The Turkey apologizes for the tardiness of this game preview and prediction. I had to overcome some personal issues, and then I had to hear the legend of Rufus from a tribal elder. I will strive to do much better in the future!
Ohio University, a venerable institution founded during the Thomas Jefferson Administration in what was then the Northwest Territory exists today in a beautifully unspoiled part of Ohio nestled into the Wayne National Forest.
Its sports mascot is Rufus the Bobcat. Legend has it that Princess Ru-Fuss-ee of the Fakowee Native-American tribe that inhabited the area in the early days of our republic made friends with a wild bobcat who could hunt for her, since she was too ugly to be courted by any of the young braves who needed a squaw, a princess even, already. Oy! So, every day, the cat would hunt. Every day, Ru-Fuss-ee would pet him, share food with him, remove thorns from his paws, dress him in cute little outfits, and sometimes pretend that he was the man of her dreams. Some nights, Princess Ru (fer short) could be seen dancing with the cat. Both of them were quite content. And thus, the legend lives on, from the Fakowee on down, of the big cat they called Ru-Fuss-ee’s kitteh. When the white man took over the area (no one knew where da Fakowee went) Ru-Fus-ee’s name was given to the cat, albeit truncated through the æons. And that is how Rufus the Bobcat received its moniker—true story, I swear!
Ohio University is proud to have recently rescued Rufus from the Athens, Ohio Wayward Cat Shelter; they loved him so much that they made him their mascot.
You need to know this in order to proceed to the game preview and predictions. Yes, friends, the infallibly insouciant Official Turkey Poop Prediction returns. That comes later, but first, here’s what I’m thinking about this 2012 season opening game in the most weird, extraordinarily bizarre, outré season for Penn State, one that no one could have predicted in their wildest Kafkaesque dreams.
And so, here we are in another big catfight in Happy Valley. A few months ago, we would have considered this a tune-up game against a moderately tough opponent; obvious changes in circumstances have now made this one of twelve must-win games, by no means a walkover for Penn State. You see, even though the MAC is considered one of the weakest FBS conferences, OU finished 2011 with a 10-4 record and are favorites to win the conference title this year. They have an excellent coach in Frank Solich, who was given the heave-ho at his alma mater Nebraska for the great sin of a nine-win season.
Meanwhile, Penn State needs this win much, much more than a typical opening game. Sure, if the team loses any opening day game, it sets a sour mood to be overcome for the entire season. Beyond that, these Nittany Lions believe in themselves and they believe that they can overcome major obstacles, even though they’ve lost major talent because of the sanctions. They’ll play bigger than themselves as long as they don’t let themselves get discouraged, which could easily happen if they lost to an opponent from a lesser conference. (And, unlike Michigan losing to Appalachian State a few years back, it wouldn’t be because they are hung over.) Furthermore, a loss to up-and-coming Ohio U. will have a negative effect on recruiting, which would be disastrous, as there could be another exodus of Penn State talent after the close of this season. So, this is a must-win game, and so are the rest of the games.
“Would that it could be so that they win ’em all!” saith the Turkey wistfully. Alas and alack, that won’t happen (stated with apologies to reader Joe from Western PA).
It’s been 38 years since these two teams have met. Much has transpired since 1974. Hell, much has transpired for Penn State since 2011! Although the series had been lopsided, a 5-0 Penn State advantage, it’s a whole new deal this time around. The Bobcats are on their way up, while the Nittany Lions are headed godknowswhere, possibly to join up with the Fakowies.
Penn State’s guys will be pumped up, yet nervous. The front seven on defense will have to do most of the work. It is absolutely essential that OU be kept out of the PSU end zone, for unlike many predictions I’ve seen, I don’t think our Nittany Lions are going to be able to put many points on the scoreboard. This is not a team with which I would want to get into a scoring duel, not with its record-setting junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton and the Lions’ green secondary. (But instead of the soft Sandusky zone, we’ll be seeing more man-to-man coverage, which should be almost unspeakably orgasmic fun.) The PSU front seven must control the line of scrimmage and keep pressing Tettleton. Having passed for over 3,000 yards last season, Tettleton is dual threat — he ran for 658 net yards, too. In all, three runners racked up almost 2,000 yards last year. Yes, friends, that PSU front seven has its work cut out for it.
In any event, it will be great fun to watch Bill O’Brien’s new offense. It will be quite a change from the lumbering, delay of game incurring, play calling confusion oriented offense we’ve seen for the past several years. We know for certain that next-call certitude will no longer exist in the enemy defensive coordinator’s mind as it used to when we would cringe looking at the defensive line-up just hoping for an audible that never came because there was no time. On the other hand, a load of talent transferred out of Penn State, as you damn well know. The paucity of playaz requires a surfeit of spunkiness in those who must step up. We think Bill Belton is the key on offense. He’s no Silas Redd, but he has shown that he has the desire to win. Coupled with Ohio having given up over 300 yards on the ground in last year’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Utah State, the run has a good chance of succeeding.
Meanwhile, Matt McGloin, Penn State’s starting quarterback, better shine, but he can’t just hand it to Belton on every play. To whom will he be throwing to with Justin Brown gone to Oklahoma? Right at the moment, Allen Robinson looks like the number one deep target against a cornerback position that is weak due to injury, but with O’Brien’s system (unlike old Joe’s), the tight ends are very active. Those of you who have lamented that tight ends never get involved should find this game like ice cream candy.
Both teams’ kicking games will probably bite the big one. This is Sam Ficken’s first game as a starter. Ficken seemed to round out in the later days of practice, but he could have the jitters when the onus is on him in a real game. The depth chart for Penn State did not identify who the return men would be, and chances are that they would be too inexperienced at the position to comment about even if we knew who they were!
Coaching on both sides is topnotch, but O’Brien has never been head coach with a program all his own to run. However, the last game he coached was the Super Bowl, so it isn’t like he doesn’t know about big games. He’s got lots of help, but the team is his to make or break. Meanwhile, Frank Solich is a veteran of big-time games as both a player (running back for the Cornhuskers) and as a coach. He’s seen just about everything, but the Nittany Lions will no longer be predictable as were their predecessors.
Everybody’s always got to talk about intangibles, but seldom do they have anything significant to say. In tomorrow’s case, however, intangibles mean a lot. It’s a 12 noon start, and you know how crappily past teams have done with nooners, especially when the student section has that big, gaping empty corner for half the game with the corresponding decrease in pro-Penn State noise. That better not happen this time around. The team needs the support of the student population and hangovers better not get in the way, even though the student section at Beaver Stadium has been moved around a bit, such that a sparsely attended game won’t stick out like a sore thumb. The crowd will be behind the team, and let us hope that the desire to attend punctiliously will be present for the students, too.
Whether the weather is a factor or not depends on whether the PSU babes show up in their distractingly exiguous bikinis, as tomorrow promises to be a beautiful late summer day, mostly sunny with a high of 84°F (29°C). It’s a little warm for football, and so the lumbering leviathans might wear down a bit as the game progresses, especially with this being their first game of the season. Unfortunately for Penn State, that means the lack of depth issues will potentially surface. That could be daunting.
Now, to wrap this thing up, as you long-time readers know well, it is time for the Official Turkey Poop Prediction, a feature that you know and despise. Recall that in my season forecast, I picked this one as a Penn State win. That was then and this is now. I can vacillate, and without any kind of track record for this team and coach, I have done so quite frequently. Before I get to my prediction, however, let me say that I love those guys and I’m behind them 100%, even if I say they’re going to lose. If you want to gin up some passion for this team, check out Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith debate whether to root for Penn State this week in this video. I won’t say who’s pro and who’s con — watch it for yourself — but I’ve always thought that Smith’s middle initial stood for asshole. But I digress.
Let’s get down with it. The opening line on this game was PSU favored by 9, but the spread almost immediately shrank to 6. So, the bookies had more confidence in PSU than the bettors. Since then, it has settled in at 6.5 points with an over/under of 44.5, suggesting a Penn State 26-19 win. I don’t think the bettors have it right. Call me a disbeliever, but I don’t see how this team is going to get 26 points. However, on this first week of the season, and with everybody being so down on Penn State, I can’t — I just can’t — pick against the Nittany Lions. By the time the game is over, I’ll be well buffered against the possibility of a loss, anyhow. (If you don’t know why, you don’t know the other barnyard creatures who gather in my cave.) So, for the glory of old State, for her founders strong and great, unlike the current wimps we hate, raise the song, raise the song. For the victims and for the children: Larger, More Ornery, Leonine Mountain Cats 17, Rabbit Eaters 16.
I’ll be back after the game (sometime) with a recap, including my hung over observations. Please check back later on Sunday or Monday or so. In the meanwhile, GO STATE!