Thursday, September 15, 2011

PREVIEW: Sept. 17 at Temple (posted 9.15.11)

PSU Football 2011 - Game 3 - Penn State (1-1) at Temple (2-0)

There are three plotlines to monitor with this one:
1. How big of a letdown will PSU incur in the wake of the Alabama defeat, and will it cause the Lions to lose this game?
2. The neverending PSU quarterback saga: Bolden, McGloin, and the Meaning of Life ...
3. How good is Temple really, and is new coach Steve Addazio an upgrade who can take them to an even higher level than the stunning one they achieved under former coach (and former PSU TE) Al Golden?

LETDOWN: This is a similar situation to last season for PSU, when it followed a stinging Week 2 loss to Alabama with games against Temple and another MAC team before opening Big Ten play. Last season that order was reversed, as PSU first played a lackluster 24-0 win over Kent State followed by a somewhat scary 22-13 win over Temple in which inspired play by a Mike Mauti-led defense - this was just before the injury barrage battered the defense - saved the day in the second half (PSU trailed 13-9 at the half). This year it's rejuvenated Temple first (or "juvenated" if that's a word, as they've never really been competitive for any stretch of time in their history until now), then woeful Eastern Michigan. A letdown is unavoidable for PSU. But it's up to the team leaders - Zordich? Mauti? - to minimize its effects and have the team ready to play. In-house player leadership ushers good teams through stretches like this successfully. And hopefully the threat Temple provided in Beaver Stadium last season will have the Lions fully ready to go.

QB, OR NOT QB: Once again this week the depth chart listed "Bolden OR McGloin" as the No. 1 QB. Sigh. This despite the overwhelming evidence that McGloin is overmatched against good defenses, despite the overwhelming consensus that Bolden has earned the opportunity to be No. 1 and could use all of the extra practice and game repetitions, and despite the risk of mutiny amongst team members who also surely must realize Bolden needs to be No. 1 and McGloin No. 2. Hopefully this is the last week of this charade, which really only seems to be happening so that McGloin and his supporters can be let down easily, gradually. What other reason could there be?

ON THE ROAD? PSU technically is playing a road game against Temple, but of course it really is just another in a string of games PSU intermittently has played in Philadelphia against Temple (last in 2007) in which Lions fans occupy 85 percent of the stadium, and those PSU alums in the Philly area who might not regularly get to see the Lions play can catch a game. Other PSU supporters might make a family weekend of it in historic Philadelphia at a nice time of year. And making it all good for the Penn State faithful of course is that PSU always wins this game ... right? The Lions have won 28 straight in this series. Temple hasn't beaten PSU since just before Pearl Harbor. But how good is this Temple team?

BETTER THAN EVER: Temple made a remarkable rise from interminable awfulness under Golden's stewardship - 18 straight losing seasons followed by a 17-8 record the past two seasons - and some Owls insiders actually think Addazio, with his SEC pedigree (assistant coach at Florida) and relatively big-time coaching staff, already has demonstrated he's an upgrade over Golden, at least as a game manager. In two games - against top-flight I-AA program Villanova and on the road at MAC dormat Akron - Temple has steamrolled to huge victories. Florida fans are a little less impressed with Addazio's resume and potential after the struggles of his offense last fall in Gainesville. But Temple has blown away two foes behind the time tested formula of power running and play-action passes. With superstud 220-pound junior RB Bernard Pierce, who already is one of the greatest players in Temple history, PSU's run defense will be tested much like it was against Alabama.

USE THE PLAYBOOK: Bolden can throw mid-range passes very well when he has time. Fullbacks Joe Suhey and Michael Zordich can block, run and catch extremely well. Against Alabama, the FBs pretty much only got to show off the blocking part of their repetoire. So, let's see more mid-range passes to big WRs Derek Moye, Justin Brown and Shawney Kersey (the underutilized Kersey instead of diminutive burner Devon Smith, who has dropped and fumbled his way into a smaller role, hopefully), and more of Zordich and Suhey. Though of course RB Silas Redd should get at least 16-18 carries also - he's too good to not get the most touches in every game.

VEGAS SAYS: The line has fluctuated wildly. At least one betting service says it opened at 12.5 and has settled at 7.5, with the big change probably caused mostly by Temple's early season success, though PSU's QB saga probably also is a factor. Another source says the line was as low as 6.

STILL HOPEFUL, BUT ...: In this space last week it was jokingly concluded that, having lost to Alabama, PSU now will have to settle for an 11-1 record this season. In all seriousness, a very successful season (10 wins) is still very possible, as the Lions have all of the tools to be a Big Ten championship contender, especially on defense. But if Temple is as good as some people think, and if the Lions snooze into Philadelphia, an upset is very possible. And it would have enormous negative ramifications for Penn State football. If you thought the chatter about the QB controversy and the ridiculous use of timeouts early on and everything else that occurred in the Alabama game raised the background noise to a fever pitch, imagine what it will be like if PSU loses this game. And what about inside the program and inside the locker room? Things could get really ugly if PSU doesn't rise to the occasion Saturday. Lose this one, and the viability of having a head football coach in his mid-80s will be front and center in the media spotlight.

FLIP SIDE: PSU takes charge early with good play calling and crisp execution from Bolden and the offense, the Lions jam the box on defense and stifle the talented Pierce, there are no special teams gaffes or silly turnovers, and PSU cruises to an easy three-touchdown win vs Temple (say, 31-10). Then the Lions crush woeful Eastern Michigan and head into Big Ten play on a high note.

THE BOTTOM LINE: PSU's attitude and mentality are the biggest factors in this game. If this team has some true leadership, it will reveal itself in this game.

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