunk. Homecoming games should be like that, shouldn’t they? Yeah, like we all don’t remember the 6–4 ass-kicking we got from Iowa in 2004, right? However, we also remember the 63–10 drubbing of Illinois at Memorial Stadium last year. Somewhere in between lies the truth.
The Nittany Lions (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) are shaking off the bruises and concussions administered by #2 Michigan in a 17–10 prime-time loss, while the Still-Fighting Illini (2-5, 1-2 Big Ten) are recovering from a last-second 20–17 defeat at the behest of Ohio U.
The somewhat enigmatic Illini, led by head coach Ron Zook, have shown signs of life at times, for example, in beating Michigan State. Long time co-residents of the Big Ten Cellar alongside Indiana (and for a couple of years there, PSU), the Boys from Champaign have been fighting to regain Big Ten respectability. They’ve shown enough this year to suggest that further improvement is possible, given the number of freshmen and sophomores on their squad. Their freshman quarterback, Isiah “Juice” Williams, has looked particularly impressive. More on him later.
First, we have to look at the Nittany Lion quarterback situation. (UPDATED: see this article.) The big question as the noon Saturday kickoff looms is: Who the hell will start at quarterback for Penn State? Anthony Morelli and Daryll Clark were both said to be “probable,” but who knows what that really means. They have been practicing only lightly under the watchful eyes of coaches, trainers, and physicians. Paul Cianciolo and Kevin Suhey have been practicing hard. I think that the coaches will probably try to keep Morelli and Clark out, even though they don’t want to create the appearance that we’re discounting Illinois. Thus, I think we’ll see Cianciolo starting.
What that means, and what probably will be the case no matter who starts at quarterback, is that we’ll be seeing a lot of Tony Hunt and Rodney Kinlaw. Back to basic, simple-ass running plays. With Illinois’ porous run defense ranked #74 nationally and allowing 140 rushing yards per game, it probably won’t be necessary to throw many risky passes against an Illini secondary that is probably about as good as ours. Prepare for a boring, grind-it-out ground game.
Given Illinois’ poor special teams performance, the Nittany Lions might find themselves in the unfamiliar role of dominating special teams play—a welcome sight.
Another area in which the Lions can find paydirt is turnover ratio. The Illini rank among the bottom five in that category.
Illinois has found success this year with its running game, in the capable legs of senior running back Pierre Thomas (71 ypg) augmented by the scrambling of freshman quarterback “Juice” Williams, who is averaging 47 yards per game. The 6’2″, 220 pound Williams is a Michael Robinson type quarterback—except that he’s probably a better passer, with a quarterback rating of 113.7—and he can make big plays happen. He lacks seasoning, but as a raw freshman he has started the past four games. Williams is the future of this team’s offense, and he seems to be developing quickly. Our front four will want to keep him in the pocket and keep up the pressure, while the linebacking corps will probably want to keep a spy on him.
On defense, the Illini have one good thing going for them: junior middle linebacker J Leman, who leads the Big Ten in tackles and is ranked #6 nationally. However, his 11+ tackles per game won’t be enough in themselves to stop the Penn State running game. After all, Leman can’t cover the whole field by himself.
What this all boils down to is probably a 200-yard day for Tony Hunt, maybe another 70 for Rodney Kinlaw, and another 150 in combined return yardage for Derrick Williams and A.J. Wallace. One of Williams’ returns will go for a touchdown. The Lions should have a field day on the ground.
I do think that the Juiceroo has the capability of burning our secondary for one big play. The run is not going to work against our front seven, so Illinois will have to turn to the passing game. The true freshman quarterback has proven that he can hook up for some big ones. His seven touchdown passes this season have ranged from 31 to 76 yards.
And now, it is time for the long awaited, meaningless, incompetent, Official Turkey Poop Prediction. I do miss Chief Illiniwek, who was drummed out of town via extortion by the NCAA Competition Committee in retribution for the Peoria tribe being chased out of Illinois in the 19th Century. The NCAA is intent on taking the fun out of football, but they won’t succeed here—this will be a fun homecoming. It sure as hell ain’t gonna wind up 6–4! The Turkey sees it this way: Penn State 38, Illinois 17.