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ND: The Lions need to realize that last week's game has no bearing on their ability to win the Big Ten title or at least compete for the title. It was an excellent learning experience for the young kids considering there are road trips to Columbus and Iowa City in the future. That being said, Coach Paterno sure didn't hide his feelings during the post game or weekly press conference. He sees that players need to step up and everyone needs to be more aggressive. Kent State is on the docket this week and they played Boston College pretty tough so it's not going to be a complete cake walk but it will help the Lions continue to get ready for the Big Ten schedule.
MH: I think when it's all said and done the Alabama game – as painful as it was – will make this team better and stronger in the long run. The good news is that Penn State has a quarterback for the future and surprisingly Joe Paterno reaffirmed that this week when he said, "Bolden is the quarterback, there is no competition." The Golden Flashes are up and as you said they really gave Boston College a game. PSU can't come out flat in this one, but I suspect they will look to rebound against the Tuscaloosa heartbreaker.
Who: Kent State at No. 20 Penn State
When: September 18th at 12pm ET and 9am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium at University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 2-0
Line: Penn State by 21
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: Iowa finally gets their chance to get back into the national spotlight with a big game at Arizona. The Wildcats were a popular pre-season pick to win the Pac-10 primarily because USC was ineligible and nobody was sure how Oregon would fare with Masoli gone. But, I think the Iowa defense is already playing great despite replacing a couple of key linebackers. Stanzi and the running game are clicking and I think the Hawkeyes are going to drill the Wildcats in the desert.
MH: There certainly aren't as many high-profile games this week as last. Iowa against Arizona is interesting; although I am not sure the Wildcats can live up to the hype in this one. They are tough to gauge having played Toledo and The Citadel, but I am not sure they can keep pace with the Fighting Ferentz's. Other than that the slate is pretty devoid of big games.
ND: The SEC to me is a total mess. Florida has been far from impressive, LSU is toothless and Georgia hasn't been very impressive. But, quietly lingering is Houston Nutt's Arkansas Razorbacks. With former Wolverine, Ryan Mallett, as a darkhorse for the Heisman, I think Arkansas can bomb away against Georgia and upset the ‘Dawgs between the hedges.
MH: I may be nuts here, but I think Air Force and their high-flying offense could stun No. 7 Oklahoma. Granted it's on the road, and the Sooners just destroyed Florida State by 30 points, however they had a scare against Utah State, so we'll see what the Academy can do.
ND: Oddly enough, there were aspects of the offense that I full expected to struggle against Alabama and there were aspects that I expected to do just fine but I had it completely backwards. All things considered, I thought the offensive line did pretty well once Johnnie Troutman took over at left guard. They were able to protect Bolden fairly well and there were some running lanes. They still have a ton of work to be able to hit the level where they are an asset. But, they were not as much as a liability as I thought they would be.
Meanwhile, every Lion receiver dropped a critical ball. Royster tripping on a screen pass where there was literally only one defender between him and the endzone, Zug dropping a critical third down. The receivers really let Bolden down and it's time for them to answer the bell and come out swinging.
Mark, this Flashes defense isn't spectacular but they have been pretty stout against the run. BC really struggled running the ball and they are generating quite a few sacks. Out of nowhere is DL Roosevelt Nix. He is a true freshman that has a team-leading two sacks. Monte Simmons is an undersized defensive end that is able to come down the line to stop running plays and can also pressure the QB. So, the Lions will have another tough game of running the football. But, just like they did against Alabama, they have to keep pounding the football.
Last year, the offensive line really came together once Poti took over at the RT position and I think the same will happen with Troutman getting into the starting lineup. I think the Lions will struggle running the football but I think Bolden should have time to get the ball to the receivers, who will hopefully make some plays for the young QB.
MH: I think the offensive line looked solid…on pass blocking, surrendering no sacks and giving Bolden enough time to set and deliver. Their run blocking was another story; they struggled opening holes and getting Royster, Green and Redd room to run. However, Royster still seems to be flat, lacking a spark. He's not running the way he has in previous seasons; if that continues against KSU the coaches will have to reassess the running game in short order.
The receivers did miss some big opportunities. They need to step up and carry larger loads to help make up for Bolden's inexperience. He certainly made mistakes tossing two picks, but they were not on his shoulders alone. The offensive line needs to keep max protection on him and the receivers have to create separation for him. KSU has a stingy run defense; in fact the Flashes lead the country in rushing defense allowing only 22 net yards on the ground on 62 attempts. This is another good test for the offensive line and run-game. As you said Nirav, I expect the line to be more consistent with Troutman at right guard.
In terms of scheme I thought the PSU coaches showed some innovation with the reverse and even a slant, but it was inconsistent. I would have liked to have seen them roll out Bolden on a bootleg here and there and even run a play-action set once in awhile. Finally, my frustration was that as the game moved on they put Bolden under center for the majority of snaps. In a game like that he should be in the shotgun for added time, space and protection.
ND: The Lions come into this game with their tail between their legs. Last week, the tackling was terrible, the coverage left a ton to be desired and their coach was really getting after their aggressiveness. The injury to Hodges is a big blow to a linebacking corp that really needed some speed and tenacity. Now, Stupar, Mauti and company have to elevate their play and force the opponent to work to get past the line of scrimmage. The biggest reason that we're not seeing better play out of Still and Crawford is that teams are able to block the DL and those blocks are creating enough of a mess that the LBs are not able to fight their way through.
The Flashes will provide the Lions with a glimpse of what life will be like when they face the Wolverines. Kent State has two small RBs that are fast and every quick on their feet. The problem the Lions might have is finding these guys. Terry is 6'0" and 180, which is small but not terribly unusual. But, Jarvis is only 5'5" and 170! The LBs are gonna struggling finding this guy if Still or Ogbu are in front of them. Both backs are good and have done a good job gaining ground.
What the Flashes really like to do is use the running game to loosen up defenses so that Spencer Keith can bomb away on them. Keith has a completion percentage of 66.2% and has thrown 4 TDs on the season. He's throwing an average of 238 yards per game and just over 10 yards per completion. Sukay must start to play more aggressive and defend more passes. He's doing a good job of making tackles after the reception but he's not breaking up passes by laying the lumber over the top.
I think the Flashes are going to move the ball, especially early while the Lions are lethargic after last week's game. But, eventually, I think they will force some turnovers and get pressure on Keith, who is not a running threat at all.
MH: I admit I was stunned at the weak play by the defense. Granted Richardson is a great back, particularly since he curls Volkswagen bugs and bench-presses aircraft carriers. However, the porous tackling of PSU's defense certainly helped make Richardson look stellar. As you said, the loss of Hodges was a blow, but this linebacker unit is deep and talent enough to be able to reload on a whim. I think it comes down to attitude rather than talent; the linebackers seemed tentative and lacked aggressiveness. They need to get back to their "reckless" battle cry.
The speed and misdirection Kent State likes to use will keep PSU's front seven and particularly the defensive line guessing and on their toes. As you said Terry and Jarvis are shifty and explosive into a lane, so the linebackers will have to pounce and punish. Their play is key to the KSU offense in order to push out the defense to open things up for Keith to hit some open zones.
Nirav, I agree that the Flashes will assemble some drives, but their success will largely be dictated by the aggressiveness and agility of PSU's front four. In terms of the secondary the corners are playing solid, although there is concern around Stefon Morris' foot injury that he kept from the coaches. The safeties need to get up on their routes, although Bradley wants to "keep everything in front," which relies on teams making mistakes to a degree. The problem is that is not generally how No. 1 teams play ball.
ND: Mark, you have to be impressed with the way that the special teams has improved from last year. Fera's punting could be more consistent but the coverage has been excellent and the kickoff returns have been explosive. The punt return team hasn't had many opportunities but they will probably be just fine. And, with Wagner making his kicks, the Lions are looking far better on special teams. But, don't sleep on the Flashes. Freddy Cortez was named MAC special teams player of the year after hitting a 45 and 41 yard field goal against Boston College. He's hit 14 of his last 15 dating back to last season. He's an excellent kicker and with the passing attack of the Flashes, he can be in range in no time.
MH: Fera's shown he has a leg, but he has to get more consistent as he had some flat kick last weekend. The coverage has been much better and an asset rather than a liability for the Lions. Wagner has been dependable and as you said the KSU squad has their own kicking weapon in Cortez, so he's likely to have them on the board quickly.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: I think the Lions are going to be tested on pass defense by Spencer Keith. He is very accurate and with the potential injury to Morris, the defense could really be on their heels for this game. I'm interested to see how Bradley is able to get pressure on Keith. Pressure will be the key.
MH: I am going to have a close eye on how Penn State's front four are able to plug up Kent State's running game. If they can clamp down on it, this will challenge Keith on the passing attack. The line has to come out swinging and get pressure early and often.
Keys to the Game:
ND: Turnovers. This Kent State team has a very balanced attack. So, the Lions will need to attack the Flashes to try to generate some turnovers. After all, at this point, the offense has generated more positive turnovers than the defense has thanks to Moye's forced fumble. Meanwhile, Bolden needs to keep playing within himself and distribute the football. He can't come out playing angry or he'll force passes that will only lead to turnovers. If the Flashes get a short field, they have the offense and the special teams to get points on the field.
MH: Attitude. Penn State needs to get over Alabama and come out thinking they have something to prove. If they come out flat or feeling sorry for themselves it will give KSU an edge. Take the gloves off and take it out on the Flashes is what the coaches and captains have to be preaching.
ND: Mark, this is an early game after a tough loss. That leads me to believe that the Lions will be sleepwalking in the first half and will finally kick it in later in the game. The problem is that this is not Youngstown State. Kent State can score and I think they will cause the secondary some serious headaches.
Penn State 38, Kent State 20
MH: OK, I was duped last week as the sole staffer that picked PSU. This week Penn State needs to get past the Alabama game and show that the experience paid dividends. The defense needs to show improved tackling and the offense needs to open up the running game. As for Bolden he needs to display that he's better for having played No. 1 on the road.
Penn State 30, Kent State 12
Until next time,
Fight On State!