Let’s face it, folks. We need something to look forward to in a year when our beloved Nittany Lions are heading for that great homogenizer, the Mediocrity Mixmaster, the virtual appliance that blends marginal football programs into a special sauce of only passing interest to fans who are really after the Grade A beef. We have what we wanted—a game to look forward to. We’re also kidding ourselves into believing that it means something.
“Me and my friends have always been winners and that’s something you have to expect to do.” —Matt McGloin
On Saturday night before a national ESPN audience (undoubtedly much to that Mickey Mouse subsidiary’s regret), the Penn State Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) host the Michigan Wolverines (5-2, 1-2) in a battle for uncontested supremacy over the middle of the Big Ten pack. The loser descends to a 1-3 Big Ten record, which sends it back to the cellar. A “student white-out” has been declared, and students are going through the motions of constructing the obligatory “Paternoville”, both of which are now growing a bit meaningless and old due to overuse in conjunction with insignificant games such as this one. They’re even having difficulty getting the local restaurants to bring food for the poor kids.
However, that’s how far the program has sunk since its heyday. Three good years in the current decade were about it. The defense is no longer feared; the offense has been largely nonexistent. Line play on both sides of the ball has been horrendous. And to add injury to insult, you can’t even count this year’s serious injuries on your fingers, toes, and whatever other appendages you can muster.
At this year’s outset, oblivious fans and pundits viewed the Michigan game as a sure win. Their only worries were Alabama, Iowa, and Ohio State, all road games. After all, Michigan has sucked badly ever since Rich Rodriguez took over the program from Lloyd Carr, and we don’t like Rich Rodriguez, do we? (There’s this “I don’t like _________” thing applied to coaches. Tressel’s sweater sucks, Charlie Weis is too fat, Bielema is an asshole, I hate Saban, Spurrier is an arrogant prick, etc. I’ve never figured out how people can rely on such stupid, arbitrary, uninformed, superficial ad hominem assessments of coaches to arrive at conclusions about football teams. Dumbasses! But I digress).
ESPN obviously saw it as a potential cash cow when they scheduled it in prime time for a national audience. Boy, what a mistake they made. Good thing for them that only the tail end of the Auburn – Mississippi game on CBS will intersect with it. However, that game leads into Kentucky – Mississippi State on CBS and there’ll be intense intranetwork competion from Ohio State – Minnesota and Oregon – USC. Don’t be surprised if ESPN decides to cut its losses at some point and switches to another game.
This Turkey does not mean to ignore the Penn State – Michigan rivalry, which has been memorable but is on the wane. Penn State is in its decline, while Michigan has been rebuilding the Rodriguez way (I know — you don’t like him), and as soon as they figure out how to put a defense on the field, they’ll be playing at a high level again. Michigan has absolutely pwned PSU in this rivalry, with a 10-5 all-time record including 5-2 at Beaver Stadium. Let’s face it, folks—these teams just don’t like each other; they have a history. (I just slipped in a sportscaster cliche and you didn’t even see it coming.) Alas, PSU won’t be playing Michigan for the next couple of years due to league expansion. The rivalry will be diluted.
Rodriguez has found himself a scamperwagon of a quarterback to force Tate Forcier to a lesser, but still significant, role. Denard Robinson is the leading rusher, having carried 137 times for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns thus far. Robinson also has nine touchdowns throwing, where he is 97-143 for 1309 yards and four interceptions. He ranks 16th in passing efficiency among all NCAA Division I-A quarterbacks. But it is his slipperiness that is the big danger. He has run for less than 100 yards in only one game this year (Michigan State), and has exceeded 200 yards against Notre Dame and Indiana. He ranks first in the conference and second nationally. Robinson had 105 yards against Iowa’s tough defense. He injured his shoulder in that game, but he says that he feels one hundred per cent and will start on Saturday.
The bad news is that the rest of the team is a mess. Defense is nearly nonexistent, ranking 104th. The Wolverines are giving up more than 440 yards and more than 28 points per game. Their turnover margin is last in the Big Ten and 87th nationally. Only one defensive player is worthy of mention: Mike Martin, a 6-2″/299 lb tackle who will be playing on Sundays. Special teams suck, too. Their kicking, punting, and return game are horrendous.
Michigan has beaten the teams it was supposed to beat and lost to the teams it was supposed to lose to (Moo U. and Iowa). They’ll probably lose to Wisconsin and Ohio State and will wind up with four or five losses, a trip to a minor bowl, and some optimism for the future.
It is being reported that Scranton sophomore Matt McGloin will be starting at quarterback for Penn State. Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror says that Joe Paterno confirmed that McGloin will start at QB and he hopes to go with one quarterback. Rob Bolden suffered a concussion in last Saturday’s Minnesota game because his offensive line sucks, and was pulled from the game midway through the second quarter. McGloin came in and did a fair job of finishing the game, especially given that he hasn’t had any game reps this year. Kevin Newsome had been thought to be the second-string quarterback, but he has some serious deficits in reading defenses and passing. Bolden passed the cognitive function test the second time around, but Penn State has always been more concerned about a player’s ultimate well being than to play him when there is any possibility of an injury recurrence. While fans think this is a “big game”, Joe Paterno knows that it will make little difference one way or the other in Bolden’s life, whereas brain damage from repeated head trauma behind a nonexistent offensive line so close to a prior injury could have a lasting deleterious effect. This Turkey applauds Joe, the team doctors, and the coaching staff for making the tough but proper choice to not jeopardize this promising young man’s future.
What can we expect from McGloin? (We need a nickname for him. “The Scranton Shillelagh” is lame. That’s because I made it up.) He does not lack self-confidence, as was evidenced when he came in last week and tossed a touchdown pass right off the bat. He also got greedy later on, wanting to go deep, but hitting a maroon jersey. He had absolutely nothing to lose coming in off the bench unexpectedly. However, this week, he’s been practicing and planning on starting. (Even though Paterno had said that there would be a competition between him and Newsome to see who would start if Bolden isn’t able to go, Newsome has some limitations that would lead one to believe that everyone knew McGloin was the man.) Nerves might set in this time, playing in front of a 109,000 packed Beaver Stadium. Still, I like his confidence, his humility, and his take-charge attitude.
You know about the Penn State offensive line not being able to create running room, so I won’t dwell on that other than to gratuitously mention that the McCabe Sisters could do a better job in there. In this game, it would behoove the Nittany Lions to have some semblance of a running game. If they control the clock, they keep the high octane Michigan offense off the field and position themselves for the best chance of winning. I have no doubts that the coaching staff is doing their Kegels in preparation for a game with a first-time starting quarterback. They’re going to want to run up a gut that’s as nonexistent as Jenn Sterger’s on two out of three plays. It is this Turkey’s hope that they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Evan Royster is 30 yards from becoming Penn State’s all-time rushing leader, and he’ll probably get there this week. He is a step slower than last year and he has a crappier offensive line in front of him, but he should be able to run for 100 yards against the collection of matadors (with the exception of Martin) that comprise the Wolverines’ defense—if the coaching staff decides to keep him in the game. Of late, Silas Redd and Stephfon Green have been getting lots of game reps.
Look, folks, I know you would rather see some flashy passing, especially against this incompetent defense, but the passing offense wasn’t all that great with Bolden, and if McGloin could have beaten him out for the job, he would have.
Taking care of the ball is another key concept for Penn State. With Michigan being last in the conference in turnover ratio, there will be opportunities to pounce on the ball. If the Wolverines want to shoot themselves in the footsies, let Penn State provide the pedicure so Rodriguez’s boys can see those red toenails clearly enough to blow them off, one by one. The Nittany Lions need to not nullify the opportunities provided by the opposition by making errors of their own. They need to do as good a job as was done by Jenn Sterger’s dearly departed breast implants.
This group of Nittany Lions is hard to watch. We began the season with a marginally talented group and went downhill due to a plethora of injuries to starters. Apathy and ennui, which seemed present at the season’s outset, were exacerbated by the injuries and the absence of team leadership, which I keep harping on here. Time after time, in viewing these games I look at opponents’ sidelines and see animated players pumping each other up and cheering their team on the field. Looking across to the Penn State side, I see guys standing around or sitting on the bench motionless and e-motionless. They seem to take losses in stride, probably because they don’t expect to win. Helluva attitude, if I’ve gauged it correctly. This makes it very difficult for me get emotionally engaged with these games. I want to put my foot up each and every ass standing around looking lost! But I don’t want to ruin my TV.
Hey, as a brief digression onto a related topic, I’m reading a book called Death to the BCS. It looks inside the bowl system and why a playoff series might never happen. Greed runs rampant in the BCS and the bowls; the author has done some in-depth research into the machinations of the BCS, the NCAA, and the Big Ten. Joe Paterno is mentioned throughout as a playoff advocate. I’m a little more than halfway through the book at the moment. I shall post a complete review here when I am finished with it.
Back to the game, it looks like decent football weather, at least inasmuch as the absence of precipitation makes it such. It will be partly sunny with a high of 56 in Happy Valley, and temperatures will head south to 36 after sundown. So it will be a little chilly after the game and you’ll probably partake of some fine State College antifreeze.
That brings us to the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the Official Turkey Poop Prediction for the 2010 opus of the Penn State – Michigan game. The spread opened at Penn State favored by 1.5 but bettors pushed it the other direction, with Michigan now favored by 3. I suspect that with McGloin announced as the PSU starter, more late action will come in on Michigan’s side of the ledger, so look for that spread to widen by game time Saturday. The over/under was hard to find. It was off the board at the books I normally check first, but I finally found a joint that was taking action at 53. This, coupled with the spread of 3, suggests a final score in the neighborhood of 28-25. This Turkey doesn’t see it that close at all. First of all, if Robinson is 100%, the Wolverines will surely score more than 28 points against Penn State’s crippled defense, which was never any good even without all the injuries. The Maize and Blue put up 28 points against Iowa’s stout defense with Robinson out for part of the game. Meanwhile, Penn State hasn’t looked all that great on offense, but against the Gophers, who suck as badly as Michigan on defense, they managed to put up 33. When your offensive MVP is probably your place kicker, you know you suck. I think Robinson can equal his 270 yard game here and I think Michigan wins ugly. Let’s say Michigan 45, Penn State 31, and, by all means, take the over!