Last week’s 66-10 victory over the overmatched FCS (I-AA) Coastal Carolina Chanticleers was like shooting chickens in a barrel for the #19 Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten). We learned little about this year’s Lions viability against quality FBS (I-A) opposition. So, last week’s win is water over the dam.
This week, some rodents from Oregon come to Beaver Stadium thinking that it was named after them and not Col. Beaver. They aim to dam up the Nittany Lions’ offense with sticks, leaves, mud, and some underclassmen. The Nittany Lions have other ideas.
This is the first time the two schools have met, a matchup that replaced the Arkansas State game, which was originally scheduled for this date. For one reason or another, the schedule changed last December.
Last year, the Oregon State Beavers were 9-4, including a win over Maryland in the Emerald peanut bowl. They were credited with the best rush defense in the nation, allowing only 70.62 yards per game. They ranked 8th in total defense. This compares quite favorably with the Penn State defense last year, which was 7th against the rush (93.77 yds) and 11th overall. Both teams have lost starters on defense, but Oregon State is in the unenviable position of having lost its entire front seven. So take their last year’s stats with a grain of salt.
Being the alma mater of two perennial NFL leading wide receivers, T J Housmanzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco (formerly Chad Johnson), both of the Cincinnati Bengals, you would expect that the Beavers would be strong in this area. They are. In last week’s heartbreaking 36-28 loss to Stanford, senior wide receivers Sammy Stroughter and Wade Morales cranked out over 150 yards each, with three touchdowns. Stroughter, a co-captain, is back after sitting out most of last season with a kidney injury. In all, junior quarterback Lyle Moevao went 34-54 for 404 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs. You might say that this is a passing team. I mean, 54 attempts and all!
But wait! The Castor canadensis boys can run when they need to. They have a couple of Rogers brothers, Jacquizz (freshman) and James (sophomore) who rang up a over 100 yards on 19 carries against Stanford. James is listed as a slotback, and gained his ground yardage primarily on end-arounds. So, although the play mix was 54-19, pass over run, the run remains a threat. And we haven’t even mentioned the starting tailback, freshman Ryan McCants, who impressed in spring practice but only had four carries for 11 yards in this game.
In that Stanford game, Oregon State had 29 first downs to Stanford’s 18, and 490 total yards to Stanford’s 301—yet they still lost. What really beat them was turnovers, three of them, two interceptions and a fumble. If you don’t take care of the ball, you lose. Although last week’s Coastal Carolina scrimmage can not be much of an indication of anything, inasmuch as the McCabe Sisters hit harder than the Chanticleers’ linebackers, the fact that the Nittany Lions took care of the ball—unlike last year—is an encouraging sign. But it’s early.
Another thing about the Cardinal’s performance against the Beavers that portends well for Penn State is that the Stanford running game worked well against the green front seven of OSU. Toby Gerhart ran 19 times for 147 yards and Anthony Kimble was 18-49. Penn State is primarily a running team (duh!), so the Nittany Lions should be able to pick up a couple hundred on the ground.
What worries this Turkey is whether PSU’s back seven on defense will be up to the pass protection task against a team that throws on three out of every four downs. Last week, the secondary allowed a kindergarten receiver to beat them while they stood around beating the meat. But these Beavers are not Chanticleers. DANGER! WARNING! These wide receivers are good! The Beavers used mostly short sideline passes against the Cardinal, which was largely effective, until the interceptions happened. Tight end Howard Croom is the Beavers’ second-leading receiver. Our linebackers must be fully engaged in pass coverage.
The Penn State defense must learn how to pressure the quarterback while simultaneously covering the short pass routes and dump-offs, against which they didn’t impress last week. The Chanticleers adjusted to the overaggressive defense, but the defense did not adjust to the Chants’ adjustments. Thus, they were beaten by screens and outlet passes. They’ve got to do better this week. It helps that the center and right side of the Oregon State offensive line are all newbies.
At this point, one can only speculate on what might happen to the defense if Small-quantity-of-marijuana-gate results in suspensions. For now, head coach Joe Paterno has adopted a wait and see attitude. The police have sent away the contents of the stash for analysis, which can take a couple of weeks. If it is found to be a THC-containing herb, some citations could be issued. None of the four players were allowed to practice Wednesday, and at this point it is unknown what their status will be for Saturday’s game. One thing that IS certain is that if Evans, Koroma, and Wallace are lost, the defense is in serious jeopardy. Quarless is another story.
Assuming that they’re at full strength, the Nittany Lion defense will be subjected to its first big test of the year. It will be interesting to watch.
I suspect that we’ll see a predominately rushing attack from Penn State. (So much for the Spread HD.) Tropical Storm Hanna is expected to produce some copious precipitation of the liquid sunshine variety in State College and environs, presently forecast at 0.35″. With brand spanking new baby boy quarterbacks in such conditions, the pass is a risky proposition, but you would think that the Beavers, being from Corvallis, are used to playing wet.
Interesting factoid: Oregon State sophomore starting linebacker Keith Pankey and freshman tight end Kevin Pankey are the twin sons (Kevin delayed enrollment by 1 year) of Penn State second team All-American guard Irv Pankey (1977-79). Irv will be in the stands Saturday.
And now, that moment you’ve all been waiting for: The Official Turkey Poop Prediction. This will be a dicey one, because of the potential for a major weather effect and possible suspensions of starters. I feel that the PSU defense will give up significant passing yards. On the other hand, until it matures quite a bit, the Beaver defense is vulnerable. The Nittany Lions are favored by 16 with an over/under of 46, suggesting a final score of 30-14. This Turkey thinks it will be closer. With weather and suspensions still a question mark, Penn State 36, Oregon State 24.
We’ll be back on the weekend with a game synopsis and an analysis by this week’s guest reporter, Sacajawea.