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ND: The Lions are playing in another New Year's Day bowl and will be facing another team that, supposedly, has a significant speed advantage. The other constant in a Penn State bowl game is Coach Paterno pacing the sidelines. Meanwhile, the coach on the other side, Urban Meyer, will be hanging it up. This game showcases two teams that had senior leader QBs that graduated and the team dropped off this year as a result. But, the bowl game is a springboard for next year and we'll see if the Lions have that bounce in their game!
MH: It's certainly one of those common Big Ten/SEC bowl matchups where the talking heads pull out their unimaginative "southern speed" vs. "northern power" although Penn State isn't exactly a slow team. Having said that PSU's defense will need to be their game to contain the Florida offensive game plan. Either way it should be an interesting matchup.
Who: Penn State at Florida
When: January 1, 2011 at 1 pm ET and 10 am PT
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL
Series: Florida leads 2-0
Line: Florida favored by 7
Other Big Bowl Games:
ND: You don't have to look much farther than Pasadena for a huge bowl game. Wisconsin will be rolling into the Rose Bowl after torturing Big Ten defenses. They have rolled up 201 points in their last 3 games. The Badgers have been pushing teams around in the trenches. And that leads us to the Horned Frogs of TCU. TCU has, statistically, the best defense in the nation. I think this game is going to come down to the passing game. Wisconsin has been amazing running the ball but TCU has a great couple of backs in Wesley and Tucker. Dalton is a fantastic QB for TCU and Tolzien has had a great year for the Badgers. I think both defenses are going to sell out to stuff the run and will force both QBs to have top-notch games in order to pull out the win.
TCU may have some speed on the defensive line but I am certain they have never seen the size and strength of Wisconsin. Utah, UTEP and Wyoming just don't compare. I like Wisconsin beating down TCU in the 2nd half after that defensive line is exhausted.
MH: There are a few bowls that have me interested and both are featuring Big Ten/SEC matchups. The first is the No. 6 Ohio State clash against No. 8 Arkansas. Five Buckeyes, including Terrelle Pryor, got suspended for violating NCAA rules like selling rings and trophies…suspended for five games in 2011. Yes, they are eligible to play in the Sugar Bowl. Jim Tressel is toying with sitting them out for a quarter or so, but regardless this will be an interesting game. OSU is 0-9 against the SEC and is desperate to get that monkey off their back, however there's no doubt this team has distractions. Ryan Mallet headlines a potent Arkansas offense, so this will be an interesting one.
The other is the Capital One Bowl which pits No. 9 Michigan State against No. 16 Alabama. Michigan is coming off their best season in about two decades and will face an Alabama team that did not meet expectations, but still has a tough team. This should be a good matchup and show just how good the Spartans are.
National Title Game:
ND: I have been an open critic of the Ducks all season long and nothing has changed in the layoff before the bowl game. The Ducks are a very good team but they are not in the same caliber as Auburn. The Ducks struggled in games down the stretch before pulling away in the second half because they wore down the weak Pac-10 defenses. Auburn is a good SEC defense but they are far better than anything Oregon has faced.
This game is going to come down to stopping the two Heisman finalists. Oregon really relies on LaMichael James in order to open up the passing game – in particular Maehl hauling in passes. On the other side of the ball, Newton has demonstrated that he can throw the ball in order to beat teams with the way he threw the ball against Alabama and South Carolina. The Ducks will have to get pressure with four guys and drop the rest in the hopes of containing Newton or forcing a turnover.
MH: You live out West so you get to see more of Oregon than I do, but I am fan of their high-flying offense. I think you make a valid point that skating through the Pac-10 is not exactly the same a rumbling through the SEC. Oregon will have to come out fast against Auburn and get points on the board, which may not be all that easy against the Tiger defense.
I suspect Chip Kelly will have some gimmicks to toss out leveraging misdirection and speed, but that should be short-lived once the Auburn defense adjusts. Oregon will ultimately have to go toe-to-toe and get it done with their explosive offense. The concern is that they may not be as used to playing this physical of an opponent.
ND: The Lions come into the bowl game knowing that McGloin will be under center for all of the snaps in this game. There was some speculation that Newsome would be used in a similar way as Clark was used in the Alamo Bowl. However, with Newsome not making the trip to Tampa, this is McGloin's show. McGloin burst onto the scene and took over the starting job but it was his games to close out the season that were particularly impressive because of how often he was throwing and how accurate he was. The offensive line needs to keep McGloin in the pocket and protected. Duke Lemmens is a very good DE and is very similar to some of the great DE that the Big Ten has in the conference. The Gators like to bring pressure from most angles – safeties, corners and linebackers. So, the line will have to communicate well and the backs will have to pick up the blitz. Royster can pickup the blitz great but we'll see how well Silas Redd does. If McGloin gets time, he should be able to complete passes against a Gator defense that was not very good against the pass. And, with the Gators missing Janoris Jenkins at one of the corner spots, McGloin should have some nice opportunities. I'd like to see the Lions use Bracket and Royster in the passing game. Hopefully Galen Hall motions Royster into the slot and tries to get a matchup against a linebacker, which Royster would be able to dominate.
The running game is really key in this game for the Lions. The Lions have been quick to abandon the run when it's not working but the Lions have to stick with it. Royster is key and I think Silas Redd will have improved even more with some rest and more reps as the second string RB. The combination of the two should allow the Lions the opportunity to find which running approach works best. But, the Gators are very good against the run. Ahmad Black, the strong safety, and Jelani Jenkins, the linebacker, are both excellent against the run. What makes this a tough matchup for the Lions is that both don't play on the defensive line and the Lions Oline have not been great getting to the second level to open up big holes.
Overall, I think the Lions offense will struggle early on but they will need to find a good rhythm and not abandon the run. McGloin will have to make critical throws on third down and we know that he'll take some shots down the field in the hopes of getting Moye streaking down the field.
MH: You're likely not going to see too many lineup shifts on offense aside from McGloin the offensive line has still been practicing as Quinn Barham (LT), Johnnie Troutman (LG), Doug Klopacz (C), Stefen Wisniewski (RG) and Chima Okoli (RT). That gives the offense a familiar base to work from and the line has done a solid job with pass protection and improved with opening up running lanes. Speaking of the ground game Evan Royster is unsurprisingly the lead back, but Stephfon Green and Silas Redd have gotten extra practice work and are likely to play roles in the offensive scheme.
One interesting twist for Penn State is that Florida has three key defensive players who are apparently sidelined with injuries including defensive tackles Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh. Star corner Jenoris Jenkins is also reportedly out. That means the Lions will likely see former PSU recruit and current Gator Sharrif Floyd in the defensive line rotation. This could be an opportunity for the offensive line, but the PSU offense can't take anything for granted. Watch for a fairly balanced attack from the Lions with McGloin looking for Derek Moye, Justin Brown, Brett Brackett and Graham Zug to help open things up for the ground game.
Another interesting development is that Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been in the hospital with stomach issues, so his availability for the bowl is undetermined at this point. I am hoping Penn State looks to use some mismatches on speed (e.g. Devon Smith) and size (e.g. Brett Brackett) to move the ball. If they do opt for Smith he has to keep his feet underneath him to serves as a real weapon. Matt McGloin also has to keep his cool in this game; run through his progression, hit the check-down when needed and don't force too many plays. He loves to gamble, so we'll see if it pays off.
ND: The Gators have suffered through an identity crisis this year on offense and it really showed on the scoreboard. The real issue has been at the QB position. After Tebow graduated, the reigns were handed to John Brantley. Brantley is not a bad QB but he turned the ball over too much and the offense really needs a higher completion rate than Brantley was able to muster this year. The result was an offense that was trying to keep defenses off-balanced by tons of formations, lots of motion and players lining up all over the place. Jeff Demps is a guy to really watch because he has been marred with injuries his career. He missed the last two games and only recently started practicing because of a foot injury. But, when he's on the field, he's a lightning bolt. Demps is the reigning 100m champ by clocking a 9.96, which is world-class. But, the guy that has been really fun to watch this year has been Trey Burton. He is a strong QB that has played just about every position on the field. He is the backup QB; he is the second leading rusher and is second in receptions. He also plays special teams! This kid reminds me of Michael Robinson in size and versatility. If Demps can't go in this game, look for the offense to really revolve around Burton who presents a ton of complexities for a Penn State defense that is finally getting healthy. The time off has helped guys like Jack Crawford and Michael Mauti get healthy. The Lions defensively will have to play very smart and not over-run plays as they had a tendency to do this year. The team must tackle well. Florida will force the Lions into space and will force the defense to tackle in space. The Lions will need to get a big push up the middle to disrupt plays right at the start. Still and Ogbu are going to be key in this game. The Gators have not done a great job at protecting Brantley and the Lions must get pressure on him but I think Bradley has to be careful with the blitz. The Lions have struggled getting to the QB fast enough and that has left a void that has been regularly exploited.
Mark, it'll also be interesting to see how the Penn State corners play against shorter WRs from the Gators but both are very quick. Chris Rainey plays a little RB and a little WR. He is 5'9" and only 178lbs but the kid has a great burst. Likewise, Deonte Thompson is 5'11" and 203lbs but he is averaging 15.2 yards per catch. I like the matchup here with guys like Stephon Morris, D'Anton Lynn and Chaz Powell. All three have very good speed and are very physical to push Rainey and Thompson off of their routes.
I think the Gator's running attack is going to cause the Lions fits. It won't be until the second half when the Lions will be able to find a way to slow down that running game. The key will be getting pressure on Brantley and forcing some turnovers, which he has been prone to make.
MH: You never really know what you are going to get with Florida's offense given that they can play three quarterbacks and run a lot of different formations, as you laid out Nirav. The Gators sometimes out-think themselves with the complexity though. As you said Demps has been banged up, but he is apparently going to try to play. They key with him is containment as he has the speed to bounce outside and get a big pickup.
One of the big boosts I expect for the PSU defense is the return of Michael Mauti at linebacker. He's not only a fast, aggressive ‘backer, but he seems to help kick the intensity of the PSU defense up a notch or two. On the offensive line the Gators' Maurice Hurt is living up to his name and is not expected to play. He's started 11 games this season and has shifted around, but has seen a lot of his time at left tackle. That could help out Penn State's pash rush.
Nirav, you're right that Florida has smaller receivers, but they have real jets and can move in space. Penn State will have Powell and Lynn at corner with Willis and Astorino at safety and Morris in the nickel. I suspect Coach Bradley will want to dial up some nickel work to help stifle the Florida passing game. The question is whether Penn State's front four can get consistent pressure on the pocket. Honestly, I don't expect to see a lot of Blitzing from Bradley in this one.
ND: The Gators have a tale of two cities on special teams. Chas Henry won the Ray Guy Award this year, which goes to the best punter in college football. Henry was averaging 46.4 yards per punt and has forced a fair catch on 25 percent of his attempts. Meanwhile, the Gators are only 6 of 12 on FGs this season. The real question mark will be who replaces Jenkins returning punts. The Lions need a great game out of Colin Wagner, who was money in the slop last year. This year's game could come down to the team that can get points on the board when the offense can't get into the endzone.
MH: Penn State seems to have the edge on field goals with Collin Wagner's consistency, and this game could come down to field goals. Florida has enough speedsters to replace Jenkins, but Rainey is the likely choice as he returned seven punts for 58 yards this season.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: The Gators love to run misdirection and have speedsters that can take the ball the distance in the blink of an eye. In particular, Burton and Demps are very quick and run very well. I am excited to see how a healthy Mauti performs in this game and how well he is able to stop that running attack. This could be Mauti's breakout game or it could be the nation's real introduction to Burton.
MH: I am curious to see how Matt McGloin manages the game against Florida's front four. They have speed and although they are missing their two starting defensive tackles who had 20 starts this season, he will still have to be on his game to see what the Gator staff (with or without their defensive coordinator) throws at him.
Keys to the Game:
ND: For the Lions, the key to this game is establishing the run. The Gators have seen the formula that when Royster is shutdown then the Lions struggle despite McGloin's ability to throw the ball. The Lions must have balance in this game and it all comes down to how well the Oline can move the Gators and how fierce Royster plays in this game.
MH: I think the biggest key is for Penn State to come out swinging. This is a 1 pm kickoff, so it's not quite the dreaded noon game, but they cannot come out flat and play catchup in this game. McGloin has to spread the ball around and, as you said, Galen Hall has to establish the run. I think that means Royster to start, but I'd like to see a decent dose of Redd.
ND: This is a tough ball game for me to call. I think the Lions are young and probably got the most out of the extra practice sessions. Plus, getting healthy on defense is going to add a little pep to their step. I like the Lions in a close game where the lack of kicking does the Gators in.
Penn State 27, Florida 21
MH: This is a tough game, but with the rash of injuries by several key starters on Florida's team it should help Penn State in some key areas. You'd think that this being Meyer's last game will give Florida a boost, but I am not sure they will be up for this game.
Penn State 23, Florida 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!