For Penn State, the pre-season is over. It is now Big Ten crunch time. Having fared well against inferior defenses thus far, but having faltered badly against the only decent defense it faced, it is now time for the true test — the “meat” of the Big Ten schedule. It is make or break time. Let’s hope that the Nittany Lions beat the meat — and I mean that in the best possible way.
This week, the bowl eligible #19 Nittany Lions (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) host the Fighting Illini (6-2, 2-2), who are coming off an ego deflating loss last week at Purdue, 21-14. The weather will definitely have an effect on the outcome of this game, with a whiteout from the heavens happening in Happy Valley.
Fighting the Fighting Illini can be viewed as easing into the world of real defenses before the stretch run against Nebraska, OSU, and Wisconsin. Alas, the Champaign tastes with a beer budget are on an unfortunate losing streak in which they dropped back-to-back games to Ohio State and Purdue. They started the season with a bang, running up records of 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten. They were impressive against the likes of South Dakota State (56-3) but less so against Arizona State (17-14) and Northwestern (38-35). Last week they let Purdue score three touchdowns in the first half to trail 21-0 at the intermission. Did I say defense?
“I just feel good that we are in a position with a couple of quarterbacks I think — in different situations — can help us win a game.” —Joe Paterno
Somehow, they manage to get ranked #10 nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 289 yards per game. They allow just over 100 yards per game rushing and just over 120 passing. So, yes, this translates to a defense that, albeit giving up 18 points a game on the average, is legit. This will be a test for Silas Redd and his stinger. It will also be a test for our quarterbacks as national sacks leader junior Whitney Mercilus (Ming the Merciless, Flash Gordon Fans (wait, who????)) has his sights trained on whichever one plays back there. Their defensive line makes me want to puke. (Note to zbeard: I have no idea why, they just do.)
NFL caliber senior wide receiver A. J. Jenkins provides sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase with a deep threat. Last year they did enough damage to Penn State, connecting for 76 yards and a touchdown in Illinois’ 33-13 win. That game was a stinkeroo for Penn State, with only seven first downs all day and Illinois outgaining the Lions by 200 yards. They had a solid running back in LeShoure last year, but this year their running backs have not been very spectacular. The only 100+ yard games for Troy Pollard were South Dakota State and Western Michigan; Jason Ford has had none. I would think that this year, the passing attack will serve them well, especially if they watched the optical disc recording of the last couple of Penn State games that showed the Lions’ vulnerabilities, namely the Sandusky zone I have harped on coupled with a slow secondary. If you’re going to play a pro zone defense like the Tampa 2, you need speed. Nevertheless, it ain’t going to be easy for the Illini, as in spite of its Turkey perceived weaknesses, the Penn State defense still allows an average of 180 yards per game, ranking 14th nationally.
Penn State is fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 13.13 points per game. While the defense’s numbers have slipped a bit due to last week’s first half sloppiness against Northwestern, this group seems to be motivated and spirited. I wish I could say the same about the offense, which has looked bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. Do you think the quarterback morass has anything to do with that? This Turkey does.
Although McGloin played a complete game last week against Northwestern, the JoeJay unit has asserted that no permanent decision has been made regarding the number one quarterback by the PSU offensive brain trust. That’s a pity, because I think the offense is more cohesive and certainly better coordinated if there is quarterbacking consistency. I don’t want to hear Joe waffling about Bolden and McGloin bringing different skill sets to the mix. Screw that! No two quarterbacks are alike anywhere. Nine games into the season, we’re still farting around trying to protect Bolden’s fragile feelings when McGloin has obviously earned the right to start.performing very well in what now can be construed in retrospect as his first start this season. Penn State’s anemic passing offense, ranking in the bottom tercile nationally, needs a boost. Settling the quarterback debacle once and for all is a good way to give it one.
The Penn State rushing offense, hampered by an inexperienced and uncoordinated offensive line, ranks in the middle of the pack nationally. However, Silas Redd, who can create space for himself even in the shadows of an incompetent O-line, ranks third in the conference and 16th nationally. Redd is now in the mix for the Maxwell Trophy, thanks to his league topping performance last week. If Penn State is to beatt the Illini this year, Redd will have to be a bigg partt of itt. Let us hope that his shoulder injury doesn’t bother him.
Thus, the three offensive Tur-keys: run Redd right at them all day, go with McGloin, and hope that Moye is healthy enough to catch a few strategic passes. The defensive keys are to force turnovers and not let A. J. Jenkins get behind the safeties.
Believe it or not, Penn State has a considerable edge in special teams’ performance. Yeah, yeah, I know. Ranking 95th in net punting, 79th in punt returns, and 20th in kickoff returns (thanks to a couple of brilliant efforts by Chaz Powell), how the hell could the Nittany Lions be better? Well, the Illini rank #102, #116, and #118 in those categories. They define special teams’ suckage. By the way, Penn State’s all purpose kicker Anthony Fera was named today as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. Who knew? Would anyone have guessed that Fera would transcend his early season doghouse dwelling and arrive at this pinnacle of success?
It is a home game for the Nittany Lions, and fortunately for them, not a noon start. That gives us some hope. However, at this time, they’re favored by only slightly more than what home field advantage would afford them. The home field advantage is muted by the weather, which will mean muffled applause due to kittens with mittens, and empty seats due to the pain in the ass factor of snowy roads, closed parking lots, and wet seats.
Weather? Oy vay! Winter storm warning with gusty winds, a high of 38, and heavy, wet snow accumulating 4-8 inches. This is not a passer’s game, which should benefit Penn State’s slow reacting zone defense by preventing Jenkins from getting good traction. He’s going to have to put snow tires or chains on before the days is over. Meanwhile, the offenses can lean heavily on the run, which in this Turkey’s opinion favors the Nittany Lions. Plus, the Illini’s turnover margin is -.25 versus PSU’s .625, so sloppy ball handling will help the Lions. And Joe: please leave the damn reverses in the “not used” section of the game plan. The traction won’t permit them, McGloin sucks as a lead blocker, and the damn slow developing play just flat out doesn’t work! Enough, already with the reverse.
Speaking of tricksterism, expect a few weather hampered tricks by the Zookster. He seems to always have enough up his sleeve to catch Penn State napping. They sleep pretty soundly out there on the field, as it were. Snoozing too soundly on defense will allow Jenkins maneuvering room, snow or no snow.
For the Blue Band, in anticipation of nature’s whiteout, the musical brain trust have ditched “Sweet Caroline” (thank God) for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Let It Snow,” and “Winter Wonderland.”
Parking lots will be a mess.
Although McGloin played a complete game last week against Northwestern, the JoeJay unit has asserted that no permanent decision regarding a starting quarterback has been made by the PSU offensive brain trust. Maybe the weather will cause old Joe’s rheumatism to nag at him to play Bolden, as long as this will be a weather hampered ground game. Who the hell knows? “I just feel good that we are in a position [where we have] a couple of quarterbacks [who] I think — in different situations — can help us win a game,” Paterno said. That’s what Joe said, but I continue to think that the team deserves a leader and I think McGloin is that leader. If Paterno is hanging his hat on the team telling him that they can work with either, then he isn’t listening closely enough. They’re saying that to tell him what he wants to hear, not to state their true feelings. I think that if you got their candid opinions, to a man they would opt for consistency in the huddle. Let me see a show of hands out there. How many of you are pissed off that this thing is still going on as of Game 9?
Romper bomper stomper boo, tell me, tell me, tell me, do … I see Billy, and Fred, and little Jenny and her big brother Chuck, and R.D., and the McCabe Sisters, and Anthony, Jr., and oh, Mike’s busy playing with his Google, and D’Brickashaw, and Deon’Tae, and little Maurice Jones-Drew and LaQuan, and Shaniquala, and Moishe …
So, now let’s take a plunge into the Official Turkey Poop Prediction for Week 10. But first, we’ll take a look at the other Big Ten games with conference championship implications. Number 11 Moo U. leads the Legends division with a 3-0 record; they play at #14 Nebraska (2-1) at noon (Huskers favored by 4), while #18 Michigan (2-1), favored by two touchdowns at home, is playing Purdue (2-1 – Leaders). An MSU win will give them the commanding lead in the division. Meanwhile, Penn State stands alone atop the Leaders division (and the Big Ten as a whole) with a 4-0 conference record, followed by #15 Wisconsin and Purdue at 2-1. Wisconsin is favored by a touchdown to beat hapless, Tresselless Ohio State (1-2) at the Horseshoe at 8:00 PM. With the bye week coming for Penn State, followed by three huge, make or break games with Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, it would appear that Saturday’s game is a must win for Penn State to stay in the Leaders division race. But I digress. Earlier in the week, Penn State had been favored by 4.5 with an over/under of 40.5; however, the gambling public must have seen the weather forecast, which favors Penn State, as the spread is now 5.5 and the o/u has dropped to 38.5. If the forecast had been for a beautiful fall day, I would have gone with Illinois in a mild upset. Winter storm warnings, however, somewhat neutralize the Scheelhaase-Jenkins tandem and skewing the PSU offense more toward the run renders Sack Emperor Mercilus more merciful. This week, I’m thinking that the bettors and the odds makers have it just about right. Penn State 20, Illinois 16. Take the under and once again, PSU doesn’t cover.
It’s been a busy week for me after camping (and missing the NWU game) this past weekend, resulting in my not finding time to write my recap of the Northwestern game as I normally would. For this, I apologize. I hope to be back on schedule after Saturday’s game so I can tell you how correct the above prediction was, among other post mortem thingies. Just for the hell of it I will give you the results of last week’s mind bet, just so you know I’m not perfect. I predicted a PSU win 20-17 and took the underside of the 47.5 o/u. As you know, the score wound up 34-24 and I screwed up miserably on both bets. PSU not only covered the spread, but also blew away the o/u with a 58. Better luck this week, I hope, or I’ll be a miserably foul fowl.
This week, if my prediction holds true, Joe Paterno will win his 409th game, which surpasses Eddie Robinson for the most wins ever in NCAA Division I, while for the team, this will be the first seven-game win streak since opening 9-0 in 2008.
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Totally unrelated old fart trivia question of the week: Who lived at 1313 Blue View Terrace? (Answer in the game recap post, if I remember to include it. LOL)