Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers.
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: The Lions hit the road after an emotional home loss to the Buckeyes. They were dominated at the line of scrimmage and that was the main contributor to the loss. Fortunately, the Lions face a Purdue team that is floundering with five straight losses. Coach Danny Hope’s future is in question and the Boilers are hoping to pull together a big win for their coach.
MH: It was a tough loss, but I suspect O'Brien will have the troop refocused. I wouldn't expect a large home field advantage for Purdue either given the mounting losses, lame duck coach and questionable weather.
Who: Penn State at Purdue
When: Saturday, November 3, 2012, 3:30 pm ET, 12:30 pm PT
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana
Series: The series is tied 3-3-1 with 8 Penn State wins being vacated
Line: Penn State favored by 3 ½ points
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: There is a full slate of games this weekend. But, my eyes are focused on the battle that will take place down in SEC country. Alabama and LSU squared off twice last year and though they split the games, Alabama won the one that mattered for the National Title. LSU has struggled with their QB play but RB Jeremy Hill has come on as a dominant force running the football and that has resulted in an offense identity that has been missing all season. We will see how good Alabama’s defense is up to the challenge. I think this will be a close game but I like Alabama QB A.J. McCarron making a couple of plays through the air to pull this game out for the Tide in the 4th quarter.
MH: No. 4 Oregon heads south to face No. 17 USC. The Trojans are coming off a painful loss to Arizona and are looking to avoid getting steam-rolled by the Ducks. That may be a tough task considering Oregon has an offense that is seemingly scoring at will. USC sees this one as a must win considering a loss puts them at three losses and far from the national title discussions they were having at the beginning of the season.
ND: After the success I had last week picking the Oregon State Beavers to lose to the Huskies, I’m going to stick with the same formula of an Oregon-based undefeated team going on the road. I like the USC Trojans to bounce back from their head-scratching loss to Arizona by knocking off the Oregon Ducks. USC seems to play to the level of their competition and I think the Trojan defense will make enough stops against the Ducks. Plus, this is a big road challenge for Duck QB and freshman, Marcus Mariota. Looks for the Trojans to throw all kinds of pressure at the line of scrimmage to shutdown the running of Mariota, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Meanwhile, Matt Barkley will put another an amazing game through the air and Silas Redd pounding the rock on the ground.
MH: Wow, that would be a huge upset considering Oregon’s offense. Granted, it’s on the road, but I think No. 16 Texas A&M have a good shot to knock off No. 15 Mississippi State. The Aggies have lost to two powerhouses in LSU and Florida, whereas MSU has only lost to Alabama. But beyond that they haven’t played anyone all that impressive. A&M wants to prove they belong on the field with the SEC, and this game could go a long way towards accomplishing that.
ND: The Lions travel to West Lafayette and will hopefully leave the mistakes from last Saturday behind in State College. The offensive line struggled consistently with the blitzes and stunts that Ohio State threw at them. The front five will have to work better together. But, more importantly, Matt McGloin will have to deliver the football quickly and on rhythm. McGloin has shown that past performance does not linger between his earholes for too long and he will have to find a way to move forward and return to the style that he has demonstrated for most of the Big Ten season. Specifically, the Lions need to get back to using the TEs right out of the gate. It took too long for the Lions to exploit the Buckeyes and by the time that they did, the game was over. Look for Jesse James and Matt Lehman to get much more involved earlier in this game. With defenses honing in on Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter, it is now time for another receiver to step up in a big way to continue to put pressure on the secondary to pick their poison. Meanwhile, I think this is the type of game where Bill Belton can succeed. Zach Zwinak is a very good back between the tackles but the Purdue defense will not yield much on the interior but there should be plenty of room on the edge, so look for Belton to continue to get quite a bit of action.
Defensively, the Lions really got gassed in the second half with the Ohio State defense running the ball almost exclusively. Larry Johnson used a heavy rotation on that defensive line but it was not enough to push the Buckeyes backwards and prevent the Buckeyes from getting to the 2nd level with their blocks. Of bigger concern was the breakdown that allowed Jake Stoneburner to run free against the secondary. Though the secondary is significantly understaffed, Jacob Fagnano has struggled consistently this season and it’ll be interesting to see if the coaches continue to use him as part of a rotation at safety. Purdue’s passing attack with Robert Marve is going to require the safeties to play tight coverage and, more importantly, make the right reads. I do expect Ted Roof to continue to bring lots of pressure so that Marve has to deliver the football fast, which benefits the secondary in a big way.
MH: Penn State came out swinging against Ohio State, but a few significant missed opportunities and second half that saw essentially a shutdown and stumbling on both sides of the ball and the Lions are now licking their wounds. They don’t have much time to do so, since they are back on the road to face a Purdue squad that has skidded to four losses in a row, with their last defeat coming at the hands of a lackluster Minnesota squad. As you said Nirav, McGloin has to shake off the OSU loss and get back on task to spreading the ball around and making smart decisions to protect it. He cannot take sacks and throw careless interceptions as he did last week. That turns our attention to the offensive line. The line was manhandled much of the OSU game which clogged up running lanes and had McGloin running for his life at times. Purdue’s line is not as formidable, but that doesn’t mean the line can mosey through this one. They have to play assignments, hold their blocks and seal edges to allow for the offense to assemble drives. I expect that the tight ends will get more involved in this game, more so than last week where Kyle Carter saw action, but it was too little, too late.
Defensively, the Lions are facing a quarterback who will exploit opportunities, particularly when he is given time. I also think Roof will bring the pressure, but I also think we won’t see him take major risks early on. Bill O’Brien does not want the Boiler’s to find early success to build up their momentum. The linebackers for Penn State have to play smart football here. Akeem Shavers is a smart senior running back. He hasn’t busted open any games yet this season, but he can grind out significant yards per carry with little daylight. As you alluded, the secondary is of the most concern here. If the defensive front can get pressure that helps them a lot, but the DBs, particularly the safeties have to play smarter with their coverages.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: The Boilers turn to Robert Marve. He started the season while Caleb Terbush served a one-game suspension. Marve played against Notre Dame but got banged up and then TerBush took the reigns. But, when TerBush struggled last week against Minnesota, Marve came in and guided the Boilers to some really good drives that resulted in points. The main difference between the two signal callers is that Marve is much more accurate and is not a running threat. He gets the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately. Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt share the duties running the ball and both have a very elusive running style and are homerun threats. Both guys are also excellent receivers and are somewhat under-utilized in the passing game. I expect that to change this week. I think the Boilers are going to flood the passing routes in an attempt to give Marve plenty of options in the event that he faces the blitz frequently.
Defensively, the Boilers have two big anchors at the defensive tackle position – Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston. These guys both top the 300-pound mark and have very good feet and are able to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. But, their size and strength pretty much clog the middle of the field and make running at them very, very difficult. The rest of the Boiler defense has been very underwhelming. The only exception is Landon Feichter. Feichter is a sophomore that is leading the Big Ten in picks and is tied for seventh in the nation. He is a play maker at his safety position. But, at 6-foot and a measly 189-pounds, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares against the Penn State TEs.
MH: Marve is a tough quarterback who has a quick release and will make defenses pay if they give him time for things to develop. I suspect that the Purdue offense expects pressure and is going to use a lot of short routes and slants to get Marve out of trouble. Senior Antivian Edison is the primary receiving target for the Boilers. He’s not big at 5-11, 175-pounds, but he’s quick and elusive. The Boilers will likely try to toss out a balanced attack with Shavers and Hunt, both are quick, but neither has taken over a game at this point, although Hunt eclipsed the 100-yrd mark against Eastern Michigan. Both provide enough to diversify the offense and keep the defense guessing to ease up the pressure on Marve.
On the defensive side of things, you mentioned the size the Boilers have at the interior of their line. That should make things a challenge with Zwinak. Although he struggled against OSU, Bill Belton could find a lot of success on the outside wings of Purdue’s defense. The Boiler linebackers have struggled at times and O’Brien can exploit this with some smart play-calling.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: The offensive line really struggled last week against Ohio State. Now, they have to face two behemoths on the Purdue defensive line in Short and Bruce Gaston. These two guys are huge on the interior of that line and will create some real issues for the Penn State line. It’ll be fun to watch how much the line has improved as Coach Bill O’Brien promised.
MH: I am looking to the other side with Purdue’s QB Marve facing the Penn State front four. Marve likes to sit in the pocket and if the PSU line allows him to he will find ways to advance the ball effectively with his arm.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: Ross Ade Stadium during a Purdue losing streak may be the most subdued environment in all of college football. The fans will be basically waiting around for the Boilers to blow it so that they can leave and carry on with the rest of the Saturday festivities. In other words, it’s easy for opposing teams to sleepwalk until they are losing. The Lions have to come out with energy despite last week’s results and execute that first half with precision. If they can do that, then this game will be over at halftime.
MH: I agree. Penn State has to come out swinging and really pounce on opportunities. They cannot afford to let things slip away like last week, else Purdue will exploit the chances and build some momentum up at home.
ND: Purdue led the Big Ten with returning starters this year and you have to believe that Danny Hope wished they hadn’t returned. This squad is lifeless and I think Penn State wins this one going away.
Penn State 35, Purdue 10
MH: Purdue has had a tough run this year with a few play-makers, but a lot of holes on both sides of the ball. Penn State, if they play their game, should be able to handle this one.
Penn State 27, Purdue 16
Until next time,
Fight On State!