It’s been a long time since the Nittany Lions played the Panthers. The last cat fight between the Lions and Panthers took place in 2000, when the Pitt Panthers won 12-0. However, these Panthers, whom the Nittany Lions have never faced, should prove to be a significantly different story.
The #14 Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) play host to the FCS (Division I-AA) Eastern Illinois Panthers (4-1, 2-1 Ohio Valley Conference) on Saturday. The Panthers, described by Joe Paterno, as always, as “a good football team” are ranked #25 in the FCS, while they are coming off a tough 36-31 home loss to Eastern Kentucky (another “good football team”). Eastern Illinois is a perfect 3-0 on the road. Meanwhile, Penn State, as you are well aware, snapped out of its post-Iowa doldrums last week, beating Illinois 35-17.
Where in the hell is Eastern Illinois University? It resides in a town called Charleston, which is about 35 miles south of Champaign in Eastern Illinois. (Who knew?) Its population is about one-fifth of a Beaver Stadium full house. Its team mascot, as you know, is the panther.
One significant fact that I know you will enjoy is that the Eastern Illinois quarterback, Jake Christensen, is a transfer from Iowa. I guess he was the Pat Devlin to Ricky Stanzi’s Daryll Clark. Christensen ranks #15 in passing efficiency in the FCS.
Where the Panthers seem to make their presence felt is defense, ranking #15 and #12 in total defense and scoring defense, respectively. However, they have given up 70 points in the past three games, against Southeast Missouri State, Austin Peay, and Eastern Kentucky. They won their cupcake games handily, against Illinois State and Indiana State.
What are the keys to the game for Penn State? Just one: show up.
Otherwise, we need to see more of Kevin Newsome. This game will provide significant playing time opportunities for Newsome, who desperately needs to get some game time. (After all, he is predicted to be the starting quarterback for the ’10 Lions.) If Newsome is relegated to fourth quarter mop-up duties, consider it a major screw-up and start questioning the coaches, if you have not already.
Speaking of coaches, Joe Paterno got testy about a couple of things at his Tuesday press conference. One was the persistent questioning about why Penn State scheduled such an inferior team. Paterno responded that first, the questioner did not know what he was talking about, that this is a good football team, and besides, they have to pay the bills for all the other athletic programs on campus. The other irritating question to Joe was about Bobby Bowden’s plight at FSU. The fans are restless, with the Seminoles being off to a poor start, and old Bobby is coming under fire. Joe claims to know nothing about what is going on there. Yesterday, FSU president T.K. Wetherell announced that Bowden’s situation would be evaluated at the end of the 2009 season, and that Jimbo Fisher would definitely be the next coach after Bowden departs; he would work out the details of the deal forthwith. Does this all sound familiar? Perhaps if Bowden pulls this season out of the toilet, he’ll get a verbal five-year extension.
Remember what Joe said at the pep rally on the eve of the ill-fated Iowa game: “And if we go out dere tomorra and get da big win, who knows? I might be coaching here for anutha 10 years!”
Other things to watch for, in this Turkey’s opinion:
- Players giving 100% while they are in there, in the aggregate, playing a complete game (i.e., none of the “leave it in the locker room” shit we saw in the first three games).
- Some more playing around to find the right combinations in the PSU defensive secondary. They will not be significantly tested here, and, in fact, they have yet to be tested. For that we’ll have to wait for next week against Minnesota or the following week against Michigan. We thought we would get to work them out against Illinois, but the Juice is not loose. They did not look good in that one deep play where Williams and Benn caught them sleeping.
- A punt return of more than 5 yards and a kickoff return of more than 20 yards would be refreshing.
- Thirty minutes or more playing time for Kevin Newsome would be great.
- Continued progress by the offensive line. The Panthers have a halfway decent defense, allowing just 94 yards per game on the ground, so these guys need to play football.
Some things not to expect to see:
- Sean Lee.
- Designed running plays for Daryll Clark. They will not be needed to grab the win, so why risk Clark?
- More than two appearances by Jeremy Boone. I see the Lions being able to move the ball at will, if they show up.
- A slim, 7-3 halftime lead. They’re out of the Iowa doldrums now, so there’s no excuse to not salt this one away before halftime.
- A congratulatory text from Bobby Bowden to Joe Paterno after the win. I do not know whether either of them even has a cell phone.
Well, that brings us to the arguably awesome, seductively senile, glabrously galling, positively punctilious Official Turkey Poop Prediction, straight from the foul old fowl’s constipated cloaca. Normally, I would look at the daily line for clues as to what the gamblers and bookies are doing on this one, but with Eastern Illinois being an FCS school, there is no line and no over/under. Therefore, I shall invent my own. We will go with Penn State minus 36.5 and an over/under of 55. This suggests a final score of approximately 46-9. However, I see the Nittany Lions beating this mythical spread this time. Penn State 56, Eastern Illinois 3.