Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's clash against Army.
Here, former PSU Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nora Dalai provides a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions.
MH: The Nittany Lions are coming of a costly victory over SDSU in terms of lost personnel. The availabilities of Keel Lynch and Sequin Barkley are both up in the air. Despite some hiccups, the PSU defense had an overall impressive outing, which I anticipate will carry into this contest. It's only fitting that as Army comes to Happy Valley, it’s PSU's Military Appreciation Week.
ND: Though the win over San Diego State was important, the cost of that victory could create some real problems for the Lions. The loss of Marcus Allen was problematic with the already injured Jordan Lucas, but they should both be back in action relatively soon. The injuries to Lynch and Barkley are more concerning. James Franklin has been vague about both, so we'll see if they even take the field this weekend. Meanwhile, Army is riding high after a big win over Eastern Michigan. During that game it racked up some of the highest rushing and total offensive totals in years. The Nittany Lions and their fans are excited to welcome the Black Knights and their families to Beaver Stadium, so I expect the atmosphere, if the weather holds, to be very special.
Who: Army at Penn State
When: Saturday, Oct. 3 at noon ET
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
Series: Penn State leads 13-10-2
Line: Penn State minus 24.5 (as of Wednesday night)
MH: Let's take a closer look at where the Nittany Lions stand heading into their home clash with SDSU.
AIR SUPPORT: Christian Hackenberg had solid outing vs. SDSU, going 21 of 35 for 296 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That should serve as a much-needed confidence booster for the junior. This will likely be needed by PSU given the current depth issues with the ground assault. The offensive line continues to provide Hackenberg protection, although he still needs to be aware of breakdowns. The coaches should probably amp up the check-downs target for him.
GRAB AND GO: On the other side of those passes, the Nittany Lions had seven receivers pull in tosses last week, getting the tight ends more involved in the process. We've been saying this is something the staff has to do, and spreading the ball around not only gives Hackenberg more opportunities, but will also keep the Black Knight defensive front guessing. Of particular note was the emergence of Saeed Blacknall, who grabbed four balls for 101 yards. If he can keep that up it should make for a challenge for opposing secondaries.
FRONT MEN: Penn State's defensive front — led by DTs Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson, and DE Carl Nassib — is a disruptive force for opposing lines to handle. The challenge this week will be the dynamic offensive scheme Army runs with the option sets. This will require a much more disciplined approach on assignments rather than the pin-your-ears-back push PSU has used in recent weeks.
NOT SO SPECIAL: After a huge performance in the Rutgers' blowout, the Lions' special teams were spotty against the Aztecs, giving up a kickoff touchdown and muffing a punt. PSU overcame the issues, but it must get the unit back on track as a weapon in the battle for field position.
RUNNING QUESTIONS: A big question will be how the PSU staff manages the running attack. If Barkley and Lynch are both kept on the sideline — which is not all that farfetched — the line will have to elevate its run blocking for Mark Allen. Allen showed he can receive balls out of the backfield with a 13-yard touchdown catch and run, but only ran for five yards on five carries vs. SDSU.
ARMED AND READY
ND: In this section, we preview Army.
SCHURR HANDED: QB Ahmad Bradshaw left the Eastern Michigan game with an apparent leg injury. It's uncertain whether he will play against Penn State. If he can't go, A.J. Schurr will take the helm. Schurr has the same running ability that Bradshaw does, but he's not quite the passer. So look for a Schurr-led offense to be more run-oriented and less of a threat for the play action.
TRIPLE THE FUN: Army runs a traditional triple option look. Aaron Kemper is a monster at the dive back position. He is only 5-foot-6, but he is all thighs. This kid has squatted over 600 pounds and his legs look like two tree trunks. He's small and powerful, which is perfect for the first option in this offense. Bradshaw was holding the ball 70 percent of the time in the first three games, so the Knights really focused on getting Kemper the ball last week and it clearly worked after he racked up 147 yards on a team-high 13 carries. Look for Kemper to be the workhorse again this week.
POE-ETRY IN MOTION: Eight-three years after famous author Edgar Allan Poe arrived at West Point, Edgar Allen Poe stepped foot on the beautiful campus. But this Poe can run and catch. Though there is no relationship, the current Poe plays WR and returns punts.
KNIGHT'S KING: LB Andrew King is off to a great start to the year. He's a little shorter than the average LB but he has great quickness and great range. He is leading the team in TFLs with eight and is second in tackles overall. The Army defense is not very big and struggles with the size of non-Academy offenses. but the linebackers are very good and make a ton of plays.
IN THE ZONE: Head coach Jeff Monken is a gambler. Once his team gets into the red zone, they do not like to line up for field goals. The Knights will go for it on fourth down and they have a good success rate in the red zone. In fact, of their 12 trips into the red zone, they have walked away with 11 TDs. Those types of stats tell you that when they have that triple option humming, it's difficult to stop.
KEYS TO THE GAME
MH: This one comes down to defensive discipline against Army's triple option. If the Lions can maintain their assignments and avoid the “bait,” they'll be able to close down some drives and presumably create some opportunities for the offense. But the offense will have to capitalize by walking away with touchdowns instead of field goals.
ND: The Lions need to get out of this game staying healthy. Army has a tricky offense that will create some problems early on. But if the PSU offense can get some points on the board in the first half, the Army offense just isn't designed to make a quick comeback, which would allow Penn State to rest some kids.
MH: The depleted running game will likely make this a challenge in spots for PSU's offense. If the defense can maintain discipline, the size and athleticism should eventually wear down the Knights and help open things up for the Lions.
Penn State 27, Army 17
ND: I don't expect to see Lynch nor Barkley in this game, so I think the offense will sputter along with no real running game. In the end, the size and speed of the Lions will prevail. But expect the home fans to give Army a ton of support before, during and after this game.
Penn State 24, Army 10
Until next time,
Fight On State!