Where has the season gone? It seems like just yesterday when this Turkey was pissin’ and moanin’ about the summer football drought and now here we are, about to close out yet another season. So, as has been our annual tradition since joining the Big Ten in 1993, we end the year with the Land Grant Trophy game against Michigan State, better known as Moo U.
If you have never gazed at the Land Grant Trophy (left), take a good look. Click on the thumbnail at left to see a larger picture of this monstrosity. (The big one is too ugly to post on this page, and it might scare small children.) Ain’t it a pisser? To paraphrase Chico Harlan of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it looks like a Rubik’s Cube that has spent an hour in the mouth of a rottweiler. To this Turkey, it appears to have been designed by committee—in the fourth grade art class at McCabe Elementary. OK, enough about this hunk of —
Moving right along, for you TV watchin’ fans, who unfortunately will be stuck at home instead of freezing your asses at Beaver Stadium, the game will be aired at noon on ESPN2. The broadcasting team will be our old, annoying friend, Pam Ward, who is scheduled to be joined by a new partner, Rod Gilmore. I do not know why the lugubrious Mike Gottfried, Pam’s usual sidekick, will be absent. Perhaps as the weather grows colder, he slows down even more. As for Mike’s replacement, all I know about Rod Gilmore is that he has been with ESPN for about ten years as a college football analyst.
I’ve written before about how Pam drones her game call, which essentially merges into the crowd noise. Furthermore, the partnership with Gottfried has done nothing to offset Ward’s dullness. Around here, we use a little trick for anti-Pam medicine—much the same as people used for Monday Night Football when they couldn’t bear to listen to the late Howard Cosell: turn down the sound on the TV and listen to the radio broadcast. Steve Jones and Jack Ham do the radio broadcast for Penn State—Jones is amped up from start to finish. NFL Hall of Famer Jack Ham’s counterpoint is a calm, competent anchor for Jones’ overly enthusiastic game call. It works. If you can’t get a local broadcast, you can listen to it through the Internet via CSTV. (Please note that CSTV has not yet updated its application to deal with Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, so if you’ve upgraded, you’re S.O.L.) But I digress.
MSU (4-7, 1-6 Big Ten) has lost seven of its last eight games. During this dubious string, they fired their head coach, John L. Smith. To further compound their struggles, they might have lost starting quarterback Drew Stanton to a concussion in last week’s 31–18 loss to Minnesota. This team is a mess, and they have nothing to play for, recordwise.
Therein lies the danger, albeit a very minor one. Many of these kids will be playing for starting jobs next year, so that’s something. Otherwise, it behooves them to go out there and have a lot of fun. No one expects them to win, so they can loosen up and try some stuff. There is also the omnipresent danger that our guys take them too lightly; however, this Turkey believes that the Spartans are essentially done for the year and will be merely going through the motions.
Do our guys have anything to play for, with a 7–4 record and a bowl game assured? Well, some would say that they’re playing for a better bowl. If Penn State loses to Moo U. and Purdue beats Indiana, then theoretically, Purdue would get the Outback Bowl bid. Theoretically. However, people wiser than I have asserted that there’s just about no way in hell Penn State won’t be going to the Outback Bowl this year. So, in reality, these guys are playing for pride. Penn State pride. That’s a big thing.
It is indeed Senior Day at Beaver Stadium, and many of our finest will be playing their last game. They’ll want to give it their best performance for Dear Old State. Let’s hope that the underclassmen follow suit, if only to honor their departing seniors.
There’s another great reason to win this one. Nothing has heretofore demonstrated the fragility of the nearly 80 year-old Joe Paterno more than his recent broken leg. He is looking older and he is no doubt feeling it, too. One of these days, he’ll be gone, and the players know it. In the meanwhile, he’ll take every opportunity to yell at them if they miss blocks, as Levi Brown noted. Even though Joe will be coaching from the booth and not the field, he’ll be an inspiration.
This Turkey believes that this game will be a blowout. It is not clear that the Spartans haven’t already written this season off. Firing the head coach in the middle rather than at the end of the season speaks directly to that notion. This is a team that has allowed over 29 points per game and has a pass efficiency defense that ranks lower than Temple. They’ve allowed 30 passing touchdowns this year. Surely, this is a golden opportunity for the coaches to open up the game plan and let Morelli air it out. I thought they would do that for the Temple game and they did to some extent, although Morelli’s early interception probably threw somewhat of a wet blanket on that plan. This game, let Morelli and his receivers have some damn fun!
While sophomore backup quarterback Brian Hoyer is no Drew Stanton (such as he is), the Spartans remain a passing team with him at the helm. Mindlessly launching the ball 50 times per game doesn’t exactly require a Joe Montana. Last week Hoyer threw for 330 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota. He also was intercepted twice and sacked several times—by Minnesota. Say what you will about Minnesota’s defense, but … (That’s it. Say what you will. I already said it sucked.) Moo U. might be the only Big Ten team that has worse passer protection problems than Penn State. The offensive line is battered and ready to throw in the towel. Look for Hoyer to be on his ass several times during this game.
Still, when you do nothing but throw, occasionally someone catches one for a decent gain. That’s the only way these buffoons are going to move the ball. Their rushing offense, hampered by the aforementioned lame offensive line, is essentially nonexistent. How does three yards net rushing against Minnesota grab you? The days of T.J. Duckett are long gone. If Mike Hart ran behind this offensive line, he’d be hoping for a good game this week to go over the 300 yard mark for the season. Bad, bad, pitifully bad.
If this isn’t an opportunity for Penn State to make a statement to its fans that the football team is alive and well entering the bowl season, I don’t know what is.
This Turkey thinks that the Lions ought to come out roaring and aim to take an early lead, then coast to victory on Tony Hunt’s capable back. In fact, if Penn State wins the toss, take the damn ball! This “electing to defer” crap is only worthwhile with strong opponents. Scoring on the first drive is a great big key to winning this game. Will this be the game in which A.J. Wallace finally breaks a kickoff return for a touchdown? Could be, and what better time for that than the first play of the game? In fact, I see the Nittany Lions scoring at least a couple of touchdowns and a field goal in the first half (if they’ve paid attention to what I’ve told them to do—gotta open it up and go for it, for a change). In the third quarter, after Tony Hunt has his 150 yards, it will be all over but the shouting. Let’s get another look at Daryll Clark and the young guys.
And so, this makes it time for the Official Turkey Poop Prediction (for you new readers, it usually smells pretty bad). The gamblers make Penn State a 17.5 point favorite, with an over/under of 45. Doing a little algebra, this would predict about a 31–14 game. However, in spite of the scorn to which this Turkey might be subjected, my belief is that it will be a higher scoring game than that. The history of this series is replete with wild and woolly shootouts. Penn State 38, Michigan State 20.