Saying that times are tough at Penn State is the understatement of the year. No one could have possibly imagined that the Nittany Lions would have a bad streak like they have over the past two years, and chances are that no one could have imagined a day when many fans and reporters would be calling for the Paterno era to come to an end. This Penn State team started out to be even worse than people thought they'd be coming into the season, dropping their first four games and scoring under 30 combined points in those losses.
As fate would have it though, the week before the Ohio State game, the Nittany Lions scored an upset win at Northwestern and appear to be coming into their home game with the Buckeyes with renewed confidence. Combine that with OSU's offensive struggles, and people are looking at this game as one that may be PSU's next win -- a win that, as you know, would give Joe Paterno the all-time D-I wins record over Bear Bryant.
Like Luke said to the rest of the crew on the Millennium Falcon, I have a bad feeling about this.
Let's face it... you can see this coming a mile away. Everything is set up beautifully for Penn State. A game that two weeks ago everyone thought OSU would win has now turned into a game that would surprise no one if the Buckeyes lost.
So I'm going to pick Penn State to win, right?
Like the Millennium Falcon, OSU is caught in the tractor beam, getting pulled towards Happy Valley, and there is no escape. However, in that situation, Luke, Han, Chewie, and co. were huge underdogs. OSU is in a much better situation as the Bucks are still the favorite in this game, and there's a reason for that -- Penn State, win over Northwestern or not, isn't very good.
Give credit to Penn State for that big win last week in a game that no one expected them to be victors. But this team has too many problems to make a miraculous turnaround and start winning every week. There are still too many holes, and they start on offense.
The Penn State offense has struggled this year. They were able to get it done against Northwestern, but in their first four contests, they averaged slightly over seven points per game. Not surprisingly, they lost each game. Granted, two of those games were against the fine defenses of Miami and Michigan, but it still wasn't pretty.
When looking at the PSU offense, you see a bit of a QB controversy. Matt Senneca is the more experienced player -- the senior who came into the season as the man expected to carry the torch. But the man who leads PSU in passing is redshirt freshman Zach Mills. Mills came in late in the fourth quarter last week against NW to lead PSU on the winning drive after Senneca, who had a productive game, was forced out with an injury. There seems to be some debate as to who the man should be, but Senneca is reportedly going to start against OSU.
The Penn State running backs are familiar names who haven't amounted to as much in their career as people had hoped for in Eric McCoo, Omar Easy, and Larry Johnson. None of them have emerged this year. Watch for Eddie Drummond, perhaps the most flashy of PSU's offensive players, as he has been moved from WR to RB. He could give a boost to that position. At WR, Bryant Johnson has proven to be the go-to guy. He leads the team with 449 yards on 24 receptions. Look for the Lions to throw to the TEs and RBs as well; TE John Gilmore is second on the team in receptions (14) and receiving yards (159). The offensive line was struggling, but it played better against Northwestern (although after seeing what the Buckeyes did to Northwestern's D, that might not be too impressive).
The Penn State D, like the rest of the team, has struggled. The defense is lacking in speed and athletes and has had a hard time this year. Check the yardage allowed in games played this year - Miami 602, Wisconsin 434, Iowa 329, Michigan 410, Northwestern 527. The OSU offense has had its problems, but it should have success against Penn State. DT Jimmy Kennedy is a fine player, but the rest of this defense is a far cry from the last PSU defense OSU faced in Happy Valley (1999's massacre led by Courtney Brown and Lavar Arrington). The defense will be fired up, and OSU's offense won't intimidate anyone, but the Buckeyes should be able to have success in this game.
Lots of folks are worried about this game, but a breakdown of the positions shows that OSU is superior in most areas, particularly on defense. Penn State is going to have lots of emotion for this game as they will have plenty to play for (Paterno's record and revenge for last year's game being a couple of the bigger factors), but they will need emotion and intangibles to win because they don't have the edge on paper.
Overcoming the atmosphere that OSU will be heading into will be the key. The crowd and team will be fired up, but you have to believe that with all the struggles the Nittany Lions have had, it might not take much to calm that emotion as while confidence in the team is better than it was before, it's still lacking. A couple of big plays here and there might be all it takes to give OSU all the momentum, and if OSU can get that advantage, things should take care of themselves.
I still "have a bad feeling about this." Penn State is coming in on a high note, and there are some things in their favor. But instead of resembling a battle between Luke, Han, Chewie, and Obi-Wan and the Death Star, where insurmountable odds were overcome, this one could wind up looking more like Han Solo against Greedo -- a battle that looked intimidating at first, but resulted in a quick, lopsided victory (with the Buckeyes being Han, of course). Look for this game to be a smash-mouth type of game where OSU's talent edge rises to the top. On the radio, I said OSU 20, Penn State 13, but after taking a closer look at the Nits, I'm going to change it to OSU 27, Penn State 13.