The first thing your favorite Turkey has to say is that those of us who will be unable to travel to West Lafayette for this game will not have to put up with Pam Ward and Mike Gottfried, as the Penn State vs. Purdue game is a regional ABC telecast. Much of the Northeast and Midwest will receive the broadcast, as will South Florida. The announcers will be Eric Collins and Andre Ware.
Purdue (5–3, 2-2 Big Ten) is coming off their worst effort of the season, a 24–3 loss to Wisconsin. However, the #17 Badgers have lost only once, to Michigan, and they can be regarded being one of the top three in the Big Ten, along with Michigan and Ohio State. Purdue, in fact, has lost to only ranked teams: Iowa, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin. The same can be said for Penn State (5–3, 3–2 Big Ten), which has lost to Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. In the Big Ten, both have beaten Minnesota and Northwestern by similar scores. So, given the similarity of records and the quality of opponents, this matchup looks pretty even. But is it?
The similarity ends with the records. Purdue has found its offensive success in the passing game. Throwing an average of 40 passes per game—Tillerball—has netted the Boilermakers over 300 yards a game in the air. They rank #4 in the nation (and #1 in the Big Ten) in passing offense. Their rushing offense adds 138 yards on average, which makes their high-octane overall offense #8 in Division I-A and #1 in the Big Ten. Their defense, on the other hand, is pretty flimsy, allowing an average of almost 416 yards and over 28 points per game. Not quite Temple, but close! Nevertheless, they have a harassing pass rush that averages over three sacks per game.
Last week, I made similar comments about Illinois’ defense. I figured that because of the weakness of the run defense, Tony Hunt would have a field day. He didn’t. Both he and our out of sync, out of gas offensive line sucked in the Illinois game. So, I’ll be making no such brash predictions here. I’m adopting a wait and see attitude.
As for our defense, they have the talent to give Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter a hard time, but will they? It appears to me that much of that defensive front seven’s talent is performing well on its own and some of it is coachable to do so—whether via coaches or their peers. To mention names, Josh Gaines finally showed me something in the Illinois game. Ed Johnson is steadily improving. Posluszny and Conner are solid. Alford is big. Sean Lee is underrated and quietly effective. If we keep the pressure on Painter, perhaps thowing an occasional blitz at him, it will go a long way toward keeping this game under control.
Painter has been known to run the option on occasion, too, a play with which Illinois repeatedly hurt the Penn State defense last week. And running backs Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor work well behind a good offensive line. Both average over 5 yards per carry. Sheets has 9 TDs and Taylor has 3.
But what of the PSU secondary? Can King, Davis, Scirrotto, and whoever plays free safety cover Purdue’s receivers? It’s going to be pretty busy back there. Painter is on track for 4,000 yards passing this year. There is no reason to believe that he won’t be testing our secondary. His two favorite receivers are junior wide receiver Dorien Bryant and junior tight end Dustin Keller, who have caught for 578 yards and 546 yards, respectively. I think this pair will be giving us trouble all day.
The thing is that with this variety of weapons, Painter will give the Penn State defense all it can handle. Unlike a single-dimensional Michigan (without Mario Manningham) and an Ohio State team with the clamps put on Ted Ginn, Jr., this offensive juggernaut can throw a widely varied playbook at us. If we blitz, they can throw to the tight end. If we drop back, they can play the option. And they can burn us with the slant over the middle just about anytime they want.
Our only hope in this game is to be able to score more points than Purdue can. What are the chances of that happening? We have repeatedly seen the offense stall in the red zone. Even with Purdue’s porous defense, this Turkey thinks that an offense that can only score 10 points against Illinois—and that was with the help of special teams and defense—cannot hope to outscore Purdue, unless Painter has a very bad day.
That’s the one knock on Painter that comes up repeatedly—his “inconsistency.” Well, that and the ubiquitous mantra from chronic malcontent Boilermaker fans: “He ain’t no Drew Brees.” Yeah, well, you get one of those every generation or so. Before Brees, you’d have to go back to Bob Griese. These comparisons are unfair to Painter, whose offense is still tops in the Big Ten. Nevertheless, fans always seem to need them. Morelli ain’t no Milt Plum and Hunt ain’t no Lenny Moore. (He’s no Booker Moore, either, but that ain’t all bad!).
Paterno Changes His Tune
Paterno changed his tune from Saturday to Tuesday. On Saturday, he described his team as “lousy.” On Tuesday, he was saying that they could do a little better. He’s obviously attempting to avoid demotivating the offense completely, but his disgust on Saturday is not mitigated by his contrition on Tuesday. No, sorry, Joe. You said it, you meant it, and we understood your feelings. Furthermore, we agree with them. You don’t have an offensive line that can be relied upon to protect the quarterback and give enough of a push to give Tony Hunt half a chance. On Saturday, Paterno talked about changes. On Tuesday, he waffled. Well, Joe, you pulled John Shaw and Robert Price in favor of Chris Auletta and Gerald Cadogan, but on Tuesday you weren’t willing to say who would start against Purdue. Know what I think? I think Joe has basically thrown in the towel on this offensive line. They haven’t got enough games left to shape up, so let’s just ignore them. I hope I’m wrong.
Joe’s Paternoistic behavior at halftime and after the game doesn’t help the offense’s chemistry. The offense is fragile. Nothing is going right. They are essentially leaderless. For Paterno to appear to give up on them destroys whatever remaining cohesiveness they had.
Morelli had a halfway decent day against Illinois, but remember, that was Illinois. Hunt had an absolutely horrible day against Illinois, and remember, that was Illinois. If our receivers could catch—do you hear me, Norwood?—Morelli would have had an even better day. Morelli’s immobility hurt him, but some of that is on the piss poor performance of the offensive line.
Whither Derrick Williams
And where is Derrick Williams in the coaches’ scheme of things? He was supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but what has he done this year on offense? Maybe this one is on the coaches. They keep thinking that one of these days they’ll pop that slow developing reverse to Williams, but Morelli and our wide receivers can’t block and the play keeps going nowhere.
(Since the original publication of this article, The Daily Collegian has done a nice write-up about D-Will.)
So What Happens Now?
In summation, here we are at the ninth game of the season and our offense still hasn’t gotten started. That sucks.
Think they can get it all together for this game? I don’t. Our performance on the road particularly bites the big one, as if all that I’ve already mentioned is not enough. Will Joe ignore the offense and tell the defense to score points at halftime again? Maybe, and the defense appears to be able to do that. No matter what Joe tells them, I think they’ll put some points on the board. And I also think that the offense’s morale will steadily decline.
So, now it’s time for the meaningless, irrelevant, not-too-bright Official Turkey Poop Prediction. Much as I would like to, I cannot see a way that this one goes Penn State’s way. The Nittany Lions have let me down too much and watching that offensive line is downright painful. We’ve got a halfway decent defense, but if Illinois’ receivers could have caught the balls that were thrown at them, we would have been in a world of hurt last week. We got a reprieve for a week. It ends here. Purdue 27, Penn State 17.