Illinois Game Preview and Prediction
In this weekly game precap, we flip multiple birds at Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, we salute a surprise Alumna of the Week, and we make a bold game prediction. If you can wade through all this turkey’s drivel, you deserve a gold star. (But around this time of year, every turkey’s stand might be his last stand, lest the chopping block intervene ignominiously, so I’m spewing while the spewing’s good.)
No, Tim Beckman, we haven’t forgotten your sleazy bottom-feeding bullshit of 2012 and you will be forever hated at Penn State for it. May you suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune in perpetuity, asshole! The Curse of St. Joe will fall upon you for the rest of your born days.*
That having been said, the Penn State Nittany Lions (6-4, 2-4 Big Ten) travel to Urbana-Champaign (or is it Champaign-Urbana?) to kick some ass, facing the Formerly Fighting Illini (4-6, 1-5) on their home turf. The Lions are coming off a semi-snoozefest in which after awaking from a first half slumber they were able to dispatch mighty Temple by the score of 30-13, whereas the Native Americans’ last game was a loss to Iowa with the similar score of 30-14. This was the Illini’s second straight loss after somehow beating well-regarded Minnesota 28-24 on Homecoming Day.
The Illini have lost most of the games they were expected to lose and they’ve won most of those they were expected to win. Two anomalies were the aforementioned Minnesota win, and the unmentionable Purdue loss. (This turkey’s explanation for the latter: Illinois suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks!)
It’s another noon start in a crappy, old, half-filled stadium and it is once again being telecast on ESPN2. This is what the Nittany Lions are again this year. The scenario is a bad one, though, man, and you know it. Sleeping through the first half isn’t advisable, but it’s what the Lions do. Looking toward Moo U. after a nice Thanksgiving dinner with the family puts this game on the “let’s get it over with” burner, so it could easily be overlooked. While a watched pot never boils, this one could be ignored long enough to blow over.
Fortunately, Illinois “boasts” the 113th worst defense from the points scored against perspective. They have their rivalry game with Northwestern to look forward to, and they’re freezing their balls. Who will wind up in the West division cellar? Pick one of Northwestern, Illinois, and Purdue. Next week is the Suckage Bowl. This week is a potential trap game, whatever the hell that means. Well, we all know what it means. Northwestern was already Penn State’s trap game this year. Need we have another from the same state, already? But I digress.
On paper, Illinois REALLY sucks. I mean their red zone offense is even worse than Penn State’s — 118th ranked vs. 69th for PSU. They’re 98th in total offense, though, against Penn State’s awe-inspiring 113th. Penn State’s defense ranks 3rd and Illinois’ defense ranks 114th. So, therefore, Penn State wins.
Just kidding. Throw the stats out the window for a second here and look at Chief Illiniwek’s last outing, a 30-14 loss to the Hawkeyes on the Chief’s own Happy Hunting Ground. Iowa just about doubled up on the Chief in every category, amassing 587 yards in a balanced attack. Illiniwek didn’t turn the ball over at all, but shot themselves in the foot with eight penalties for 59 yards and a safety. In that game, they had only 88 yards on the ground and 147 in the air. Iowa’s defense is ranked #18.
The previous week, the Chief got the snot kicked out of him by the Schmuckeyes®† at the Horseshoe, 55-14. Again, they were doubled up on 545 yards to 243. More penalties’ll killya, more third down suckage’ll killya, and four turnovers’ll killya to boot. And tOSU has the 17th ranked defense overall. The Schmuckeyes® went up 31-0 at halftime and never looked back.
Illinois seems by the stats to be even more turnover prone than Penn State, and that’s saying a lot. Methinks turnovers will have a bearing on this game’s outcome, influenced by the weather, which is forecast to be rainy on game day at the time this is being written.
Illinois’ defense sucks to the extent that the Penn State’s running game might have another good day, just like it did against the Owlets. Not that Akeel Lynch or Bill Belton will ever look like Melvin Gordon or anything, but I’m predicting a good day — if PSU can hang onto the damn ball!
With any luck, Tim Beckman will get the Will Muschamp heave-ho after the Northwestern loss, never to darken our football door again.
Whither the Woes of Hack
Ben Jones of StateCollege.com wrote in his blog “Ben State Football” (why the hell didn’t I grab that name? — nahhh, The Nittany Turkey is much more creative) that Christian Hackenberg’s struggles require patience more than criticism. Jones seems to think that everyone agrees that the NFL is salivating to get its hands on Hack the instant he becomes 21. I’m wondering what he’s smoking. The NFL has had its share of washouts who had great promise coming out of high school, excelled in college and never did much of anything in their pro careers, and the League has grown seemingly weary of such wastes of time and money. That’s why (God save me for mentioning this) Anthony Morelli was shunned. The NFL expects more of a quarterback than size and the ability to chuck a ball sixty yards on the fly. So, I’m calling “bullshit” on Jones.
Hack won’t get much NFL interest if he keeps on throwing bounce passes to receivers, not finding clearly open targets, and not having good self-preservation instincts in the pocket. Yeah, he’s been sacked close to forty times this season, which cannot be eliminated from the conversation or hand-waved away as having no effect on his eventual outcome. Granted, patience will be required for Hack’s devolved skills to return and for those he never possessed, perhaps out of lack of necessity, to develop. However, time waits for no man, and the NFL sure as hell doesn’t, either. Hack needs to reverse his slide. Soon.
In the end, it will be highly skilled NFL scouts who give Hack the thumbs-up or thumbs-down, not highly educated hacks like me and Jones, so take what he and I write with a grain of salt, as you usually do. Everybody’s got an opinion and you know what “they” say about opinions. Just sayin’…
As I write this, it is 18º in Champaign and the mercury is expected to dip down to the low teens tonight. Along with the wind, it is expected to feel like absolute zero. (No one has actually felt absolute zero, but Chicagoans are said to have observed that temperature several times.) Fortunately, a warming trend is setting in, and by game day an approaching warm front will bring some unstable air to the upper atmosphere, resulting in a rainy, drizzly, overcast day with a high of 50º. But this is Wednesday and you know what “they” say about the weather in [name just about anyplace on the planet]: “If you don’t like it, just wait fifteen minutes and it’ll change.”
So, rain and cold hands (meaning a warm heart) will mean that the aerial attack will be muted, so the ground game better be there. And fumbleitis could be a disastrous diagnosis for either squad, so watch it, man!
Da BROADcast Crew
Yep. ESPN2 at noon once again means the dynamic duo of the energetic Beth Mowins and the inarticulate Joey Galloway joined on the sidelines by Paul Crested Cara-Cara. They’re rapidly becoming Penn State’s own crew. Count that as home field advantage.
And speaking of birds, this leads right into our Alumnus of the Week feature.
The University of Illinois has graduated many important people in many fields of endeavor, none of whom have made as significant a contribution to my life as this week’s Official Nittany Turkey Distinguished Alumna, referred to in the course of this blog’s history as Artificially Sweetened, although her real name is Jenny [surname withheld to thwart identity theft weenies].
Jenny and I met in 2006 while hiking in the Seminole State Forest in Lake County, Florida, whereupon a mutual attraction was felt almost instantaneously. During that storied hike, we had a close encounter with an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, which is comical in retrospect, as Jenny was hiking in the lead, talking up a storm so much that she didn’t hear the reptilian rattling, and passed within a couple of feet of the confused, coiled critter. It wasn’t until I yelled, “Rattlesnake!”, that she shut up long enough to recognize the danger. Of course, by that time, the snake was no longer confused, just pissed off, as I passed proximally to its chosen defensive position. It kept a close pit watch on both of our infrared signatures as we pardoned our interruption, walked away, and let it get on with its snaky business. This remains my best and most oft-repeated hiking story to this day, in response to which Jenny will undoubtedly retaliate by bringing up several of my own near-death hiking experiences.
On a subsequent hike together, it seemed as if we either dodged or walked through about a zillion golden orb weaver spiderwebs. These are really wonders of nature, spinning the strongest fiber in all of Arachnadelphia — and it’s gold! You can see Jenny admiring one’s work in the picture above. If you should happen to walk into one of their huge webs, it’s almost like walking into a fishnet. That’s how strong the silk is. The female spider pictured would have been about ten times the size of her male partner, had she not eaten him after he did his manly duty. But I digress.
Jenny grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, a career that never came to pass. She is a great lover of nature, both botanic and meat-oriented. (She sometimes disdains Sir Charles Barkley’s mocking conundrum aimed at crazy-ass vegans: “If God didn’t want us to eat animals, then why did He make them out of meat?”) She’s not a Vegan, thank the Lord, but she was once a vegetarian. She loves to hike barefoot, to feel the earth move beneath her feet. I worry vocally about her encountering poisonous snakes and stuff. On a recent hike, I mentioned that, which she scoffingly dismissed.
“How many poisonous snakes have we ever encountered? One?”, she asked.
I reminded her that we’ve sure as hell seen dozens of pygmy rattlesnakes, which happen to be the number one issuer of venomous snake bites in Florida, as well as regularly seeing coral snakes, which infuse a very deadly neurotoxin. Furthermore, I’ve encountered several eastern diamondbacks (which if they’re so shy like they’re supposed to be, why the hell are they always coiled and rattling at me?) and lots of cottonmouth moccasins (which if they’re as aggressive as they’re supposed to be, why the hell are they always looking docile and unthreatening?).
And so it was that on that particular recent barefoot hike, we encountered not one but two pygmy rattlesnakes, one of which was right, smack in da middle of the narrow trail. I chased it with my hiking stick, doing it a favor saving it from Ol’ Penguin Foot’s heavy footfall, and it thanked me by striking my stick twice just to show that it wasn’t taking any shit.
Point made? Nahhh. I doubt it. If there’s anyone in the world as stubborn as this turkey, my Jen-babe is the one.
While AS did not attend the University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign (or is it Champaign-Urbana?), she did graduate from the University of Illinois — the Chicago campus referred to as “The Circle Campus”, colloquially named for a west side spaghetti-like freeway interchange still known as The Circle, even though it officially has been renamed the Jane Byrne Interchange in honor of the late former mayor. The Circle reminds me of witchcraft covens or hippie drum circles, but I digress.
With a degree in microbiology from the University of Illinois, Jenny embarked on a career with Nutrasweet, researching bacterial misbehavior and engineering new microbes, hence the moniker Artificially Sweetened. As if playing God in the lab wasn’t enough, she interrupted her research career for a couple of decades to produce some non-microbial microbes of her own — three of them — who are now all teenagers. The oldest is a sophomore at the Gatorland Zoo, better known as the University of Florida, while the other two, aged seventeen and thirteen, a soccer player and a skateboarder, are still hanging around the house terrorizing Jenny. They’re also occasional participants in the Saturday Madness at The Cave.
Artificially Sweetened became a fan of Penn State football to humor me, but I think at times she actually likes it, even if she won’t admit it. I also got her interested in the Pens and the Steelers. We like to hike and kayak and we are always hoping that we’ll have more time for both, even though life and geezerhood sometimes get in the way. She’s way smarter than I am, although, like me, she doesn’t make shit up most of the time when she pontificates passionately; furthermore, she knows the look on my face when I’m about to mouth off mendaciously, so she can ignore my extemporaneously expostulated, ethereal effluent. However, she has been known to share the joy of my frequent and creative silly neologisms. That she puts up with my bullshit makes her all that much more of a saint.
Jennifer is the love of my life, and the source of great joy. Congratulations to Ms. Artificially Sweetened on being appointed this week’s Nittany Turkey Distinguished Alumna! There will be a media conference and a photo shoot in The Cave after the game. Jenny, I love your artificially sweet (and sometimes sour) self!
Official Turkey Poop Prediction
(You thought you’d never get here, but perseverance pays off — the gold star is yours!!!!) Our Nittany Turkey Official Panel of Esteemed Experts all chose Penn State to win this game at the season’s outset. Penn State opened as a 4.5 point favorite over hapless Illinois on its home turf, but as the week progressed, that spread has widened to almost a touchdown (defensive, of course) — 6.5 points — with an over/under of 44. This suggests a final score of 25-18 or thereabouts in favor of Penn State. As usual, I’m going to be cynical about the Penn State offense and its ability to score points this year. Red zone woes continue, turnovers keep happening, Hack is ineffectual in the pocket, and the running game provided a suspect bright spot last week. Can problems be reversed and the trend of the running game in the waning days of the 2014 regular season? Nahhhh, methinks not. But the vaunted Penn State defense could easily score two touchdowns. Penn State 23, Illinois 18 (that’s three touchdowns, each with a missed extra point for Illinois), in another slopfest. Take the under.
Thursday is this Turkey’s birthday, so I’m getting this out of the way early to keep the day free for the surprise testimonial dinner being thrown by the Sportswriter’s Guild of America. OK, I made that up. I’ll be back with a game recap after the sloppy snoozefest is actually played. Oh, and by the way, Beckman suuuuuuuuuuuucks!
*For those of you who don’t recall why Nittany Nation hates Tim Beckman, read this.
†The Schmuckeyes® is a registered trademark of Nittany Turkey Enterprises, Inc. All rights are reserved, and it better not show up in any articles or posts written by Bob Flounders or David Jones. (Somehow, I think I’m safe.)