The Battle for the Land Grant (Dys)Trophy
Hello again, sports fans, the Nittany Turkey here to give you one last game precap and prediction for this 2014 regular season. I’m getting my licks in early because if I wait until the end of this week, I might well have joined my brethren on the Thanksgiving table in some Rutgers household or something. In today’s piece, which runs the gamut from Hackensacks and Hackerceptions to exotic dancing, I preview the forthcoming Moo U. game, deliver a rant, make a flawless prediction, and wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.
The mighty Penn State Nittany Lions (6-5, 2-5 Big Ten) host the always scrappy #11 Michigan State Spartans (9-2, 6-1) on Senior Day at Beaver Stadium. This is the final game of the season for the seniors (and some would hope for Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan). But I digress. Moo U. is coming off a 45-3 complete domination of Rutgers, while the Nits are still reeling from a 16-14 drubbing at the behest of the Fighting Native Americans, a game that showcased all the flaws that have been evident all year, yet have been loath to improve as the season progressed.
Is it any great wonder that the gambling line opened at Moo U. -12 and widened almost immediately to -13.5? That bullshit performance by Penn State last week should have been enough to send any gamblers heading for the hills. Almost two touchdowns is a lot of points, but by all indications this turkey has seen this season, that ain’t no overlay. If there’s no improvement from last week, Penn State ain’t gonna cover. And you can take dat to da bank.
What’s that you say? Moo U. hasn’t faced a defense like Penn State’s? You’re right. There aren’t many defenses out there that sport the numbers this year’s Nittany Lions defense has produced, although a few questions remain in my mind relating to strength of schedule as it perturbs the rankings. Still, Penn State might well be the best defense Moo U. will see until their bowl game.
Let’s look at how the Spartanicuses did against another decent defense — the Wolverinos. Michigan’s defense allows an average of 308 yards per game; they “held” Moo U. to 446 yards in their 35-11 loss to the Moozers, who employed a balanced attack. Penn State’s run defense is better than Michigan’s, allowing 82 yards per game vs. 107.2; nevertheless, the Carcajous were torched for 219 yards on the ground by their in-state rivals, mostly on the running of Jeremy Langford, who amassed 177 yards. Michigan’s passing defense is on par with Penn State’s — I’d say mediocre — but in their showdown, Connor Cook still managed to throw for 227 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
I’d look for them to run a similar game plan against the Nittany Lions: Rely heavily on the run and go to the pass when needed. Penn State’s defense might do a better job on Langford than Michigan did. In the Rutgers game he was used kind of sparingly — just enough to get his 100 yards. His streak of 100-yard in-conference games is now 15, the longest in the FBS in the past 18 years. You can bet that the senior former cornerback and wide receiver will be gunning for a big finale. Yes, the Lions have allowed a runner to gain over 100 yards this year — Zeke Elliott of tOSU did it. I believe Langford will do it, too — and if the tackling by the PSU defense is as bad as it was against Illinois, 150 yards is not out of the question.
Connor Cook might not be the world’s greatest quarterback, but he’s been more than adequate to keep the Spartans’ offensive juggernaut sailing. Overall, he’s 175-298 for 2720 yards with 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions, for a QBR of 78.1. He’s been sacked nine times. Hey, let’s compare. Early season successes against non-conference opponents sometimes known as cupcakes might overly inflate Christian Hackenberg’s stats, but to date he’s 215-389 for 2411 yards, with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions, for a QBR of 32.6. He’s been sacked 39 times.
Michigan State ranks fifth in the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed, averaging fewer than four per game. They rank fourth in sacks allowed, with Connor Cook having been sacked only nine times for 40 yards this year. That’s some good offensive line work (K. John will call it cheating). You say you’d rather not see a contrasting number for Penn State? Tough shit, here it is. The Nittany Lions rank 119th in sacks allowed: 39 Hackensacks for 237 yards. Oy vey!
Moo U. senior Tony Lippett is Connor Cook’s go-to guy. He’s crossed the 1000 yard mark for the season with 56 receptions for 1071 yards. He’s dangerous in open space, so the damn soft zone defense better not be as porous as it was for Mike Dudek last week!
In poring through past games, I couldn’t find many weaknesses in the Moo U. performance. They’re probably not as good as they were last year, but that’s like saying that it was an off-year for Chateau Lafite-Rothschild when you’re used to drinking Ernest & Julio Gallo. However, to be fair, and to fulfill a promise I made, I shall present our Chief Sanguinarian K. John’s earlier take on the weaknesses of Moo U. reported after he attended the Michigan State vs. Maryland game. Presented forthwith are his comments:
1. Connor Cook locks into Tony Lippett every time he is the intended target. And by locks in, I mean he doesn’t look else where. If Lippett is covered, he gets happy feet and takes off. There are sacks and picks waiting to be had.
2. Maryland didn’t get a lot of pressure but they got quite a bit and they only rushed four for most the game. I think the D-line keeps Connor on the move for much of the game and much like Hack, he doesn’t throw well on the run but is more athletic than people think.
3. The corner that starts opposite Trae Waynes is not very good. Neither is their strong safety and their free safety is over-rated. Having seen them play in person, the outcome of the Oregon and Ohio State games aren’t as surprising as they appeared.
4. Michigan State’s linebackers are great against the run but horrible in coverage. I would have to assume they played big rolls in the before mentioned losses. Maryland tight ends were running free and the underneath stuff was there all night for CJ Brown.
5. Maryland did a pretty good job of defending the Spartan running game through three quarters before a pick six broke the game open. If they play as good as they did on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s slim hope of getting a sixth win is non-existent.
6. Maryland fans were cheering, “Sissy” when Tony Lippett went down with an injury (he did return) early in the game. Classy.
7. Maryland’s uniforms are even uglier in person though the all black is their best outfit.
Bullet points #6 and #7 have little to do with Michigan State, but I included them for completeness.
Hey, did you notice that Moo U. is #3 in the country in Turnovers Gained? Even better than Temple in that category, they’ve recovered 15 fumbles and intercepted 16 passes. They don’t give up the ball, either, as is graphically illustrated by their #1 ranking in the country in Turnover Margin. They’ve lost only six fumbles and six interceptions all year for a turnover margin of +19. Compare that with Penn State’s -2, willya? I can see two Hack INTs and a couple of fumbles for PSU in this game. Moo U. has scored touchdowns three times on defense, one more than Penn State. So, let’s say one of those Hackerceptions will be a pick-six. Disagree? Tell me why.
Special Teams? Maybe Even, Maybe?
Both squads are in the bottom 25 of the FBS with net punting, with the difference being that Moo U. has punted 20 fewer times than Penn State. Michigan State has kicked only 12 field goals this year, as opposed to Penn State’s 22. (Only West Virginia and Ball State have kicked more field goals than the Nittany Lions.) Michigan State sophomore kicker Michael Geiger has missed seven field goals in nineteen attempts, whereas Penn State senior Sam Ficken is 22-26. Moo U.’s special teams are average at best, so there’s some wiggle room here.
Time Is on Their Side (Yes, It Is)
Michigan State leads the nation in defense-wearing time of possession, another factor in their success. They average 35 minutes per game, somewhat better than Penn State’s 32. If both are true to form, we’ll have to play a seven minute overtime. (Just being a dick.)
Time for a Late-Season Rant
What makes anybody think that Hack will suddenly shine in this game against Moo U.? That his receivers suddenly will become open as if the gates of heaven itself have opened? That the offensive line will suddenly act more like a concrete retaining wall than five traffic cones? Get real. And when Hackenberg does get blocking on a run, do you think he’ll suddenly turn into Michael Robinson, crashing the gates of hell to pick up a first down instead of safely ducking out-of-bounds? (That one in the Illinois game really pissed me off.) Nah, at this point in the season, why should he? Maybe he should sit for the Moo U. game just so he can avoid being hurt in order to save himself for next year — wherever he might be playing. You want to blame Hack’s failures on John Donovan, fine, go ahead. Be in denial. As for me, I think his attitude has taken a turn south, which in turn has affected his game.
The truth is somewhere in the middle ground amid the oversimplified absolutes sports fans employ in their reductio ad absurdum arguments for their own pet “solutions”. Get rid of Donovan and everything will be fixed. Sorry, that ain’t so. There is still an inept offensive line and a quarterback who might have mentally given up. There’s enough blame to be spread around. Yet some fans still think firing Donovan will fix the whole mess. They’re delusional at best.
Who thinks that the sputtering Penn State running game will somehow get going? Now, Bill Belton is nursing an injury, so we’re down to one decent runner, Akeel Lynch. Maybe that’s a good thing. He’s reasonably capable, but the offensive line has shown over and over that it is not. They haven’t gotten it together through eleven games, and they won’t get it together for this one. Once again, their problems run deeper and are more complex than loudmouthed fans offering simple-ass solutions would have them. Unless they find some ready-made meat through JuCo transfers, they’re going to be pretty much in the same sorry situation next year. The holdovers just haven’t shown much progress through the year.
We’ve watched this offense get worse instead of better as the season progressed, yet some among us are still hanging onto gossamer threads of flimsy successes exhibited here and there throughout the season, taken out of the context of the six losses in which they occurred. When the eleventh game of the season is the worst effort of them all, what the hell does that tell you? To some, it says Fire John Donovan. Yet the team’s struggles run deeper than that. On offense, their aggregate attitude sucks. That’s partially due to their lack of leadership on the field.
The defense is not always present, either. Last week, the vaunted defense stuck with a zone scheme — for which I can no longer blame Tom Bradley or Jerry Sandusky — which invariably gave Illinois’ best player Mike Dudek too much room to navigate, and generally wound up covering him with a safety. Vindicated from week to week by a talented collection of players on the field, the defensive game plan nevertheless sometimes leads to the same type of questions raised about the offense, only covered up better. Against lowly Illinois we saw a defensive let-down, too, replete with missed tackles. This team has indeed gotten worse.
It isn’t just the assistant coaches. It isn’t just the players. James Franklin himself has repeatedly shown that his clock management skills are suspect, if not completely absent. His play calling is sometimes called into question by dilettante fans, including this turkey. We’re uninformed idiots, true, but ya gotta wonder. I think there’s enough coaching ineptitude to go around on this staff, and the program is paying top dollar for it.
I guess that’s enough of a rant for now. Just sayin’.
The Darkest Hour Comes Just Before Dawn
Hell, yeah! It did so in 2004, the last of the [cue cello] Dark Years. After what was heretofore the crappiest game in Nittany Lion history, a 14-7 home loss to Northwestern, the Lions came back to beat Indiana 22-18 on their turf, and crowned off a non-bowl-eligible 4-7 season with a win over unranked Moo U., 37-13.
Golly, gee, wow, Mr. Wizard, can that happen this year?
Michigan State vs. Penn State: The Battle for the Land Grant Trophy
This game was designated by the Big Ten as Penn State and Michigan State’s great end-of-season rivalry game, with the two schools being relative latecomers to the conference and with all the other rivalry games snatched up in the historical miasma. A trophy had to be designed to commemorate each year’s victor, and alas, the piece of shit pictured above, the Land Grant Trophy, which looked like it was designed by third-grade industrial arts students, became the dubious prize for the winner. I’ve prattled on ad nauseam about this abomination in prior posts, so I won’t go into great detail here.
Due to divisional realignment in the conference occurring after the admission of Nebraska, the Land Grant Trophy has been gathering dust in the Michigan State University trophy case since 2010. They might as well not bring it to the game, because back to East Lansing is where it is going. It’s ugly enough for it to belong there, anyway.
Regardless of the outcome of this game, the Nittany Lions are bowl-eligible. The present consensus among a bunch of fans and sportswriters with their heads up their asses is that the Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame or Duke would be an appropriate destination. Sure it is! It’s suitably cold and probably snowy. Late December in the Bronx! The vacation spot of the nation! Da South Bronx! Fort Apache! Da Fulton Fish Market! Tenements! It’s all there! Sure, it’s colloquially the Toilet Bowl, even if it’s not in Wisconsin, but this one could be dubbed the Refrigerator Bowl just as well.
At present, it looks like a typical cold late fall Pennsylvania day without much precipitation in the forecast for the weekend, after a potential 4-6″ of snow during the week. A little sun for the solar freaks in the crowd will serve to mitigate the high temperature of only 39º. Shouldn’t affect play too much except as an excuse for fumbleosis and interceptitis.
Finally, a Non-Noon Game
We get a 3:30 start against Michigan State. That gives us some hope that our boys will be awake for the game. It’ll be a ESPN2-ABC reverse mirror, but at the time this is being written, the broadcast crew has not yet been announced. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if it turned out to be Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, and Jeannine Edwards.
Distinguished Alumnus of the Week
There were lots of choices among Moo U. graduations, but no standouts for me. Linda Chapin, the former Orange County (Florida) commissioner who famously championed the drive to make the exotic dancers on Orlando’s sleazy South Orange Blossom Trail to cover their nipples back in the 1980s and 1990s was tempting, but secular. (They wound up covering them with Scotch® Magic™ Tape in order to comically comply with the county ordinance, and some of the exotic dancing emporiums spilled over into neighboring counties where they had more freedom — just because I knew you’d ask.) I’ve used too many column-inches already, so this is all you’ll get.
Official Turkey Poop Prediction
So, here we go. The last game of the regular season before a potential Toilet Bowl — the PSU seniors’ last stand. Will they embarrass or redeem themselves?
The Nittany Turkey Official Turkey Poop Prediction takes into account many factors, and then it is pulled straight out of my ass. The factors I’ve considered are pretty well represented above. My ass is not, but that will be apparent in the final prediction. At season’s outset, I asked you all to predict the season; at that point only one of you, infrequent reader Toejam, predicted that Moo U. would win this game. Everybody was in awe of Moo U. then, but this is now, and folks seem less intimidated, probably due to the great respect we’ve developed for the Penn State defense. So, lots of people are giving the Nittany Lions a chance against the big green machine.
As I mentioned above, the spread for this game opened at MSU -12 and rapidly widened to MSU -13.5. It has since bounced back to MSU -13, so we’ll leave it there for the sake of our predictive inaccuracy. The over/under is currently listed at TFE (too fucking early), but for the sake of this prediction, my computer models are suggesting 45. That, combined with the 13-point spread suggests a Moo U. victory by a score of something like 29-16. Computer model, don’t fail me now! Michigan State 31, Penn State 16. Take the over (assuming the o/u winds up at 45).
It’s that time of year again when turkeys must look over their shoulder and avoid the ax at all costs. So, don’t ax!
It’s also the time of year to be with friends and family and give thanks for all the goodness of the year just past. This Thanksgiving, among many other things, I’m thankful for my readers (all six of you, I jokingly say, but I know there are others who don’t comment) and for their variety of opinions on all matters Penn State and otherwise. You’re all part of my life, and you provide me countless hours of enjoyment, so Happy Thanksgiving, Nittany Turkey readers, and have an enjoyable time with your friends and family. Thanks for being there!
I’ll be back after the game and perhaps in the interim with some comments about Vicky Triponey (nothing like dredging up a name from the past). Don’t eat too much turkey!
*No asterisks have been harmed in the creation of this article.