Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's first road trip of the season. The Nittany Lions are at Virginia Saturday.
The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site that 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: The collective groan heard from central Pennsylvania last weekend was made by the Penn State fans who were underwhelmed by the Lions. The first half started out very promising, but the second half looked like a movie that we've all seen before — a lack of adjustments and playmakers. The result was a tough loss to Ohio. But, a road trip to Charlottesville prevents these players from drowning in their sorrows. Virginia got into the win column against Richmond last week and hopes to thwart Penn State's attempts to right the ship.
MH: That was rough — certainly a tale of two halves. Penn State showed early that it can play effectively on both sides of the ball. The key now is doing it for four quarters and not letting bad bounces (that go for touchdowns) take the wind out of the Lions' collective sails.
Who: Penn State at Virginia
When: Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, Noon ET, 9:00 a.m. PT
Where: Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.
Series: Penn State 4-2
Line: Virginia favored by 10
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: Though I am not a fan of all of the conference realignment that took place over the last several months, I do have to admit that some of the regular-season matchups are pretty cool. I hate that Texas A&M has left Texas and Oklahoma behind and is now part of the SEC. But, watching Florida walk into Kyle Field is going to be a blast. The Gators didn't look all that stellar against Bowling Green. Meanwhile, the Aggies had their first game canceled due to Hurricane Isaac. A&M now relies on a redshirt freshman, Johnny Manziel. This should be a good game and it's the site for ESPN's Gameday, too, so you know that the environment in College Station will be electric. I like the Aggies winning at home. Cue the “Fire Muschamp” music.
MH: I don't expect it to be a great matchup, but I find it intriguing that Washington is heading to LSU. This is a unique matchup that we don't see too often. I have to say that the TAMU game you point to is an interesting one. Florida can win or implode. Who knows? This is a matchup that has only been seen twice previously and not in 36 years.
ND: I'm not ready to say that UCLA is back in the top echelon of the Pac-12, but the Bruins sure did look good last weekend against Rice. OK, it was Rice, but still. With Nebraska having to travel all the way to the West Coast and with Rex Burkhead being out, I think the Huskers will have their hands full. I look for Taylor Martinez to come back down to Earth after his eye-opening performance last week.
MH: No. 6 Georgia should not sleep on Missouri. The Bulldogs allowed Buffalo to post 23 points on them and Missouri did what they should have (62-0 over SE Louisiana). This is a long road trip for UGA and Missouri wants to show the college football world that it belongs on the field in the SEC. That's a tall order, but I'm pretty confident Mizzou will be primed for this clash.
ND: Offensively, the Lions have to make plays. That was what was really missing last week. They could complete some passes and make some nice runs, but the big play was not there and that allowed the defense to play much more aggressively, which stifled the Lions in the second half. We'll see what the status of Bill Belton is but I think it's time to give Curtis Dukes and Akeel Lynch some looks. Matt McGloin needs a back who is going to break tackles and not go down at the first bit of contact. Defensively, the Lions have to regroup. I loved the amount of rotations that were used but the DBs were too far off the line of scrimmage and that torched the Lions in the end. Ted Roof has to figure out a way to get pressure on the QB but still ensure that the DBs can make a play on the ball. Right now, that isn't happening.
MH: Fundamentally, I thought the routes were sharper, the tackling was more sound and PSU showed a lot of multiple looks and misdirection. Penn State cannot abandon the run, but as you point out, the Lions have to find a lead horse. I absolutely agree that Lynch deserves a shot, but I also don't think you should leave a guy like Zach Zwinak on the shelf. They have to keep sharp mentally, though. Again, that bounce-for-a-touchdown deflated the team and the wheels came off. This team can't get flustered in that regard.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: The Cavaliers are very balanced on offense and are led by tall, strong QB Michael Rocco. Rocco has a big arm and appears to be making better decisions this year than he did last year. The Cavaliers do run a weird type of tempo offense. Specifically, they huddle up after every play but once they break the huddle, they snap the ball very, very quickly. So, Roof needs to get the guys in Blue lined up and ready to go quickly. The running attack for the Cavaliers is very strong with two slashers and a pounder. Khalek Shepherd and Perry Jones are the slashers and Kevin Parks is the pounder. Defensively, the Cavaliers play a straight-up 4-3 defense and don't blitz much but the defensive line does stunt a ton. Steve Greer is a really good MLB who flies all over the field. Despite dominating the Spiders, the Wahoos didn't force a turnover in the game. We'll see if that trend continues.
MH: Penn State's defense works a no-huddle, so the tempo should not be an issue assuming the Lions can stay focused in this game. The Cavalier run game scares me given that PSU's defense struggled last week in this regard against Ohio. That lacks logic to me. The front seven has to step up and plug holes. The secondary has to be on, too, because the Cavs have too solid receivers in Tim Smith (6-1, 190) and Darius Jennings ( 5-11, 170). Smith caught six balls for 96 yards last week and Jennings caught five for 84 yards. I suspect McGloin will have time to throw given UVA's propensity not to blitz. But he has to see shifts they make up front, because they like to give different looks out of their base.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: I was very surprised to see the front seven of the Lions get pushed around by Ohio and to see a not-so-special RB gash PSU for 111 yards rushing. The Cavaliers' running attack is far better so it'll be interesting to see if the front seven can make more plays behind the line of scrimmage. Despite the fact that the Bobcats ran the ball a total of 47 times, the Lions only generated one tackle-for-loss and that was actually a sack. This matchup should be interesting.
MH: That's a great pick, Nirav. I am going to go with those receivers — Smith and Jennings — against Penn State's secondary. It should be interesting to see if they opt to look to deep routes or keep things inside on the wings to cobble together some drives.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: As I stated earlier, the Lions have to make some big plays on both sides of the ball. Offensively vs. Ohio, the longest play was a 22 yard completion. Defensively, there was only one TFL, no INTs, no forced fumbles and a barely qualifying sack. The Lions have to do the little things to make big momentum shifting plays. Especially on the road.
MH: It comes down to two things in my view: First, defensive pressure (which includes smart blitzing). The Lions must pressure the pocket and disrupt Rocco's grove. He can't have time to let his routes develop. Second, it's staying mentally focused. The team cannot have a complete mental breakdown if and when something goes wrong. It's going to happen. But I also put that on the coaches to keep these players focused and in the game.
ND: The Lions showed very little explosiveness on offense last week and that will allow UVA to stack the box and play press coverage on the wide receivers. Until the offense shows any capacity to make a big gain, the sledding will be tough. The Cavaliers have a great ground game that grinds the defense much like Blankenship did last week.
Virginia 27, Penn State 17
MH: I like a lot of what was seen in the first half against Ohio. And then the wheels came off. I know I'll likely be in the minority (and feel free to blast me), but I think O'Brien can get the team to put together a full game and — if he's learned from Saturday — can pull off a tough road win.
Penn State 17, Virginia 14
Until next time,
Fight On State!