The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
ND: While most Lions are wondering what happened by Penn State's defense, there is reason to worry why the offense has really been struggling. The offense moves at times but can't seem to piece together a drive. Meanwhile, Purdue is…well…Pur-done. The Boilers have only won 1 game this season and that was against FCS Indiana State and the Boilers only won by 6 points in that game. Yes, the Big Ten is down but Purdue is arguably one of the worst teams in FBS this year. Jeff Sagarin has Purdue as the worst team from a BCS Automatic Qualifying schools.
MH: Penn State is coming off another ugly loss, this time because when the team could not fire on all cylinders. When PSU's offense was able to score on the first half the defense could not get a stop and conversely in the second, the defense was able to contain the Gophers but the offense could not muster a drive. Hopefully, they are able to handle this Purdue squad this week.
Who: Purdue at Penn State
When: Saturday, November 16 at 12:00 pm ET, 9:00 am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 12-3-1
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Penn State favored by 21.5 points
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: After significant stumbles early in the season, Mack Brown has gotten the Texas Longhorns back into the Top 25. But, they face a monster matchup against Oklahoma State this weekend. The Cowboys have been scoring big points in every game. They are averaging 40.7 points per game. The difference in this game is that Oklahoma State has already played several big games and has come out ahead decisively. Texas has a tough finish with OSU, Texas Tech and then Baylor. I look for the Cowboy to win and to win big. Don't be surprised for Mack Brown to finish his Longhorn career with 3 straight losses.
MH: > There aren't too many big games this week, but No. 25 Georgia is looking to stop its skid with three losses, but have to go on the road to tangle with No. 7 Auburn. Auburn has shown their a force to be reckoned with and Mark Richt is looking to take some of the heat off from the Georgia faithful in this one.
ND: The Georgia Bulldogs have been decimated by injuries this season. They had the talent to go far but the injuries ended that goal. But, this team is drastically different with Todd Gurley is lined up in the backfield. His return over the last 2 games has helped Georgia with more balance and has given them a star on the field. I really like Georgia pulling the upset over #7 Auburn this weekend. Auburn has had an easy schedule and their 3 tough games (LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss) were all tough, close games. I just don't think that Auburn is much of a team especially if QB Nick Marshall is neutralized.
MH: Nirav, nice call last week on Virginia Tech knocking off Miami. This week, I am going with Houston knocking off No. 20 Louisville. Houston nearly beat the high octane Central Florida and has shown they can put points on the board, losing two games by a combined six points. The Cards better not sleep on this one.
ND: The Lions have started to demonstrate some real success running the ball. Two weeks ago, it was Bill Belton with a career day. This past week, Zach Zwinak carried the ball for 152 yards. The offensive line is getting a good push and both guys are making people miss in the hole. Coach Bill O'Brien must love having two running backs that can carry the ball more than 25 times. But, both guys have struggled with fumbles. Zwinak has finally turned to playing with gloves so we'll see if that provides some long-term benefits. Much of the success of the running game can be attributed to a real focus by opposing defenses on the deep threat posed by Allen Robinson. Robinson has been regularly facing double teams or at least has been garnering the watchful eye of a safety. This has allowed both Belton and Zwink to get down the field.
The passing game continues to struggle with consistency and finding someone else to step up. Matt Zanellato was the only other WR to log a reception last week and that was 1 catch for 15 yards. Though seeing Christian Hackenberg getting the ball to the TEs was nice, the role of Eugene Lewis, Richie Anderson and Brandon Moseby Felder have to be expanded if the Lions are going to put points on the board like they did earlier this season.
Defensively, it was a tale of two halves. Though Minnesota decided to turn to a clock-controlling offense in the 2nd half after building a 14-point lead behind 167 yards passing, the PSU defense came up strong in the 2nd half. The Lions will lose Ben Kline to a torn pectoral muscle, the squad is showing some improvement in the last 2 games in slowing the run. The problem continues to be in pass defense. And, that problem has several facets. The Lions have only generated 9 sacks in conference play and generally struggle to get any sort of pressure on the QB. As a result, Coach John Butler has been blitzing more LBers to get pressure on the QB and that has only left gaping holes in coverage for the QBs to exploit. Opponents are completing 62.6% of their passes against this Penn State defense. CB Jordan Lucas has been the one bright spot in the secondary. The sophomore has played quite well in coverage and has a bright future once he tightens up his open-field tackling.
MH: The game against the Gophers was a tale of two halves where the defense could not hold for the offense in the first half and the offense could not score for the defense in the second. Penn State had another shift in their ground game with Zach Zwinak leading the charge this time after an early Bill Belton fumble. Zwinak rolled up over 150 yards, but it placed more uncertainty as to who will be the lead horse for the rushing attack. In this game PSU has an opportunity to either roll over of pick apart Purdue, but the offense cannot kills themselves with poor execution or play-calling. Purdue is struggling mightily, but they'd love to get a feather in their cap with a win in Beaver Stadium, something they've only been able to do once before, in 2004.
Defensively, Penn State's front four have to step up and get a push on the line. Their inability to pressure passers has put a struggling secondary at a disadvantage. Having said that, despite Purdue's struggles, Penn State's gaping holes will be easily exploited by Purdue if they cannot plug them up. He linebackers have to get down their reads and releases on targets. A lack of pickups or misreads of assignments gave Minnesota some big pickups in the passing game. Aside from all this, tackling is a liability. I am unsure how you repair it this late into the season, but ball carriers dragging guys for yards and yards does not bode well for defensive stops.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: As I previously stated, Purdue is a bad football team. Their offense makes the word ‘anemic' sound excessive. The Boilers are averaging only 200.8 yards of offense in conference play. The breakdown of that yardage is 44.6 yards per game rushing and 156.2 yards passing. Akeem Hunt is a playmaker on offense. He leads the team in rushing and receiving. In many ways, he's a slower version of the dynamic Venric Mark. He has great hands and is fast and elusive. But, he's the only guy on offense for the Boilers. The Boilers started the season with senior Rob Henry under center. But, the hapless Boilers have turned to Freshman Danny Etling to help put points on the board. And, in reality, not much has changed.
Only Indiana's defense has been on the field longer than Purdue and one can attribute that result to the style of play of Indiana's offense. Purdue's defense is actually pretty good against the pass. CB Ricardo Allen is very good and DT Bruce Gaston continues to get into the backfield to get pressure on the QB. But, the numbers don't tell the full story. Purdue's pass defense is serviceable not because of their talent in getting pressure on the QB or in stopping passes. Rather, it's a direct result of their inability to stop the run. Purdue is giving up almost 300 yards rushing per game. At that rate, there is no reason for any team to throw the ball. Look for the Lions to gash the Boilers on the ground.
MH: As you said Nirav, Purdue is 1-8 on the year and ranked 97th nationally in passing yards and 122nd in rushing yards. Their offense has struggled to put points on the board, scoring 21 points combined in their last four games. Under center they have freshman QB Danny Etling; on the season he is 75 for 156 for 819 yards with four TDs and five INTs. In the five games he's seen action he's been sacked 21 times and has taken a pounding at times. His leading target is freshman Deangelo Yancey who has 17 catches for 338 yards and a touchdown. In his last three games though his production has diminished, catching three total balls. The Boilers like to bring junior running back Akeem Hunt out of the backfield as a target as well. On the year Hunt has grabbed 33 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground he's carried 93 times for 325 yards (3.5 YPC) with no touchdowns.
Defensively, the Boilers are second to last in the Big Ten in scoring defense allowing 45 touchdowns and six field goals and an average of 438.4 total yards per game. The defense has struggled on both the run and pass. Their leading tackler is sophomore defensive back Anthony Brown, who has 51 takedowns which is not a good sign for the Purdue defense. Second on the list is safety Taylor Richards who has 47 grabs.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: Ricardo Allen is a playmaker for the Boilers on defense. He is the best cornerback on the team and was an Honorable Mention CB last year. He will have a great matchup against Allen Robinson in this game. Robinson has a significant height advantage here but Allen has been starting for the Boilers since he stepped on the field as a true freshman in 2010 so he has lots of game experience. This should be a fun matchup to watch.
MH: I want to see how Penn State's front four are able to pressure Purdue's offensive line. They need to start pulling it together to start pressuring the pocket and rushing decisions.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: The Lions are going to win this game but they need to show some consistency on both sides of the ball in order to finish this season competitively. We'll see if they can make plays and string them together, which has been a general issue for both offense and defense. If both squads struggle with this, they are a bad team and Purdue could hang around longer than the home crowd expected.
MH: I agree. I also think they need balance on offense to show they can pin together drives. Christian Hackenberg has to spread the ball around and smart smart plays with his delivery. Above all else, they need to eliminate turnovers, which are momentum killers.
ND: It's amazing how far Purdue has fallen. There are bad football teams and then there is Purdue. They are playing very reminiscent of the pre-Joe Tiller teams right now and Penn State will dominate them on both sides of the ball.
Penn State 41, Purdue 13
MH: I think Penn State wins this game, but I think they have their bumbling moments and misfires. This one should be a blowout, but I expect Purdue will have some opportunities.
Penn State 31, Purdue 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!