Monday, September 12, 2011

PREVIEW: Sept. 10 vs. Alabama (posted 9.9.11)

PSU Football 2011 - Game 2 - No. 3 Alabama (1-0) at No. 23 Penn State (1-0)

This will be a true defensive battle decided by turnovers and special teams. You can stop reading there unless you have another five minutes and really care. ...

Still here? Good. It is amazing how little concern there is about this game in the South. A 'Bama victory is considered a formality. The Georgia-South Carolina game actually is generating a lot more interest among SEC fans. That's ridiculous. Here's a breakdown/preview of this game:

NFL DEFENDERS: 'Bama arguably has the best defense in the country (they've got my vote at this juncture), with some incredible talent at DB, and almost as much at LB. Mel Kiper Jr. rates five 'Bama defensive players (three DBs, an LB and a LB/DE) among his top 25 draftable players for next year. Woah. In last week's 48-7 win over Kent State the 'Bama D acccrued one of the greatest stats ever: in 47 pass attempts, the Tide allowed 99 yards. That has to be an all-time record for most pass attempts by a team that did not throw for 100 yards.

WE GOT DEFENSE TOO: The PSU defense, despite not really having any star power, is very good, rock solid on all levels, and fully capable of stifling 'Bama. A lack of depth on the D-line is the only weakness (and perhaps inexperience at LB, Glenn Carson in particular). Considering "game conditioning'' is a major concern because no one has played a full game yet, the PSU defense, the D-line in particular could wear down. 'Bama's human tank RB Trent Richardson embarrassed PSU last year by breaking tackles relentlessly. The Lions won't let him do that again, at least early on. By late in the game missed tackles on Richardson could be key.

NEW QB: It was very surprising how well 'Bama QB Greg McElroy played in this game last season in Tuscaloosa. He had improved a lot from 2009 to 2010, and he played a fabulous game in the 24-3 win over PSU, perhaps his best ever. He and Richarson both were just too good for PSU. McElroy is gone, and inexperienced QBs who were mediocre in 'Bama's opening game last week are in his place (A.J. McCarron is expected to start). PSU must capitalize on this and force turnovers/interceptions, and perhaps score off of a turnover, or at least give the PSU offense better field position. This is vital because the Lions will have very few if any sustained drives.

BLOCKING, RUNNING, TURNOVERS: 'Bama has the better O-line (PSU was terrible picking up blitzes last week, which is both an OL and RB problem - might see more of FBs Suhey and Zordich in the backfield at to pick up blitzes/pass block), otherwise not that much separates these teams. The QBs are questionable, the RBs excellent  - Penn State's Sials Redd is the real deal - and each defense must be concerned not only with stopping the other team but with forcing turnovers against inexperienced QBs.
BOLDEN/MCGLOIN: Who will play QB for PSU? The guess here is Rob Bolden, perhaps the whole way if he's not committing turnovers (that's a BIG if v. 'Bama). But that's just a guess, I've been off many times in predicting the Matt McGloin-Bolden QB controversy. But if McGloin plays a lot, I fear it might be like the second half of the PSU-OSU or PSU-Florida games last year - ugly. McGloin is simply overmatched vs. quality defenses. Bolden needs to get rid of the ball sooner under pressure (throw it away) and stop taking big hits in and out of the pocket. When scrambling he almost seems to try to run into the oncoming tackler and gets his bell rung. Possible problem for PSU: TE Andrew Szczerba apparently sustained a concussion in last week's opening blowout of Indiana State and might not play. A loss in the blocking game if so, as he's much bigger than the backup Kevin Haplea, who got manhandled some last season as a true freshman. And there's little depth at TE.
SPECIAL TEAMS: 'Bama's special teams are not stellar, but for sure they are better than PSU's were last week, which was pathetic. This week PSU has reinstated strong-legged kicker/punter Anthony Fera, who reportedly was suspended for earning a second underage drinking citation. (Fera, a junior, surely is looking forward to his 21st birthday more than most.) However, it wouldn't be surprising if Fera, who is PSU's best option at all kicking duties, only handles kickoffs, which nonetheless would be a big upgrade over last week's wimpy kickoffs and critical to PSU success re: field position, a huge component of this game. The kickers last week looked terrible and it could be a big problem tomorrow. Not sure if they'll use Fera, walk-on WR Evan Lewis or true freshman Sam Ficken on kicks. Fera might take over for Alex Butterworth punting, or maybe not. The kick and punt coverage simply has to be better than last week. Penn State's coverage units are so erratic from year to year. It's mystifying. Some years they are excellent, others they are awful. It's possible that two other players whose suspensions were just lifted - RB Stephfon Green and CB Derrick Thomas - might be on the coverage units. Both have excelled at it in the past and could provide a nice boost.
VEGAS SAYS: 'Bama is a 10-point favorite. If the Tide wins this game handily, it will be extremely disappointing for PSU. With the home crowd to help disrupt the new 'Bama QBs, there is no reason this should not be a nail-biter in the fourth quarter. It's a huge opportunity for the Nittany Lions.
BEGINNING OF THE END ... REALLY: Also, it would seem, finally, for real, no kidding, this is the end for Joe Paterno, his last season. For real. His age is taking a tangible physical toll. He's slowing down and breaking down. It would be awesome to kick-start his final season with this win.
Turnovers and special teams. The team that wins those areas will win on the scoreboard tomorrow.

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