Saturday Excitement or Anticlimax — Take Your Pick
By kickoff time of Saturday’s game pitting the #8 Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten) against the abysmally performing Michigan State Spartans (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten), we’ll know whether it is to be just another game or the last hurdle in the path of Penn State’s surprising drive toward the Big Ten Championship game.
Unless you’ve been sleeping through the past few weeks, you know that two things stand in the way of a berth in the bigass game in Indianapolis. The first is the Michigan vs. Ohio State game; the second is the Michigan State vs. Penn State game. Should Ohio State win its game at 12:00 noon, the stage is set for the biggest game for the Nittany Lions in I don’t know how long, already. If not, then Penn State and Moo U. play for the Land Grant Trophy, which no one wants.
Kickoff time in St Joe Memorial Stadium at Beaver is 3:30 PM. Unless UM vs. tOSU goes into overtime at the Horseshoe, we’ll know what Moo U. represents. The Nittany Lions will want to win in either case, whether it is to get to the championship game or to impress the bowl committees (and win a crappy trophy).
How Moo U. and Penn State got here.
The big question is what sort of opponent will Moo U. be? Will they play as they did in their 17-16 loss to Ohio State last Saturday, or will they play like the piece of crap they had been since beating Notre Dame in week two until their bye week scrimmage with Rutgers two weeks ago? Seems as if that bye week woke them up against tOSU such that it was a winnable game all the way up to head coach Mark Dantonio’s hotly debated decision to go for two while trailing by one with less than five minutes left.
Moo U. played their asses off against tOSU. They actually led in total yards, 334-310, largely due to the efforts of sophomore running back LJ Scott, who scampered for a season-high 160 yards rushing. (Scott added 38 yards receiving, also a season high. Scott has averaged 5.6 yards per carry this year, amassing 935 yards thus far. He looks to the Penn State game to get to 1000. This is a guy to watch out for — he was very impressive against the Buckeyes’ defense.)
But I digress. If Dantonio hadn’t gambled on going for two, who the hell knows what would have happened? It was close, and it gave Penn State fans a good scare. Had Moo U. won, we would be looking at a completely different scenario for the forthcoming weekend.
Bye week for Penn State
Meanwhile, Penn State is coming off a bye week scrimmage of their own with Rutgers, somehow managing to post a 39-0 score after the offense slept through the first half once again. They scored only nine somnolent points before the break. The Penn State “Second Half Team” Nittany Lions have had a lot of trouble waking up, as you know. But Rutgers is such a sad-ass high school team, they couldn’t even capitalize when Penn State muffed the opening kickoff return, handing the Scarlet Knights the ball at the Penn State 19. Otherwise, PSU dominated, albeit soporifically. They held the ball for over 35 minutes, and wound up with 549 total yards to Rutgers’ 87, and 25 first downs to Rutgers’ 5. PSU even wound up with 10 of 19 third down conversions, while poor, hapless Rutgers was one of fourteen. This is all the recap you’ll get from this turkey, because after all, it was a bye week.
Statswise, whatever the hell that means.
In spite of their crappy season, Moo U. is mostly middle-of-the-pack in the Big Ten, statswise. Most notably with respect to our game, they rank third in pass defense behind Michigan and Ohio State. Furthermore, they are the most penalized team in the Big Ten by a margin of 4.7 yards per game, having been penalized 701 yards thus far this season.
Penn State is now out of the Big Ten cellar with respect to third down conversions, as Rutgers and Illinois have sunk beneath the Nittany Lions, who were helped along with a better than 50% rate during the bye week. The good news here is that Michigan State is third from the bottom in defending third-down conversions. May the Nittany Lions continue on the upswing!
Tyler O’Connor, a senior from Lima, Ohio, is the latest in a long line of serviceable Moo U. quarterbacks. Against the Buckeyes’ defense, he didn’t look so hot: 6-16 for 105 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. But then again, who does look good against tOSU defense? O’Connor ranks fourth in the B10 in pass efficiency, just ahead of Trace McSorley.
Michigan State’s once legendary defense has performed rather ordinarily this season. They rank ninth in scoring defense, seventh in total defense, and tenth in rush defense. More bad news involves the ankle injury to lineman Malik McDowell, who didn’t play the past two games. If Penn State can manage to cobble together a serviceable patchwork offensive line, Saquon Barkley should have a productive day.
There are a veritable plethora of intangibles, and I am thinking that this game will hinge on them more than the raw, unemotional stats I presented above. Some of the questions:
- What does Moo U. have to gain in this game? They played their asses off against tOSU, so will they have anything left in the tank, or will they be in a collective turkey coma? Not much difference between 4-8 and 3-9. They’re both bowl ineligible and they both suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
- In spite of the above, will the Spartans’ pride take hold and drive them to play as they did against the Buckeyes? Will Moo U. relish the role of spoilers if Penn State is in a position to be East Division champs?
- Will the Nittany Lions rise to the occasion and play four full quarters, or will they disastrously sleep through the first half while Moo U. pounds them? I keep harping on this, but until I see them playing four quarters consistently well, I will continue to do so.
- Will Penn State let the spread favoring them by twelve points or so go to their youthful heads? Got to focus on the task at hand, regardless of what Las Vegas and their customers think.
- Can James Franklin really succeed with his “Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, U., U., U., U.” tweets to focus the team on this game and not beyond?
We don’t know the answers to these rhetorical questions and we won’t until Saturday afternoon.
No Alumnus of the Week
Short week, so let me skip the extraneous crap this time.
Right now, it looks like a great day for football, partly cloudy with a high of 47°F. Northwest winds of 10 mph will gust to 15. The Max UV index is 1, meaning that no one will be getting much of a sunburn. No precipitation is forecast.
The Bottom Line
Before I get to the business at hand, it is appropriate to note that Ohio State is favored over Michigan by a touchdown. But theirs is a rivalry game that has a long list of implications that transcend bookmakers’ odds and gamblers’ betting one way or another. Coaches have lost their jobs by losing this game; the stakes are that high. It is one of the huge rivalries in the country, and the biggest rivalry in the Big Ten. On this game, Penn State’s fate depends. Just to utter the trite catch phrase one more time, Michigan controls its own destiny, although some of its own destiny rides on its fallen starting quarterback Wilton Speight having his question mark erased for this clash.
Far less importantly to Michigan is that they control Penn State’s destiny, which is riding on Ohio State’s coattails.
I am worried about Penn State being up to the task of beating Moo U. this year. This is new territory for these kids, and they just don’t seem to have the ability to step up on the field and play four quarters. (There, I said it again!) Good fortune has shone on them this season, starting with the OT win over Minnesota and extending to the angel on their shoulder in the Ohio State game.
Until they can put four good quarters together, the Nittany Lions are nowhere near as good as their record indicates. They’re getting better, but setbacks on the offensive line could sink their chances. And Moo U. could have one good game left in them. Do not let the Spartans’ shitty season delude you into believing that this is a slam-dunk. It won’t be.
Here’s the odds.
Penn State is favored by twelve, with an over/under of 54½. The twelve point spread at the Mirage book is, in this turkey’s opinion and in the parlance of gambling, an overlay. You can even shop around and get 13 points elsewhere. Sheer lunacy! The game will be decided by fewer than four points. Wanna bet? Some Sanguinarians will jump on that bet, and it will be like jumping off a cliff.
In any case, the spread plus the over/under equate to a Penn State home victory by a score of something like 28-16, but as I’ve mentioned, I think it will be too close for comfort. It won’t be decided until late in the game. Penn State 23, Moo U. 20. Take the under.
Gobble, gobble, gobble
I want to take this opportunity to wish all six of my loyal readers a very happy Thanksgiving, with copious amounts of turkey and all the extras. I particularly want to include our new readers, whom I haven’t yet had a chance to offend, in my wishes. Please enjoy your friends and family, travel safely, and watch the Steelers beat Indy on Thursday night while the women and kids go to the movies and plot their Friday shopping madness.
And now, this turkey must hunker down in his Thanksgiving protection bunker. They’re coming for me…. Oh, noooooo….
If I escape the chopping block, I’ll be back after the game with a recap, if you all can stand any more turkey at that point!