PSU Football 2011: Week 4 - Eastern Michigan (2-1) at Penn State (2-1)
THE SKINNY: Eastern Michigan perennially is one of the worst teams in Division I-A/FBS football. The Eagles were 2-10 last season, so this is a classic paycheck game (Eastern Michigan collects a few hundred thousand dollars from PSU for showing up and playing a football game, and goes home to begin playing its Mid-American Conference schedule) and a classic filler game (PSU had to play someone this week before opening conference play next week at Indiana). So, everybody wins - as long as PSU wins the game.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT EMU: On offense the Eagles will run a lot more than pass, and the defense was very effective for about four possessions against Michigan last week, stifling the Wolverines and delivering some hard blows on Denard Robinson before succumbing 31-3. The two season-opening wins for EMU were against schools from lower classifications, Howard (41-9) and Alabama St. (14-7). That's about it.
ON THE OTHER HAND ... : The PSU offense has reached a point of near paralysis. Dare it be said: It's beginning to look way too much like the post-Zack Mills shoulder injury era of 2003-04, which is a dark, dark place no one ever wants to revisit. The passing game is erratic at best, and PSU has yet to throw a touchdown pass. Doctoral dissertations will be written about the counterproductive effects of the Rob Bolden-Matt McGloin QB controversy/rotation. The play-calling has been predictable (another run on 2nd-and-long?). Regardless of the reasons for the passing game woes, PSU simply must do better on offense, must generate some confidence and momentum this week and next week (the Hoosiers aren't exactly the '85 Bears defense) in order to have a chance in games against Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
MORE BOLDEN? PUH-LEEZE!: QB coach Jay Paterno hinted after the Temple win - okay, we're reading between the lines here - that had Bolden played better early, he would have played more during the game. In other words, they were prepared, seemingly, to give Bolden a higher cut of the snap total than McGloin. PSU fans can only hope that happens this week - that Bolden plays better and gets more snaps. Then, maybe, we can see if Bolden can develop and improve.
OUCH: Through three games Penn State is last in the Big Ten in points (22/game), total offense (306 yards/game), passing offense (158 yards/game) and pass efficiency (85.2). Those are staggeringly inept figures. The pass efficiency rating is nearly 30 points below the next-to-last team in the league, Minnesota, which is playing a converted wide receiver at quarterback. Yes, the Minnesota QB, MarQueis Gray, was the team's second leading receiver in 2010. And yes, the PSU QB rotation is failing.
BACK WHERE HE BELONGS: Head coach Joe Paterno could be on the sideline for the first time this season. He has been recovering from injuries sustained in a practice collison and has been sitting upstairs in a coaches box. Hopefully having Paterno on the sideline improves the misfiring offensive communication channels, as the customary offensive coaches arrangement of Mike McQueary and JoePa on the sideline, and Galen Hall and JayPa up above, has been restored.
MAN DOWN: Backup RB Brandon Beachum, he of the 4th-down conversion late in the 14-10 come-from-behind win at Temple game last week (one of the two critical 4th-down conversions), apparently injured an ankle in practice and will not play. So it's possible Stephfon Green, reinstated to the team a few weeks ago, could see his first RB action of the season, though there have been no indications the coaching staff is going to put him in the game. More likely is that redshirt sophomore Curtis Dukes gets some carries as Silas Redd's backup.
VEGAS SAYS: Penn State is favored by 29. The Massey Ratings composite ranking, which takes the average ranking of seemingly every college football poll or computer ranking known to mankind, has PSU No. 38 and EMU No. 108.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The goals are a little mundane for PSU this week: Throw a couple of touchdown passes, sustain no injuries and move on to the Big Ten schedule. Offensive confidence building and healthy players are this week's only clear objectives.