We're too lazy to actually go ahead and learn anything about other teams, so we bring in people who know stuff about those teams so we don't have to sound like complete blowhards.
Today: Devon Edwards from Black Shoe Diaries.
SoP: Getting used to new coaches isn't something y'all are super-familiar with. How's the BoB era going? What's his style of play like as a head coach, and how does it fit a roster he didn't assemble?
BSD: Obviously, this is the first new coaching regime in almost 50 yearsat Penn State, and even the assistant coaches had been around for ages. There was lot of excitement around some aspects of the new staff, because no matter how much Penn State fans loved Joe Paterno, they were starting to get pretty annoyed with the complacency that had come to define his final years as a head coach. Players have raved about the new strength program, the offensive line has clearly benefited from having just one coach (the old regime had separate coaches for tackles and interior linemen), and, especially before the sanctions came down, the impact of having a head coach who was an active recruiter could not be understated. On the other hand, there was a lot of skepticism about Ted Roof, who hasn't really left any job under good circumstances.
Through the first month of the year, it seems our optimism has been well earned. David Jones wrote a pretty great piece for the Harrisburg Patriot-News about how Penn State played to win, rather than not to lose, in the conference opener against Illinois (http://www.pennlive.com/
Should this team be better than 3-2, or is that a reasonable record with how the team has played?
It's kind of a travesty that this team is 3-2, because Penn State so badly outplayed Virginia that coming away with a loss just isn't fair. Granted, the offense struggled in the red zone, and shot itself in the foot, but to miss 4 field goals and an extra point in a 1-point loss is just as big a punch in the gut as there can be. The Ohio game was similar, in that Penn State made a couple bad mistakes--Bill Belton lost a fumble in the red zone on the opening drive, and later on, an arm punt that should have been intercepted bounced off a defender's hands and into the waiting arms of an Ohio receiver for a touchdown. Penn State ought to be 4-1 at the least, and could well be 5-0. But the way they've played the last few weeks--especially in how they've become more efficient offensively--they would've won those two games, crazy flukes be damned.
Matt McGloin, in two games against Northwestern, has thrown for six touchdowns and zero interceptions in two wins. I'm told the odds of that happening are similar to being struck by an asteroid, or of Northwestern winning a bowl game. Explain how and why this happened and if it can happen again.
Early in his Penn State career Matt McGloin was as divisive a figure as you could imagine. He'd go out and throw 5 interceptions in the Outback Bowl, or go 1-10 for 0 yards against Alabama, then beat up
on some terrible defenses. Unfortunately for you guys, Northwestern had a couple of those. And yes, we were as shocked as anyone else when he came in to lead that comeback in Joe's 400th win. Now, playing in a Bill O'Brien offense that manages to put its playmakers in the best situation for them to succeed (as opposed to a Galen Hall/Jay Paterno two-headed monster of confusion and miscommunication), he's taken the leap where you can expect "good McGloin" most of the time. He's made some mistakes, of course, but he's also got a 10-2 TD:INT ratio, and one of those picks bounced off the hands of an open receiver. His emergence as a legitimate Big Ten quarterback has been the most pleasant surprise, and the one that's spurred this team to its early season successes.
Can we expect to see Christian Kuntz on the field at all? Pleeeeeeease?
Well, he's played in four of the five games, but hasn't caught a pass or anything. So, look out for the tall dude wearing #17, but don't expect to hear the announcers calling his name.
By now the Big Ten has heard about Michael Mauti's monsterness. Who else should NU fans know about on Penn State's defense?
The strength of this defense is in its front seven, and, after Bill O'Brien decided to retain Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, who've for years coached dominant defensive line and linebacker units, respectively, that's something any Penn State fan could've told you. Mauti is a beast, and, at this point, a presumptive all-conference selection (if not Big Ten DPOY), but the other OLB, Gerald Hodges, is just about as good, and we'll likely see him attacking the line of scrimmage most of the game. DT Jordan Hill is a force inside and will swallow up running backs on handoffs up the middle, and freshman DE Deion Barnes has emerged as a solid pass rusher. The secondary has struggled mightily, but we'll probably see a big hit or two from safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.
So, what's your call for Saturday's game?
Penn State has played really well the last few weeks, but Northwestern is the kind of team that's perfectly suited to exploit its weaknesses (and that's why significantly worse Wildcats teams have given Nittany Lion teams fits the past few years). Not only has Penn State had a ton of trouble stopping the pass--seriously, the numbers would look hideous if Temple's QB actualy hit his many wide open receivers, or if his receivers could catch the ball on the few occasions he got it there--and because of zero depth in the defensive backfield, there's barely enough personnel to run a nickel against the spread. That means Kain Colter against linebackers and I'm kind of terrified. And when opposing offenses have had success on the ground, it's been with a read-option attack, so...yeah, this will not be a low scoring game. But one thing Ted Roof's defense has done extremely well thusfar is force turnovers, and in a game where both offenses can score almost at will, that could be the difference. I expect a Penn State offense that's played well, but only scratched the surface of its potential to have its best game of the season Saturday, and hopefully it's enough to keep the kicking game from being the deciding factor, considering we don't really have one.
It's a coin flip, but Penn State gets the home field (and homer bias) advantage: Nittany Lions 38, Northwestern 34.