It’s that time of the season again, the day when we recognize the contributions of the senior ballers who have led the Nittany Lions through thick and thin, some of them for four or five seasons. This issue of Sudden Impact takes a jaundiced look at the game itself, which is the final game of the season, damnit. And, of course, there is no need to mention that there will be no post-season, but I mention it anyway. Before I get to the Wisconsin game, though, I want to vent about something that happened on my Thanksgiving trip.
I had just arrived in Ft. Lauderdale after a four-hour drive from up here in Central Florida. I was hungry, so before I checked in at my hotel, I wanted to pick up a sandwich to eat in my room.
The scene is a Publix supermarket in Davie, Florida. I proceed to the deli section to buy a sandwich. As I arrive there, I encounter a Hispanic babe sitting on the edge of the open-top cooler, with her butt hanging squarely on one of those large, round party sandwich platters. I glare at her and loudly admonish her (so all the louts who stood there saying nothing would take note), “Yeah, like we all want to eat sandwiches that had your ass all over them!” She gets up. I pick up what I need from the deli and I am leaving when out of the corner of my eye I see Juanita about to plunk her ass down in the cooler again. So, I turn around and snap at her, “I’m still here!” She gets up again. All the while, her little flat-affect toddler is sitting in the cart looking at me with big brown eyes that asked “WTF??”
Question for my trusted readers: Do you think I was polite enough or should I have done it in Spanish?
Bill O’Brien establishes a new tradition for Senior Day practices.
So, here we are at the end of another season. Everyone’s saying, “Boy, that went fast!” Sometimes, the end comes mercifully, like 2004, but this year no one wanted to see it end. This scrappy bunch of guys just kept getting better as the season wore on.
Let’s get this out of the way before we go any further. You really needed that, you know!
You won’t be surprised to know that Penn State is the underdog in this game. Why should Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) be favored over Penn State (7-4, 5-2)? They have identical overall records, and Penn State has only two conference losses versus the Badgers’ three. I suppose the punters and the gamblers all believe that Wisconsin is the better team. We need to look at this more closely.
Wisconsin’s losses were to #15 Oregon State (8-2), #14 Nebraska (9-2), Moo U. (5-6), and #4* OSU (11-0). Penn State lost to Ohio (8-3), Virginia (4-7), #4* OSU (11-0), and #14 Nebraska (9-2). Yeah, Penn State lost to some pretty crappy opponents, but Wisconsin beat Northern Iowa and Utah State by the slimmest of margins.
So, it’s not in the comparative records of the two schools this year. It obviously isn’t in the home field advantage, because this is a home game for the Nittany Lions. It’s not “Penn State prejudice” by the Big Ten traditionalists, as the Penn State paranoiacs would have it, because we’re not talking politics, we’re talking people’s hard-earned money. The money is clearly going the Badgers’ way.
Home field advantage is usually good for roughly a field goal, but Wisconsin is favored by two points. That’s saying that on a neutral field, Penn State is worse than Wisconsin by almost two field goals. Do you believe that?
I do. I’ll give you my reasons forthwith, but first I’ve got to say that, unlike Penn State, Wisconsin was in contention in both the Ohio State and Nebraska games right down to the wire. There is no second-half letdown with these guys — unlike Penn State. I’ve been harping on that and I will continue to harp on it until O’Brien gets something done about it, although some of it is structural — a lack of depth leading to defensive fatigue.
Wisconsin plays ball control football. They don’t have an amazing, quick strike offense, just a ponderously pachydermal offensive line, a plundering Heisman finalist tailback, and a penurious defense. In the overtime loss to Ohio State, for example, Wisconsin held the time-of-possession advantage, 37:17 to 22:43; beating Indiana 62-14 (the game in which the Badgers rang up 524 yards rushing), they utterly dominated: 39:27 to 20:33. If ever there were a game in which stopping the run was key, this one sure as hell is it.
Want to wear down a defense? Throw an offensive line at them with an average weight of 326 lbs.(contrast with Nebraska’s corn-fed beef averaging 300 and Penn State averaging 306) , including 6-8, 342 lb right tackle Rob Havenstein and 6-4, 338 lb center Travis Frederick, then repeatedly hand the ball off to a quartet of running backs headed up by Montee Ball. You couple that with a defense that is lacking in depth and what do you have? A Penn State defensive line that drags its ass in the second half, opening up the floodgates for the full Montee.
Wisconsin’s run might be stoppable, but it will require a fully staffed and fresh defense to do it. With the loss of Mike Mauti, the defense is short an additional man-and-a-half. Not a good portent for this game. The Ohio State and Nebraska games were manageable in their first halves, but when the second half rolled around, their offenses gathered a second wind while our defense couldn’t manage to do so. I think this game will go the same way.
By the numbers, Wisconsin is averaging 217.64 ypg rushing (17th) and 165.64 ypg passing (110th nationally and worst in the B1G). Montee Ball is the seventh ranked runner in the nation and tops in the B1G with an average of 128.82. James White averages 61.82 per game. Can Penn State’s rushing defense, which allows 125.73 ypg (23rd) stop this rampaging runaway freight train? Methinks not.
Zach Zwinach has been doing well of late. His season average is 74.64. However, he’ll have a rough time running on Wisconsin, who allow 106.64 ypg (9th). If Matt McGloin and his talented receivers are our hope, we’ll have to be hoping pretty hard, because Wisconsin is also 25th in passing efficiency defense as well as pass defense versus the 34th ranked Nittany Lion passing offense. Nevertheless, McGloin’s ability to disrupt the Badger defense with well placed passes is indeed our great white hope for this game. I’d love to count on that, but with Kyle Carter out of the picture due to injury, it’s just that much more difficult.
The Badgers won’t be passing much, as they’re down to their third starting quarterback of the season, good ol’ What’s-His-Name. But Whosis doesn’t really need to toss the ball around when he has the full Montee and the Beefburgers. Wisconsin started out looking good at quarterback when they obtained a pre-season commitment from Danny O’Brien, whom they thought to be a ready-made starting quarterback to replace the departed Russell Wilson. It didn’t work out that way, and head coach Bret Bielema has found himself in the quintessential quarterback quandary ever since.
Wisconsin is heading to the Big Ten title game and Penn State is headed to final exams. The potential exists for a letdown due to the meaninglessness of this game, although a win would be a fitting tribute to the valiant seniors. Nonetheless, Wisconsin owns the series, winning nine of 11 games, usually winning by a huge margin.
It doesn’t help that Nittany Lions’ special teams have sucked and will continue to suck. Alas, Wisconsin has a couple of returners that could spell trouble to the coverage units. Alex Butterworth’s punts have been inconsistent, but if the game is not close, that won’t make a difference. Neither will Sam Ficken’s inconsistency. Is Ficken finally kickin’? Is he rounding into form? If so, too little and too late. This game won’t come down to a field goal, anyway.
McGloin seems to get flustered when he has to come from behind. He doesn’t control his emotions well, and he makes mistakes. He needs to shitcan that stuff when the going gets tough in this game. Will he? I believe that it will be difficult for him to do so, although I’ll repeat that he is a much improved player this year over last. I think he’ll wind up second string all-conference quarterback behind Taylor Martinez when the teams are announced on Monday.
The weather will be good old Central Pennsylvania Thanksgiving weekend weather. Forecast high is 36°F (0.0237298 electron volts) with snow showers totally likely. Gusty northeast winds of 14-26 mph (375 – 697 meters per second) will conspire against Ficken’s kickin’. The combination of temperature, snow, and wind (better known as “the weather”) might also conspire against halfway decent Senior Day attendance, which will be a crying shame.
Bret Bielema is a good coach. Bill O’Brien is a good coach. It’s about even there.
So, who’s going to win? I’ll tell you who’s going to win. Wisconsin’s going to win, and by a lot. The question going into this game is whether Penn State can beat a legitimate team. The Lions had their chances to prove that with Ohio State and Nebraska, but they weren’t up to the task. So, this is it, the Test with a capital “T”. Wisconsin has weaknesses, but in spite of those deficits, they’re arguably able to play with the top teams in the B1G conference. I don’t think our guys will pass The Test. And so, sadly, it is time for the Last Official Turkey Poop Prediction for 2012. The gamblers favor the Badgers by two and the over/under is 45. (Contrast that with an over/under of 72 for the OK State vs Oklahoma game!) There just ain’t no substitute for good, old fashioned, ball control oriented power football, particularly when you have a side of beef at each OL position. Wisconsin wins this one going awayyyyyyyyyy 34-13, beating Penn State straight up and covering the spread. Ficken will be kickin’ two good ones for three attempts. Take the over.
A special surprise (which is no longer a surprise) is in store for Senior Day. The 2012 team will join other special teams with their year posted permanently on the suites at Beaver Stadium. This turkey believes that 2012 needs to be remembered for many things, and thus, this is an appropriate thing to do. Facilitated by the draconian sanctions levied against Penn State by Mark Emmert and the NCAA, these seniors all could have bolted to other schools with impunity, but they stayed and exceeded everybody’s expectations. Screw you, Mark Emmert! May this 2012 also be a constant reminder that you are a total asshole and try as you will to destroy Penn State’s football program, the Nittany Lions will persevere.
Speaking of the Big Ten expansion, I have to wonder who will wind up being Penn State’s rivalry match-up in the future, for the traditional end-of-season rivalry game. Maryland? Call it the Mason-Dixon Trophy and have it jointly designed by Penn State and Maryland functionaries? I smell another Land Grant Trophy in the making. But if they make the Terps the Nittany Lions’ season-end rivals, what would happen with Rutgers? Perhaps the Big Ten would have to bring in UNLV and make the game between the two casino states the Wise Guy Bowl and make it for the Pimm’s Cup.
So, the latest NCAA investigation involving cultures of football is Auburn University. Some culture!
Speaking of cultures of football, reader Joe turned up this mathematical paper co-authored by offensive lineman John Urschel, titled Instabilities in the Sun-Jupiter-Asteroid Three Body Problem. Yeah, we Penn Staters are all about football, and our players are semi-literate, right? Emmert can click on the link and shove dat up his astrophysical ass!
Lastly, in our Humor Department, as you know, I traveled south to be with my family for Thanksgiving. Arriving at my misanthropic, antisocial brother’s house, I was warmly greeted by the “welcome mat” pictured at left. The food was good, though.
That’ll do it until the next time, when we’ll look at the Wisconsin game in retrospect. In the meanwhile, I hope you all had a great tryptophan nap and are ready to rock and roll for Saturday’s big game!