We’re here today to talk about the forthcoming Purdue game. Gadzooks! [Non-scatological invective thrown in just to titillate my profanity sensitive readers.] Everybody seems to be putting this one in the win column before it is played. Not so fast, Lions and Lionettes! Penn State has to play them all, one at a time!
Penn State is 5-0 and it’s almost like Obamamania around here. People are so hopeful for something good to magically happen that they overlook the fundamentals. Ahhh, NCAA BCS football is such a mirror of life, isn’t it, hopeclingologically speaking, that is?
[Like my neologism there: hopeclingologically? Sometimes I wish English were more like German, so we could combine words into compact, cogent, octosyllabic masterpieces. But I digress etymologically… ]
Listen, if you’re tired of reading bullshit, bail out here, because there’s a lot more below. Well, you might want to skip directly to the Official Turkey Poop Projection before you get completely disgusted and leave! I’m having fun here. Are you?
Another concept from the quasi-political world of Alan Greenspan comes to mind here: irrational exuberance. Penn State has beaten no one of any importance in the so-called national championship picture. They played pretty good games against Oregon State and Illinois, their only real opponents, which I don’t want to minimize. However, unlike Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State, for example, PSU has not yet met any Top Ten opponents. So, please, until that happens and the Nittany Lions make a good showing, temper your expectations. This Turkey would love it if these guys make it all the way to the second week in January, but I think that it will be damn tough enough to win the Big Ten conference title, let alone move up to #1 or #2 in the national rankings.
With the onerous road schedule in October—and even our Homecoming game with Michigan—the Nittany Lions will most likely lose at least one game. PSU’s defense has been soft up the middle, which does not portend well for the coming tilts with Wisconsin and Ohio State. Couple that with the fact that both the Badgers and the Buckeyes are away games against ranked opponents, which has been an area of incompetence for the Lions (0-10 since beating Wisconsin on the road in 2002), and you have a couple of potential Waterloos looming. We all know that, but I wanted to mention it before the opiate effect of a 5-0 record and the perceived invincibility associated therewith sends so many endorphins to your brains that you lose sight of that tough road ahead.
Ohio State is particularly troublesome. The potent combination of Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells will be a very difficult task for the Penn State defense. We don’t know much about Pryor’s clutch passing ability yet, because he certainly didn’t have to pass much against Minnesota, but he has some experienced targets to throw to in Robiskie and Hartline, as if having him and two Wellses in the backfield weren’t enough. Hell, even Boeckmann, the Buckeyes’ current second-stringer, torched us last year—and that was with arguably a better Penn State defense. The Ohio State defense leads the conference—their pass defense is particularly tough—so it will be a tough game. I don’t care if Laurinaitis is overhyped and overrated. The Buckeye defense is solid, unless they’re playing over their heads against the likes of USC. I expect Pryor to steadily improve from what is a pretty damn respectable starting point between now and our game the last week of October in Columbus. For a freshman, he shows a lot of what Joe Paterno calls “poise.”
Ohio State goes to Camp Randall Stadium to square off with Wisconsin this weekend. That game should tell us a lot about both prime opponents. Who the hell do we, as Penn State fans, root for? We want both teams to be good when we beat them. (Under the irrational exuberance paradigm, of course we’re going to beat both of them!!!! [Sarcastic Italics noted.]) Well, how about if we are slightly more rational in our thinking and we believe Penn State can beat Wisconsin, but not Ohio State on the road? Then it would behoove us to want Wisconsin to beat OSU. But if Wisconsin beats OSU, than why can’t PSU? Oh, darn! Pshaw! It’s all too complicated. Let’s let them play and let the damn chips fall as they may. (Oh, wait. That puts the clamps on about 80% of the sports bar conversations.)
Can Paterno ever open up the sphincter and play aggressively on the road? This Turkey thinks not. The dismal road record against ranked opponents will not improve measurably unless and until his game philosophy changes. Running up the gut continually with a seven point lead in the third quarter while dropping back into a prevent defense on the other side of the ball does not seem to be a winning combination. Yet Joe’s stubborn conservatism continues. We can always hope, sayeth this Turkey, hopeclingologically.
I should mention that Michigan is not in the bag yet, either. I hear a lot of bluster going on out there, but the sad fact remains that Michigan owns Penn State in their series. On paper, this should be the best chance for the Nittany Lions since 2005, so let’s hope they can do it. What I don’t want to hear is trash talk about Michigan, about Rich Rodriguez, and about their decline as a program. The Wolverines are always dangerous, even with two losses. You saw what happened to Wisconsin, so don’t put this one in the W column until the scoreboard has PSU on top with the clock displaying 0:00 in the 4th.
Hey, look. I’m calling them as I see them. I am not a football genius, but I’m a helluva lot better looking than Charlie Weis. If you want pie-eyed optimism and rose-colored glasses, go read Phil’s Corner at BWI. He charges for his Pollyanna crap. Here, you can shovel all you want for free, without even a hint of an annoying ad! Love me or hate me—I don’t care. Whether you agree or disagree, whether you think I’m a sage or just an annoying old fart, your comments are always meaningful and welcome.
Enough Bullshit! On to Purdue…
And now, on to unranked Purdue (2-2, 0-0 Big Ten), whom the #6 Nittany Lions (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) lead 9-3-1 overall and 4-2 on the road.
We are gathered here to lay to rest the rumor that Purdue has a defense. Ranking #107 in the BCS (formerly Division I-A), they have yielded 105 points in four games. That would appear a lot like 26.25 points per game against Northern Colorado, Oregon, Central Michigan, and Notre Dame. They are particularly ineffectual against the run, where the Boilermakers rank #99.
Thus, Royster, Green, and Co., the 8th ranked rushing offense in the nation, should have a field day in West Lafayette on Saturday. However, until he learns to hold onto the ball, Green is probably going to see little action in crucial game situations. As for passing, the Boilermakers will be trying to shut down Derrick Williams after his career day against Illinois, so look for a lot of passes to go to Norwood (if he plays) and Butler. Brackett, Powell, and Zug are there, too. Quarless, as well, has been used quite a bit lately, although it would be more comforting if he could become a more effective blocker. The Penn State offense, the almighty Spread HD, has just too many damn weapons for a defense keying on any one particular aspect of it to stand any chance of shutting it down completely. Only well rounded defenses need apply here.
On the offensive side of the ball, Purdue has some familiar names to contend with. They seem to have been around for the past 10 years or so. Senior quarterback Curtis Painter is back throwing 42 passes per game. His favored target, Greg Orton, is also a senior. This duo is well practiced and should give our good, but not great back seven some problems. Desmond Tardy, another senior, is third in receiving in the Big Ten, while Orton is second. The passing attack is complemented by the running of another senior, Kory Sheets, who is getting a lot more carries this year while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. However, Sheets suffered a shoulder separation against Notre Dame and, while supposedly available, might be held back for this game.
Here’s what this Turkey thinks. Last week, the Penn State defensive line showed a little too much respect for Illini quarterback Juice Williams’ running ability, but he wound up getting his yards anyway. This week, they have Painter, who is slippery but lacks Williams’ overall mobility. With our secondary being pretty run-of-the-mill (i.e., no Justin Kings or David Macklins in the bunch), the D-line needs to be putting lots of pressure on Painter. I hope not to see the “respect” that was evidenced last week.
Purdue is coming off a 38-21 loss to resurgent Notre Dame. In that game, Notre Dame was able to gain 476 total yards. Painter was 38-55 for 359 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, while Sheets was held to 87 yards on 13 carries. The Boilermakers turned the ball over once. So, there you have pretty much what the aggregate season stats tell you: Purdue has no defense, but can score on you.
This will be the last time Penn State plays a Joe Tiller coached Purdue Boilermakers squad, as Tiller is scheduled to retire after this season. Similarly, this could be the last time the Boilermakers face off against a Joe Paterno coached Nittany Lions team, as many of us hope that JoePa has the sense to retire after this year. Getting back to Tiller, this being his last year means that his team, particularly his talented seniors, will be wanting to give him a winning season. That’s an intangible in Purdue’s favor.
One more intangible is the great big target on Penn State’s proverbial pack with six inch high lettering saying “We’re Number Six.” Expect all lower ranked teams to be gunning for a win against big, bad Number Six.
Speaking of Joe Paterno, when asked about his knee at the press conference on Tuesday, he told a story about what they tell players: “There’s a difference between being injured and being hurt. If you’re injured, you can’t play. If you’re just hurt, you better go out there and play.” Joe then said that his leg was “hurt.” He expects to be on the sideline, but doesn’t know if he can last the whole game there. This Turkey hopes that Joe doesn’t have to put up with a lot more pain.
The TurKeys to the game:
- Offense: Do what you’ve been doing, but take care of the ball!
- Defense: Apply pressure to the quarterback. Respect Purdue’s passing game.
- Defense: Be tough up the middle and deny Sheets any running room.
- Everybody: Don’t look past this game to next week in Wisconsin.
(Big deal! Anyone could have come up with those! But “keys to the game” is a cheap, handy vehicle I can use for summation, albeit one of the hackneyed sportswriter things I pick on. Of course, if I pick on you, it means that I like you. Isn’t that the way it was with fifth-grade girls?)
Regrettably, because I love to write and bloviating is so damned carthartic, that brings us to the Official Turkey Poop Prediction. But first let me say that last year’s PSU 26-19 victory over Purdue at Beaver Stadium was, in Simon Cowlesque terms, a complete mess. The Nittany Lions will have to do one helluva lot better on the road to beat the mediocre Boilermakers. The gamblers currently see Penn State as a 13-point favorite with an over/under of 58. Them damn stoopers thinks da Lions can score lotsa points this year. Doin’ da mat’, dis suggests dat dem bookies will break even if Penn State wins by a final score of 36-23. See, this Turkey believes that Penn State’s defense has its flaws and is thus inclined to believe that Tiller’s offense can score points on it. In my original pre-season projection, I had Penn State losing this one, its first Big Ten road game. I’ve changed my mind. I think the combination of the Spread HD and Purdue’s yielding defense, coupled with the Purdue offense against not-so-great PSU D, will result in a squeaker (not!): Penn State 45, Purdue 21.