Lots and lots of people out there are portraying the forthcoming game between #12 Penn State (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) and Northwestern (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) as a “trap” game. The Nittany Lions are coming off an emotional win at da Big House, their first in 13 years, and next week they will be coming home to play the Ohio State Buckeyes, a meaningful game in the quest for the Big Ten title and a trip to a BCS bowl. Northwestern is playing at home on Ryan Field, where they always play the Lions tough. They need one more game to be bowl eligible for the 2009-2010 post-season. All the components of an upset are there, yet this Turkey thinks that Penn State will take care of business.
Hell, back in 2005, it took a desperation pass from Michael Robinson to Isaac Smolko on fourth-and-ten to grab a victory out of the jaws of defeat there at Ryan Field. Don’t tell me it ain’t tough!
However, this year, Northwestern’s secondary is decimated by injuries and they have no running game to speak of. Their passing offense, led by quarterback Mike Kafka, dinks its way down the field with short routes and quick reads. Because of a green offensive line, Kafka doesn’t have much time to do otherwise. The Wildcats will be able to score some points against the Sandusky BBDB, especially if the corners are going to play 10 yards off the LOS, but not enough points; meanwhile, Penn State should be able to throw on their deficient secondary all day.
This, of course, is subject to a potentially big weather factor. While it has been raining up in Evanston this week, the sun is expected to peek through the clouds and dry things up. High temperature Saturday will be 50F. Nevertheless, as this is written on Friday, heavy rain amounting to 0.7″ has fallen on Ryan Field. The track is liable to be sloppy.
A lot of questions about the Penn State offensive line have been shoved to the back burner, but I saw enough of Brandon Graham last week to know that there are still questions to be answered. Nevertheless, Royster got his 100 yards against Michigan, and I suspect that he will do the same against Northwestern.
My biggest worry probably reflects everyone’s major concern about this team: the kicking game. Now, in addition to crappy return coverage and crappy returns, we can add blocked punts to the list of deficiencies in special teams. The once sacrosanct and untouchable Jeremy Boone seems mortal now. Although the first blocked punt, against Iowa, was probably not his fault — we all saw Sukay whiff on his block — opponents have gotten the idea that they stand a reasonable chance of success calling the block. Boone takes a lot of time back there — an extra couple of steps — and this contributes to the problem. Coaches have been working with him, which can have disastrous effects if not handled properly. Trying to dick with something like this will establish a whole new rhythm, which will not have had enough time to become ingrained. Boone has for years done it his own way, but will have merely a week of doing it the new way. Mid-season is not the time for this kind of change. Suffice to say that special teams are not one of the 2009 Nittany Lions high points on the competence scale.
However, the confidence (“poise”, Paterno would call it) of this team is dramatically increasing, after the major pout inspired by the less than inspirational performance against Iowa caused a couple of weeks of doldrums. Before the Michigan game, Paterno rallied the troops as only he can, telling them that he’s been telling them how good they are, and now it’s about time that they believe in themselves — that they really are that good. It sure as hell pumped them up at Michigan Stadium. You can count on Old Joe to deliver a similarly inspirational message this week. Ahh, intangibles.
So, let’s get right down to the Official Turkey Poop Forecast, which is worth all of the turkey poop you’ve had to wade through to get to here — and then some. But first, let me give you a quote from Mike Kafka’s famous Uncle Franz, who said, “Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.” Ahhhh, the Kafkaesque cynicism — a man after this Turkey’s black heart. But I digress. As I write this, Penn State is favored by 17, with an over/under of 47. This suggests, by God, that the gamblers and bookies think that the Nittany Lions will win by a score something like 32-15. I’m down with something similar to that. As I mentioned above, I think NWU will be able to score on the Nittany Lions’ defense a couple of times before things settle down. Furthermore, I think that the Lions will be facing a defense about on par with Michigan’s. So, I’m going to give the Wildcats a little more credit than Michigan, because I like them better, and call it 35-17, Penn State.