We’ve all been awaiting the December 29 Valero Alamo Bowl with bated anticipation. The game will mark the merciful end to this painfully mediocre, underachieving season, so we can finally lay the mutha to rest. This will be the 81 year-0ld Joe Paterno’s 500th game as Penn State’s head coach, a rematch of the 1999 Alamo Bowl, in which the Nittany Lions defeated the Texas A&M Aggies 24-0. I’m not going to waste your time discussing the significance of Paterno’s 500th game or his 81st birthday. See the other blogsters and the legitimate press for their harangues on the subject. We’re all business here.
First, a little bad news. Chris Baker ain’t making the trip. Yep, he’s firmly in the Paterno doghouse, as well he should be, for participation in the fraternity party fight at the HUB, particularly since charges are still pending from the Melee at the Meridian II. Also not making the trip will be Navorro Bowman, Willie Harriott, Knowledge Timmons, and backup DT Tom McEowen.
Before I comment on the forthcoming Alamo Bowl, let me take a moment or two to mention the queasiness with which this Turkey views the Big Ten bowl season. Fortunately, it got off to a good start in last night’s Motor City Bowl, with Purdue eking out a victory over the Central Michigan Chippewas by a field goal, 51-48. Unfortunately, the rest of the Big Ten bowls appear to be potential losses. Boston College should handle Moo U. (particularly in light of suspensions); Oklahoma State will edge Indiana; Tennessee will handle Wisconsin; Michigan will be chomped by the Gators; USC will beat the crap out of Illinois; and, in the still somewhat mythical national championship game in New Orleans, sponsored by Allstate (the folks who wouldn’t pay your Katrina claim), the Buckeyes, who are 0-13 against SEC opponents, will drop a laugher to LSU. I’d hate to see the scenario I’ve just described manifest itself in reality, but it nevertheless seems likely.
This could be a blessing in disguise. It is about time that the Big Ten realize that they’re not the top football conference in the land. In fact, a better brand of football might be played in two or three other major conferences. The spread offense being played to advantage by Illinois and Indiana to stretch the field is becoming the norm among many other non-Big Ten teams. Rich Rodriguez, the new head coach of the vaunted Wolverines, emigrates from a program in which he was quite successful with the spread. With three out of twelve teams in the conference moving in that direction, perhaps it will become evident that the old three yards and a cloud of dust offenses of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler are passe. That would be a good thing.
Back to PSU. This will be the last time we see Anthony Morelli before he turns pro. (Cough, cough–I didn’t say pro what! With a degree in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, he could be a professional playground manager.) Morelli, by the way, didn’t show up for the Alamo Bowl press conference, even though his name was listed with the other players who did show up. Hell, Morelli hasn’t been available—or perhaps hasn’t been made available—to the press since early November. Loser! But I digress. Will he rise to the occasion, as he did in last year’s Outback Bowl against Tennessee, or will he revert to the usual inconsistency, inaccuracy, and mental errors? This is his last chance to impress us—to perhaps leave a good taste in our mouths after the offal one we’ve developed over the past two years. Will he do it?
This Turkey thinks that with the help of his receivers and an exploitable Aggie defense, he will. The Aggies rank #100 in pass efficiency defense. Their pass rush is almost nonexistent, which is a good thing, given our still slightly shaky offensive line and Morelli’s lack of mobility.
Kinlaw and Royster will have a somewhat more difficult time making yards on the A&M D-line, which is large but relatively immobile. If our offensive brain trust plays its typical away game strategy, sticking to the conservative and predictable running plays on first and second downs, we’re in deep, deep trouble. Kinlaw and Royster will be running into concrete piers all day.
The Nittany Lions’ formerly vaunted and now somewhat suspect defense should fare well against the withering Aggie attack. Fortunately, the key to beating A&M is shutting down the running game. The front seven should be up to the task, assuming that they mind their lanes against the Aggie option. They have three good runners, including quarterback Stephen McGee, a 263-pound gorilla running back named Jorvorskie Lane who has averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and a speedster, Mike Goodson.
The Penn State defense cannot ignore the pass threat, as McGee threw for 362 yards against Texas in the final game of the regular season. Here’s where the Turkey gets nervous. Justin King has not been the shutdown corner he’s been cracked up to be, and the safeties have been inconsistent. Seems like Scirrotto peaked a year too early. Perhaps the distraction of the Melee at the Meridian II was too much for him, but I digress. Given that McGee can actually throw enough to keep the secondary honest, PSU cannot load up the front to stop the run. The safeties cannot cheat up to the line or they’ll get burned.
Oh, yeah, there’s the special teams thing. You know how badly Penn State has sucked this year on kickoff coverage. Hell, the Nittany Lions don’t even have a special teams coach. They sure as hell need one! The bright spot is the unexpected one: punter Jeremy Boone. He’s ranked sixth nationally. Kevin Kelly has been fairly consistent on field goals, but has become inexplicably short on kickoffs. On returns, Derrick Williams and A.J. Wallace both have the capability of breaking out for long gains; however, Williams has to return to his old form and get the thumbs out of his ass. Catch the ball, Derrick, put it away, and run FORWARD. The Aggies can be dangerous kickoff returners, which gives this Turkey cause for concern, given the Penn State penchant for porous kickoff coverage. However, their place kicker is not dangerous, having converted only 14 times in 24 tries.
With respect to coaching, Penn State holds the longevity advantage, with the average tenure of the coaching staff being determinable only by Carbon-12 dating and our fabulous Remington Rand Univac digital computer, with over 12,000 vacuum tubes and one of those nifty card sorters. On the other sideline, with the sacking of Dennis Franchione, the coaching issue is less certain and the tenures much shorter. Some of this Turkey’s Joe Must Go activist friends would say that’s a good thing. Nevertheless, Gary Darnell, who temporarily replaces Franchione until Mike Sherman takes over, has only been at A&M since 2006, for whatever that’s worth. Before that, his experience was coaching Western Michigan to a 46-46 record. This Turkey thinks the coaching advantage goes to Penn State, if and only if Paterno, Paterno, and Hall, LLC do not go into full sphincter mode! Remember that this is an away game, for all practical purposes and the coaching has typically tightened up for away games. The saving grace here, however, is that this is an inconsequential bowl game against a non-conference opponent (obviously), and in these situations Paterno has tended to be looser.
The senior Paterno, asked if he’s ready to hang ’em up, and if not, how does he keep going, said:
“You try to, just try to do the best you can and make sure that what you’ve got can help the whole university. You don’t know whether you’re 80 or you’re 81. You get up in the morning, you get a little stiffer.”
Yes, Joe, but only if you’ve taken the appropriate dose of Viagra before you went to bed. In any case, this Turkey hopes that Sue is a morning person.
The Lions are favored by 5.5 points at present, and the over/under is 51. That would suggest a Penn State win by a score of 28-23.
So, let’s cut to the chase already, with the final Official Turkey Poop Unreliable Prediction of 2007. The Nittany Lion defense returns for this game, as Connor and Lee throttle the Aggie running game and the pass rush, led by Maurice Evans, pressures McGee to make mistakes in the passing game. Those mistakes will lead to at least two ugly interceptions and at least seven points for the Lions. Morelli will be able to exploit the weak A&M defense all day. In spite of what appeared to be a late-season surge in pulling off a win against Texas, the Aggies have far too many weaknesses to win this game. It’ll be over midway through the third quarter, when the sphincter will be clamped down so we can all go to bed (without fearing Moo U.-like consequences). Penn State 34, Texas A&M 14.