As we round the far turn and head for the homestretch, we find ourselves still riding a team that’s as unpredictable as a two year-old filly. This is the part of the season—the final three games—that separates the front-runners from the also-rans.
Third place in the Big Ten, like third place in the Breeders’ Cup, is nothing to sneeze at. It, along with a Citrus Bowl bid (I refuse to use corporate sponsors’ names here), is the prize for maintaining focus through the remaining games. Can this youthful horse finish strong, letting its fans at least cash in a show ticket?
Late in the season, the horse has bumps and bruises and cuts and scrapes. A long season with tough midweek workouts, Saturday victories and tough losses, and lots and lots of training has the horse wondering if it should rebel against the trainer and lay down on the job. However, the true thoroughbred winner is characterized by its heart. It has the desire to win, even when the chips are down and it is battered and sore.
You get the point. This Turkey felt like paying metaphorical homage to his equine buddies this morning.
So, what about Wisconsin, already? Hey, I’ll get there eventually. I want to blow a little wind first. That’s the Turkey way. At other PSU blogs, you might get insightful analysis, brilliant conjectures, derivative news, and perhaps even haughty pontification. Some of them take themselves far too seriously. That’ll never happen here, where you get plain old bullshit—which is what spectator sports is all about, ain’t it! Think of reading this blog as interacting with a friendly, articulate, opinionated drunk sitting next to you at the bar who once in a while comes up something worthwhile amidst all the hot air. (Hiccup!)
New York Times Columnist David Brooks says, “Many readers no doubt observed that if today’s prostate-aged moochers wanted to loaf around all day reading books and tossing off their vacuous opinions into the ether, they should have had the foresight to become newspaper columnists.” Yep, I think that fits pretty damn well. OK, enough digression (for now).
So, three games left: #17 Wisconsin, #115 Temple, and #66 Moo U. Let’s set aside Wisconsin for a second or two while I congratulate the mighty Temple Owls (1–8) on their brilliant, cherry-breaking 28–14 upset win over Bowling Green this past Saturday! Wow! As for Michigan State (4–5), the Spartans continued on their their topsy-turvy path, losing to Indiana 46–21. They’ll be losing their head coach after this season. Wonder why. Now, on [to] Wisconsin.
The #17 Wisconsin Badgers (8–1, 5–1 Big Ten) are busy preparing for the Lions’ visit to Camp Randall Stadium. With a stifling defense against both the pass and the run, along with the most prolific running back in the conference, the Badgers are a formidable foe. Last week, they stumbled a bit at home against Illinois, allowing the upstarts to get ahead 21–3 in the second quarter. Chances are, they figured they didn’t have to show up. After all, it was Illinois. Well, Bucky, we found that Illinois, while young and still somewhat rough, is serious about wanting to win games. You cannot go to sleep against them. The Badgers scurried into their den at halftime down 24–10. However, in the second half the defense put the clamps on Juice & Co., blanking the Illini while allowing the offense to rally for 20 unanswered points to nab the come-from-behind win, their biggest comeback since 1984. The comeback was effected without the able aid of the Big Ten’s leading rusher P.J. Hill, who sustained what was described as a nerve injury in the first half. Assuming that he’s healthy next week, the Penn State defense will have its work cut out for it.
Hill has been given medical clearance to practice and he is expected to play in Saturday’s game. However, Badger head coach Bret Bielema provoked a mini-controversy when he stated after the Illinois game that Hill “needs to take some toughen-up pills.” At his Monday press conference, Bielema declared the reaction to this off-hand remark a tempest in a teapot:
“It’s probably just something that I kind of use in an everyday language. I had an uncle that used to say that … when I was little, and it always kind of stuck in my mind. If you listen to the comment, or if you heard it, it was just something that I threw out there.”
Of course, sportswriters love this sort of thing. Hoping for a misstep, they hang around like vultures. Bielema is still in his infancy as a head coach, having taken over from Barry Alvarez after last season, and he has not yet completed his toilet training. When you’re in the toilet (the press room), you must drop your turds straight and true, as the occasional wayward one will inevitably find its way to the front page of the sports section.
So, what of this wonderful Wisconsin defense we’ve all heard so much about? They’re right up there with Michigan and Ohio State, ranking #7 in Division I-A and #2 in the Big Ten in total defense. In scoring defense, the Badgers are #10 nationally and #3 in the Big Ten. Are these statistics sound or misleading? After all, Illinois managed to score 24 points on them recently, and Michigan hit them up for 27 earlier in the year. And, get this, in their initial outing this year, the Badgers gave up 14 points to Bowling Green, just like the 117th ranked Temple defense did last week. The Wisconsin defense allowed 209 rushing yards in that game. On the average, they allow 115 yards rushing. They have a couple of great linebackers in Mark Zalewski and Jonathan Casillas, who are both NFL material. Where they really put the clamps on you is in the passing game, defending against which they rank #2 nationally. They’ll give up the short pass, but they tend to stay out of deep trouble. (That’s OK, because Morelli hasn’t been able to make the deep connection lately, anyway.) The Badger secondary is solid, with a couple of big, fast senior safeties, Joe Stellmacher and Roderick Rogers, and a pair of budding shutdown corners, sophomores Allen Langford and and Jack Ikegwuonu.
Having faced both this defense and ours very recently, Purdue head coach Joe Tiller gave the edge to the Nittany Lions.
On offense, our old, statuesque friend John Stocco is still there at quarterback, which is remarkable because of the number of times our guys sacked him in last year’s game. If there’s ever a Dan Marino Memorial award for immobility in the pocket, Stocco and our own Anthony Morelli would be perennial finalists. Stocco, a fifth-year senior, is pretty slow back there. Let’s hope that he’s a sitting duck once again this year. He’s an efficient passer, completing over 60% of his throws, but mainly what he does is hand the ball off to P.J. Hill. This creates a game plan that is well matched to the Penn State defense. Shut down Hill, making him think twice about trying to tack on extra yards (particularly if he hasn’t yet taken his get-tough pills). Then, pressure Stocco, who has painful memories of wearing Tamba Hali’s jersey number on his face last year.
The Wisconsin offense was able to score only 10 points against Michigan and 6 points against Ohio State. If the Nittany Lion offense can sustain a few drives and keep the defense off the field, we’ll have a chance to win this one. But the offense has to finish the damn job and put some points on the board. So, how do we look?
Before we worry about matching up, we’ve got to think about the fact that this offense stinks out loud. Week after week, they stall in the red zone and go away with field goal tries, many of which are missed, instead of going for six. It seems as if Anthony Morelli and his receivers are so anxious to make big plays when they reach enemy territory that they try too hard and screw up. While Morelli and the offensive line showed a modicum of improvement last week, the flaws that have been there since the beginning of the season—indeed, since the Blue-White game—are still there. Perhaps our offensive coaches are to blame. We all believe that Williams, Norwood, Butler, and Golden are talented receivers. Why are they dropping balls? Quarless is a promising tight end, yet the Lions don’t use him very much. (This changed a bit for the Purdue game, probably on account of the wind.) Maybe the tight end is too busy making up for the deficient blocking of the still putrid offensive line to run pass routes? Morelli will have to throw in order to win this game. Can we count on him and our receivers?
I’m not saying that Tony Hunt won’t carry much of the load. He will have to carry most of it. However, I think that Wisconsin’s defense is good enough to limit his opportunities. Hunt needs to be a big part of the game plan, because Hill will be the biggest part of Wisconsin’s. They love to play ball control. We need to do the same to keep our front-line defense fresh, a tough task given the bulk of the cheese-fed behemoths of the Badger offensive line. We need to limit the number of third-and-long situations, which have been problematical all year. If Hunt can give us at least 90 yards, it will go a long way toward pulling off an upset win at Camp Randall.
While I think that the offense will have to display some competence in play calling and execution, I can’t yet see them putting many points on the scoreboard. Can you? Hell, their recent performance against far worse defenses than Wisconsin’s has been nothing short of anemic. The passing game bites the big one. They’re going to need help from the defense and from special teams once again. And so, the first Turkey Poop Prediction, so I can say “I told you so” if it happens and “did I really write that?” if it doesnt is:
A.J. Wallace will finally break a return for a touchdown.
Ta-daaaaa!! You heard it here first. If he does it, my readers (both of them — Hi, Mom!) will confirm that they saw this prediction here. If he doesn’t do it, I’ll just edit this blog and it’ll disappear. OK, I’m lying. I’ll leave it here for all to see. Hahahhahahahaha! j/k lol lmao, etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam (I’m in a dumbass silly mood today.)
This is another noon start. It could have been an 8 PM game, but Paterno said “no” to that proposal. (The television boys at ABC like Penn State—this is the only ABC game for Wisconsin this year and the fourth for Penn State. With our huge alumni contingent, we’re good for TV revenue. But I digress.) A noon starting time is hard enough for fans to get up for, let alone players. And at Camp Randall, it will actually be 11:00 AM. The noon start favors Penn State. Damned if I know why.
The ABC broadcasting crew will be Brad Nessler, Purdue Homey Bob Griese, and the inimitable Paul Maguire. The Turkey is stalling you here as he works through the possibilities leading up to the all important Turkey Poop Prediction of the final score. So, as further procrastination, let us consider the bowl ramifications of this game.
If we can win this game and then win out, it is pretty much assured that we go to the whatusedtobecalled the Citrus Bowl. However, what if the Nittany Lions are not up to the task? Well, then there’s a major Big Ten logjam at three losses. The Outback Bowl is a possibility, but so are the Alamo Bowl, the Motor City Bowl, and the Champ’s Sports Bowl (yeah, I used a sponsor’s name, but being played in the Citrus Bowl, I had to do something to differentiate the two). Temple looks like a win, but what of Michigan State? One recent development is that their beleaguered coach, John L. Smith, announced that he will not be returning next year. Their performance has been poor, but you never know which team is going to show up. Folks, we gotta beat Wisconsin and go to the Citrus Bowl. But how?
Time for the Official Turkey Poop Prediction. The gambling line favors the Badgers by almost a touchdown and sets an over/under of 39, the combination of which predicts approximately a 23-16 win for Wisconsin. I think that the Lions’ defense can hold Wisconsin to 17 points—if our guys don’t get tired, which will require some cooperation by the offense. I further believe that our offense can score a touchdown and two field goals against the Wisconsin D, assuming that Kelly can grace us with two out of four. The big difference maker will be the aforementioned A.J. Wallace return, which will add another seven points. So, there you have it: Penn State 20, Wisconsin 17.
I’ll be back after the game, if not sooner, to lie about why my prediction was incorrect. In the meanwhile, let’s get it all together and win this one!