Amid all the turmoil that has defined the Penn State experience for the past week, the #19 Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) in their debut season with the Big Ten come to the Big Beave to take on our beleaguered #12 Nittany Lions (8-1, 5-0). Nebraska is coming off a 28-25 loss to Northwestern last week, while Penn State had a bye.
It is Senior Day, but the Lions’ seniors will not be accorded the opportunity to shake hands with their deposed head coach, making it a sad day for players and fans alike.
“I take this job with very mixed emotions, due to the situation.” —Acting Head Coach Tom Bradley
First of all, the coaching staff will be headed up by acting head coach Tom “Scrap” Bradley, who has appointed Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson as co-defensive coordinators. Wide receiver coach, recruiting coordinator, and former head coach Joe Paterno’s sideline whipping boy, Mike McQueary, will not attend the game. He was placed on administrative leave this afternoon by Acting President Rod Erickson. He talked with the players, telling them unofficially that Terrell Golden would be their wide receivers coach. Otherwise, all other coaches, including Jay Paterno, who is expected to coach from the press box, are expected to perform their usual functions.
Bradley has been acting head coach before on a couple of occasions when Paterno could not be there. However, it is a completely different situation when all of the responsibility rests on his shoulders. This is his first experience as a head coach in all its glory and potential tragedy. This Turkey joins all of you in wishing Scrap a most auspicious start.
It will be exciting to see how Bradley coaches a game when it’s all his to win or lose. We’ve all gotten used to the Paterno system. What will Scrap keep and what will he toss out the window? Will he defer on the opening kickoff if Penn State wins the coin toss? Will he settle on a single quarterback? (More on this later). Will he tighten up the anal sphincter in the second half if he has a lead? Will he leave the offense to Galen, Jay, and Dick, or will he take an active part in making coaching decisions affecting that part of the game? We’ll all be paying more attention than usual this week, looking for signs of what we can expect for the remainder of the season.
If we can look past the scandal, the first thing we’ll note is that we’re looking at another accursed noon start! ESPN/ABC wanted to wait until last Saturday’s results were known before committing a game time. Unfortunately, for those of you who, like this Turkey, believe that the boys do not perform up to par for noon starts, Nebraska lost to Northwestern last weekend, taking much of the edge off this game. ESPN/ABC translated that to lessened interest in watching the televised coverage, which meant forget about the 3:30 or prime time slots. But the TV boys might have shot themselves in the foot. With all the scandal news they’ve been pumping out this week, they would have had increased national exposure for their propaganda had they given Penn State the benefit of the doubt. But, as the old sports writer’s trite platitude goes, it is what it is. What it is: Another stinking noon start!
We’ve been there and done that before. Now, add in the Sandusky scandal and Nebraska’s fall from grace and we have lots more empty seats. Students are probably tired from all their marching down Beaver Canyon and up to Old Main. They’ll be partying late tonight. This all translates to empty seats in the student section. After all, they have to do their homework sometime. Furthermore, the pep rally scheduled for tonight was cancelled by the university administration. So, instead of a positive lingering spirit, negative thoughts from the past week will linger on.
However, there will be no lack of team spirit this time in spite of their not receiving the public farewell handshake from Paterno. Former Nittany Lion RB Rich Mauti sent out over 800 invitations to former players, urging them to come in support of the team. By mid-week, 75 had responded positively. “It’s for the kids that have to go out there on Saturday,” said Mauti, who played under Paterno from 1974 to 1976 and went on to play in the NFL. “It’s a show of support for that. It’s not going to be banners and flags and bands. It’s going to be the Penn State Way. It’s going to be our presence. Hopefully, we get enough guys there that will mean something.”
Regardless of how many more former players come to the game, it is bound to be an emotional experience for the players. This is uncharted territory. This is the first time a Penn State football game has been played without Joe Paterno serving as head coach for 46 years. Everything that was solid as bedrock about the Penn State program two weeks ago when these players last took the field has crumbled. Even those who advise them can not have been through an experience in any way similar to theirs. Let us hope that Tom Bradley rallies them together with his patience, wisdom, and Penn State pride, as we all know he can.
In honor of Sandusky’s alleged victims and others in their position, Penn State students have called for a “Blue Out”. Fans are advised to wear blue. Blue lapel ribbons will be handed out to fans entering the stadium, as well, and Nebraska’s alumni associations have shown considerable class in pledging their help in doing so.
Given the violence of student demonstrations on Wednesday night, extra security measures and personnel will be implemented. Student leaders have deplored the violence, a message we hope sinks in.
But I digress (I hope, understandably).
Nebraska and Penn State both have been labeled as having “suspect” offenses, ranking 53 and 88, respectively, in total offense. However, Nebraska has put a lot more points on the scoreboard, ranking 27th in scoring offense versus a lowly 100th for Penn State, an average of 21.78 ppg. I wouldn’t call Penn State’s offense “suspect”, as any and all suspicions are borne out in their poor Red Zone performance and their anemic point totals. At least Nebraska can run the football, ranking 13th nationally. Their versatile quarterback Taylor Martinez adds significant yardage on the ground. Penn State will hope to get Silas Redd in gear to boost their 55th ranked rushing offense. He himself ranks 18th nationally with an average of 111.78 ypg.
How the two-headed Penn State quarterback will split duties is still a mystery to this Turkey. I feel for Tom Bradley, unwittingly inheriting that situation, but I’m certain that he’ll have the fortitude to create a plan and run with it, no matter what his distinguished predecessor might have done. Of course, you know by now if you’ve been reading my drivel that this Turkey’s preference would be for Matt McGloin to start and play the entire game. Rob Bolden just hasn’t yet shown the leadership, situational awareness, and pocket presence to be handed the reins. Every fan despises the two-headed system. I hope Scrap does, too. Be that as it may, Penn State’s passing offense, perhaps a result, ranks 88th nationally. Nebraska is worse, ranking 101st and averaging only 174.56 ypg. With Derek Moye back from his injury, this Turkey is optimistic that Penn State will be able to move the ball through the air against a Nebraska defense that is not half bad, ranking 20th against the pass and 65th in pass efficiency defense. In the 28-25 loss to Northwestern, Nebraska was uncharacteristically 28-37 for 289 passing, with no interceptions and two touchdowns, and only 122 yards net rushing. They will probably return to a more balanced offense against Penn State, having learned their lesson against NWU.
The Nittany Lions have a significant edge over the ‘Huskers in total defense, ranking 8th nationally, against 41st for Nebraska. The strong, 24th ranked rushing defense will have to corral junior RB Rex Burkhead, who is averaging over 100 ypg, plus keep an eye on Taylor Martinez, a constant run threat averaging over 79 ypg. If Penn State can put the clamps on Nebraska’s ground game, they will have to throw against State’s 3rd ranked pass efficiency defense.
Penn State typically sleeps through the first half in games that kick off at noon. However, in this case, all bets are off with respect to the emotional engagement of the players. While the game is not quite as big as it was before Nebraska lost to Northwestern, which ordinarily might cause some players to look past them to Ohio State next week, it is this Turkey’s opinion that the fact that it is Senior Day, the presence of former players, the calming influence of universally respected Tom Bradley, and the support of the earnest fans who do show up for the game will impel most to play beyond their usual noon start slackage.
Special teams-wise, Penn State is not very wise at all. Nebraska has the edge there.
As for intangibles, I think I would be a complete fool to even touch on that subject here at this time.
The weather should not be a factor, as it is expected to be mostly sunny and breezy with a high of 55.
That brings us to the all important, always inaccurate Official Turkey Poop Prediction. But first, don’t you all feel like you need a vacation after what we’ve been through for the past week? I sure as hell do! My emotions have run the gamut, and I’m not even sure what an emotional gamut is. Nevertheless, we have business to do. The team is going to be there and be strong; you and I are going to be loud and be proud. The gambling line on this game favors Nebraska by 3.5 points, with an over/under of 42.5. I’m really going to have to pull this prediction out of a place similar to that into which I told several of my nastier commenters to shove their ad hominem attacks on this Thanksgiving fowl this past week. (I’ve got enough to worry about with what is sadistically called “Turkey Day” approaching rapidly.) While Nebraska has far fewer distractions, I see our Nittany Lions rallying together and giving an all out effort. Some will do so for their deposed coach; some will do so for the seniors, and some will do so out of pure Penn State pride and the desire to find a silver lining to the gray clouds that have dominated the campus for the past week, with the potential for a Big Ten championship and a BCS berth still entirely within the realm of possibility. With the qualification that McGloin has to start with the intent being for him to play a complete game (try and get the Vegas boys to accept that contingency — oy!), take Penn State and the points. And take the “over” by the slimmest of margins. Lions 27, Huskers 17.