Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's return to Beaver Stadium for a battle against Navy.
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 the trip to Charlottesville, Va.,we can say that some aspects of the team have clearly improved but new issues have surfaced and we’re starting to confirm other issues. The Lions now get a much needed two-game stretch at home with opponents that are not nearly as talented as Ohio or Virginia. But, things have to improve on offense in order for the Lions to win, so there’s no room for error. The Lions need to get a couple of W’s or their confidence will be shot. As a sidenote, we had some great discussion on our Total Access Premium board about the last time Navy came to Beaver Stadium, which was noted by posters as the worst weather they had ever been in for a Penn State game. That was in 1974, when the Middies won 7-6.
MH: Yes, the squad certainly made improvements from week one to two, particularly on offense. The final drive in under 1:30 was impressive. But as you point out, Nirav, special teams are anything but special at this point. The kicking unit has focused on all aspects of field goals this week -- snap, hold, kick -- and receiveda lot of reps in practice. We’ll see if that results in improvement. Personally, I am more concerned with the mental part of the kickinfg process at this stage rather than the mechanical part of it.
Who: Navy at Penn State
When: Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, 3:30 p.m. ET, 12:30 p.m. PT
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
Series: Penn State leads 18-17-2
Line: Penn State favored by 6
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: The Big Ten took it on the chin last week against the Pac-12, with both Nebraska and Wisconsin getting beat in West Coast venues. This week, Ohio State hosts Cal. Cal lost to Nevada in week one mainly because the Wolfpack used a balanced attack and gobbled yards at will. Ohio State has a similar type of balanced attack and Braxton Miller is quickly emerging as the Big Ten’s top QB this year. But, this will be the first real test for the Buckeyes. We’ll see how well the Pac-12 performs when they have to hit the road. This should be interesting to see how it plays out.
MH: There are a few big games around college football this week. First, No. 18 Florida heads to No. 23 Tennessee. Both teams have been lackluster in recent years and are looking to show they are forces in the SEC, so this will be a major game for each program. Also, No. 20 Notre Dame heads to No. 10 Michigan State. The Irish eeked out a win against the Boilermakers so they have to bring their A-game if they want a shot at leaving East Lansing with a win.
ND: Last week, we saw Wisconsin show that its running game was not enough to overshadow a new, struggling QB. This week, I think it’s Michigan State’s turn. Last week, Andrew Maxwell looked good against Central Michigan. But, the Spartans face Notre Dame in the night game on ABC. The Spartans have not given up an offensive TD this season and it’ll be interesting to see which Irish QB gets the nod. But I think the Irish are going to win this one primarily because I’m not convinced that Maxwell can handle the pressure of the big game yet and make enough plays with his arm to keep the running game from facing a 9-man front.
MH: I am sure all eyes will be on Louisiana-Monroe against Auburn after LMU knocked off No. 8 Arkansas. But I am going to go with Utah and No. 25 Brigham Young. Sure, the Utes lost a tough one in overtime against Utah State, but I think the combination of a strong running and passing game could give a handful to the BYU front seven.
ND: Offensively, the Lions have to get more consistent play-calling from Bill O’Brien. After showcasing a TE attack in week one, it was mostly non-existent in week two. Additionally, the Lions have to attack the middle of the field and throw some passes in that 15- to 25-yard range down the field. Otherwise, they will continue to face pressure at the line of scrimmage and backs will continue to jump routes. The running game struggles with players dropping like flies. Bill Belton and Derek Day are both listed as day-to-day, which leaves Curtis Dukes as the primary back. Dukes showed a good burst when he carried the ball last week and I’d like to see him get the heavy load this week. Notre Dame gashed Navy on the ground so I expect the Lions to use a heavy running attack.
Defensively, I was very impressed with the play of the front seven last week. They attacked the line of scrimmage and got pressure on the QB. DE Deion Barnes is starting to look like an Aaron Maybin type of rusher off of the edge and Michael Mauti is flying all over the field. I’d like to see the Lions use Gerald Hodges better as it appears that he is the one that is covering the slot more than anyone else. This week, the defense has to play assignment football to stop the Middies. The secondary has to play smart. They have been leaving receivers run free over the middle of the field and the Middies do like to step out of the option and drop the ball down the field. PSU’s safeties have to play their best game of the season.
MH: I think you are right, Nirav. The offensive coaches have to focus on what works while working in what they want to get going. The passing has shown some nice sparks, but they have to spread the ball around and keep the opposing secondary guessing, particularly since defenders are sure to double-up on Allen Robinson. Personally I think it may be good for the coaches to have to rely on Dukes. I think he looked good in limited action and ran confidently against UVA. His size creates a tough matchup and could really give PSU a nice ground dimension. The key is changing up the looks and making the Navy defense wonder what’s coming next.
To build on your point , the defensive front seven has started to hit their stride. However, this is a different type of offense they are facing and requires discipline and trust of their teammates. The staff has been stressing and working on the triple option coverage, but it’s much different when you are facing a team who plays it day in and day out. The secondary likely will not see a ton of work but that does not mean they can just fall asleep. They have to ready for the bait-ball when Navy opts to go deep or wide to pull the pressure off.
ND: After losing a blowout to the Irish in Dublin, the Middies got a week off and now face Penn State. Navy runs it traditional option attack and the offense rests on the capable shoulders of Trey Miller. He runs the ball very well and has a good arm. Unlike past Navy teams, this year’s squad does throw the ball a fair amount. Shawn Lynch is a 6-foot WR who can stretch the field, especially when Miller steps back out of the option and chucks the ball. It will be interesting to see how Ted Roof addresses the need to provide run support out of the secondary without letting the Navy WRs run free on the defense. I think you have to look at senior Keegan Wetzel as the star of this defense. He made a number of plays behind the line of scrimmage against the Irish and he was flat-out awesome against Army at the end of last season. Wetzel is a great representation of everything a Navy football player is. He majors in Systems Engineering and carries a 3.89 GPA.
MH: Miller is a smart quarterback. He doesn’t seem to get flustered, although he did have some issues when his decisions were rushed against the Irish. On the ground Navy likes to use Prentice Christian (5-11, 214) and Gee Gee Greene (5-8, 185). They are both quick and have shown they can pick up major chunks of yardage. The issue for Penn State will be to find Greene ,particularly in traffic given his smaller size. On defense, CB Parrish Gaines stands out to me. He certainly got worked a lot during the Notre Dame game, but he was a tough customer at 6-2, 196 pounds and can lay out a hit.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: One of the big concerns is the Lions’ secondary’s ability to stop the third down and make plays down the field. The Middies are going to have to throw the ball and it will be interesting to see how well the Lions adapt and adjust to prevent big third-down conversions. If Roof can’t get this figured out, don’t be surprised to see the frustration on the entire Penn State football team’s collective face. The defense has to make stops in third-and-long situations in order to give the offense a shot at scoring some points.
MH: Good pick. I am going to go with Penn State’s front four against Miller and his options. The defensive front doesn’t have to snag Miller and company, they just have to play disciplined to force action the east-west rather than north-south.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: Execution is a big one in this game. The defense has to play smart and execute its assignments or Navy could bust big runs pretty regularly. Likewise, the offense has to execute better in the passing game in order to allow the running game to get off of the ground.
MH: Discipline. Playing this option game requires guys to be dedicated to their assignment. The tendency that snags defenses is the “Oh boy, the runner is right there. If I just release my guy I can get him.” And BAM your assignment now has the ball and a 20-yard pickup. The defensive front seven have to trust each other and play disciplined.
ND: Navy really struggled to stop Notre Dame on the ground and I expect O’Brien is going to rely heavily on the run to control the clock and to figure out who his primary back is going to be. The defense will make stop after stop and the Lions will notch their first win of the season.
Penn State 27, Navy 10
MH: Penn State should have the edge on talent, but the key is discipline and focus in this game. Navy comes to PSU with a completely different offensive look that the defense has to be ready for. On offense, the Lions have to close out drives and post points on the board.
Penn State 24, Ohio 14
Until next time,
Fight On State!