Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's season-opener with Ohio.
The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.
The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
As an aside, in keeping up with the times, we are converting The Blitz from a pdf format to an online story.
ND: After years of the same approach, it is time to make changes and turn a new page. But, enough about the revised format of The Blitz! The Lions finally kick off the season after a very tumultuous off-season. Many faces have changed and the uniforms are different, but this is Penn State football and the fans are ready to talk about football for a change.
MH: It's been a long, tough road, but we're opening a new chapter on Penn State football. It'll be interesting and exciting to see the new Nittany Lion brand of football, which has adopted an NFL style to the preparation and process. We'll see what Bill O'Brien has slated for the Bobcats and Lion fans.
Who: Ohio at Penn State
When: Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, Noon ET, 9:00 am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.
Series: Penn State 5-0
Line: Penn State favored by 6.
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: You gotta look at the Michigan game against Alabama as the premier matchup this week. Denard Robinson has made a career out of putting up huge numbers in the month of September. This year, he faces the Tide in Dallas to kick off the season. Bama has to replace a ton of starters on defense and a star running back. But, I expect that Nick Saban will play a ball-control, slow, methodical offense and that will keep Robinson on the sideline. I like the Wolverines to keep the game close. In the end, I think the Tide will roll. But it will be a closer score than the odds makers are predicting.
MH: That's an intriguing one. Another is No. 24 Boise at No. 13 Michigan State. Boise has been a handful for squads in recent years and very much plays up to its competition. This is a Friday primetime clash, so the pressure will be on MSU to open up fast and hard. But Boise's offensive attack could give the Spartans fits, particularly this early in the season.
ND: Offensively, I expect the Lions to keep it relatively simple. I'm thinking that O'Brien wants to make sure that the process of calling the game is flawless. This means calling in the plays, getting kids in the right spots, making the appropriate reads and execution. I expect the Lions to focus on the run with Bill Belton. Defensively, look for Ted Roof to try to put pressure on Bobcat QB Tyler Tettleton. Ohio has a really good passing attack and pressure is the great equalizer, especially in a fast-paced offense.
MH: I completely agree that we'll see more aggression up front and some press coverage from the secondary. This is a high-risk/high-reward defense. You will see some big plays by the defense, but also some big pickups by the Ohio offense on some bad bets as PSU works out the kinks. I do not expect Roof to put the pressure on PSU's secondary; rather he will look for the front seven to push things on the pocket. As for the offense, O'Brien and company are not going to put this or any game on Matt McGloin's shoulders. Watch for the Lions to run multiple looks and diversify the ball distribution. I suspect we'll see a heavier dose of runs early to get the ground game going.
TAKE ME TO THE OTHER SIDE
ND: Ohio is led by Frank Solich, who is no stranger to playing in big games in big venues. He will prepare the team and keep IT focused. Ohio played in the MAC championship last year and returns 15 starters from that squad. Offensively, Tettleton is on pace to be the best QB ever at Ohio. The Bobcats run a fast-paced offense with lots of no-huddle. Tettleton is a kid who can run really well and has an excellent arm. Ohio has a top-notch TE in Jordan Thompson and WR Donte Foster caught 30 passes for five TDs last season. Defensively, they are very strong. This might be the best defense that PSU will face until the Buckeyes come calling. Tremayne Scott was a second-team All-MAC player at DE. He is very athletic at the position and could pose some problems. Travis Carrie is a playmaker at CB, but is now listed as out of the game, which changes up things for the OU defense. But Gerald Moore is a standout at safety and he finished second on in the team in tackles last year. Also, K Matt Keller was the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year, which means that the Bobcats can get points on the board despite being stalled by the Lions.
MH: Solich knows he has a big opportunity here -- on the road against a marquee program that is licking its wounds. As opposed to PSU, I suspect Solich will put a lot on his veteran quarterback in an attempt to spread out Penn State's secondary and open things up up front for the ground game. Thompson will be Tettleton's safety valve here, so the linebackers have to contain him. The PSU defense has focused quite a bit on running no-huddle, which should pay dividends against this offense's fast-paced approach. I also expect that the Lions' off-season conditioning will have them stronger and better prepared as the game wears on.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
ND: The Bobcats have a strong secondary and I think the matchup between Ohio's DBs and McGloin is going to be fun to watch. The Bobcats have experience and Moore is a playmaker back there. It will be interesting to see how this young squad of WRs performers against OU's DBs and whether McGloin plays within himself or if he tries to force the agenda.
MH: With a veteran quarterback I think the matchup between Tettleton and the PSU front four will be entertaining and integral to the outcome of the game. If Larry Johnson can get his rotation going and get consistent pressure and perhaps a strong rush or even sack early it should force some decisions up front.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: The Lions have to be able to limit their mental mistakes. With a new offensive scheme in place, the team has to make the right reads, handle the right assignments and take care of the football. On the other side of the ball, the kids have to be ready for the pace of the offense and be in the right spots or they will get exposed.
MH: It comes down to the basics here. With emotions high, the Nittany Lions have to stick with their assignments, set and hold their blocks and protect the ball. It really comes down to them taking advantage of what this staff has preached to them for the past eight months.
ND: The offense will be working out some kinks but the running game should be able to control the line. Meanwhile, the front seven will shut down Solich's attack and keep the Bobcats in neutral much of the game.
Penn State 21, Ohio 10
MH: I expect the offense to have some backfires, but to pick it up as things progress. The PSU lines (offensive and defensive) should be bigger and stronger, and I believe will be the decisive factors in this game. I also expect that the running game will have some impressive results.
Penn State 24, Ohio 14
Until next time,
Fight On State!