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ND: Unlike others in the Big Ten, Penn State was able to put away the Zips this weekend. But, the game was far from pretty with all of the points coming in the 1st half. The Lions will suit up to play the Orangemen, who lost a tough one at home to Minnesota. Penn State will play Syracuse for the 70th time, which is the second most games the Lions have played against any single school. The Pitt Panthers, of course, hold the top spot with 96 games.
MH: The Akron game had its ups and downs with a high-flying passing attack and a not-so-potent ground game. I am not overly concerned though given that the Zips stuffed the box and PSU took what the defense gave them, with Clark tossing for 354 yards and three touchdowns. This week an old foe is on the slate with Syracuse which has high hopes to come into Beaver Stadium and make a statement by knocking off the Nittany Lions.
Who: Syracuse at No. 5 Penn State
When: September 5th at 12pm ET and 9am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 41-23-5.
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Penn State favored by 28 pts
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: There are two games that will mean the most for the Big Ten and they are the Ohio State/USC game and the Michigan/Notre Dame game. Ohio State really struggled against Navy but I chalk some of that up to the crazy triple option that Navy runs that is hard to simulate in practice. Regardless, the defense will have to be far sharper against the Trojans. Additionally, I really think that in order for Ohio State to win, Pryor is going to have to throw the ball for at least 200 yards. The Trojans are going to stack the box and force Pryor to throw rather than scramble. I like the Trojans in this game. I don't think these Buckeyes are as good as last year's edition and the running game will look much like it did last year when Beanie Wells was injured against USC…ineffective.
Meanwhile, just a couple of hours down the road in Ann Arbor, Notre Dame and Michigan will square off. Both teams looked impressive against unimpressive opponents. So, we'll see which team is for real and which one is not much better than last year. I like the Irish in this game. The Irish passing attack is pretty impressive and Clausen may have finally learned how to be an efficient passer. Meanwhile, the Wolverines are still trying to brake in Tate Forcier as their QB. He looked good against Western Michigan but the level of talent will increase this weekend…as will the pressure.
MH: Those seem to be the bigger games this week, although I'd also keep an eye on Purdue as they head out to face Oregon on the road. This could be a nice feather in the Big Ten's cap if the Boilers could knock off the ducks that looked downright sad against Boise State last week.
ND: After picking against the Boilermakers last week, I'm going to switch directions and pick the Boilers this week. Purdue travels to Eugene to face off against the Ducks, who were "knocked out" against Boise State to start the season. Joey Elliot was pitching the ball around really well against Toledo and with the loss of Blount, I think the Ducks' offense will be anemic relying solely on the arm of Masoli, who only completed 51% of his passes and threw a pick against the Broncos. The Ducks went into West Lafayette last year and won in overtime and I like Purdue returning the favor this year.
MH: I certainly blew it picking Nevada over Notre Dame last week. I expected the Wolfpack's offensive attack to be a tad more potent than it was. This week I am thinking UConn could knock off UNC at home. UConn had two 100-yard rushers last week against Ohio and that could cause the No. 21 Tarheels some fits.
ND: As I suspected, the passing game did not lose a step. That's not a slam on guys like Norwood, Williams and Butler but a real credit to Moye, Zug and Powell. I also loved the use of Smith as a fourth WR. Clark did a great job distributing the football once he settled in. I think the key for Clark is to realize that he doesn't have to force the ball into tight windows. There is always going to be someone open or a check-down available to him regardless of whom the opponent is. He did a good job of being more patient as the game progressed but he definitely tried to make some plays that were not entirely necessary. Mark, I thought the offensive line did a really good job in pass protection. The guys were able to pick up the fourth and fifth pass rushers that Akron threw at the line. Speaking of pass rushers, Syracuse has a really good one. Senior NT Arthur Jones is one of the rare guys on this team that Robinson recruited that has real NFL style talent. He racked up five tackles and one TFL but was able to disrupt a number of plays by getting pressure up the middle. It will be really fun to see how he matches up against Wisniewski. If Clark can get the time like he did last week, he should be able to pick apart the Cuse secondary. One thing to keep an eye on is that the Orangemen have no starters that are 6-feet or taller. None. Brackett, Moye and Zug will have a HUGE height advantage here.
The run offense against Akron was not very good. I would lump the screen play into this fold as well. As we documented through detailed clips and expert analysis in the Playbook HD feature on FightOnState.com, the offensive line missed blocks and made the wrong decisions. This particularly apparent to me on plays where either guard (Eliades and Stankiewitch) we pulling and ended up bumping into one of the tackles or blocking the same guy that one of the TEs were blocking only to let another defender take down the back. This is all stuff that one can expect in a newly built offensive line. But, as Joe said and the offensive team have said, they will get better by the second game. Well, we'll see. What we do know is that Royster may have fantastic vision and fantastic feet but he can only go as far as this offensive line can carry him. Fortunately, the Orange only return two starters in the front seven from last year. MLB Derrell Smith was the second leading tackler on this squad last year and he gets lots of protection with Jones in front of him so he's able to make quite a few plays in the run game. The PSU Oline should be able to dominate this crew if they do, in fact, get better from last game.
MH: My one point of concern with Clark is that he didn't use his check-downs enough and forced some passes that more talented defensive backs will be able to come up with. I loved what Moye, Powell and Zug showed and watch for PSU to work some more screens and swings to Devon Smith. I also expect to see FB Joe Suhey and the tight ends to get into the passing scheme a bit more this week.
As for the run game, I am not overly concerned yet. Akron stuffed the box with eight guys on several downs, so Penn State too what was given to them. It was a solid performance showing teams that they cannot sellout to defend the run or they will get picked apart. Syracuse will want to try a similar approach, but I expect will back off with a nice dose of Moye and Powell. As you said, the height of this unit has a huge advantage in this air attack over the Orange's secondary.
I expect that Syracuse will through Smith or other ‘backers out in disguised blitzes, which will test the Penn State offensive line, but the line was masterful in their pass blocking last week, so I would expect more of the same. This is why Clark needs to keep an eye on his check-downs though – and use them if things start to break down. He can't risk taking a big hit on an ill-advised run. Given the inexperience of the front seven of Syracuse I think PSU will use the opportunity to get Powell and Smith some screens to help work the blocking of PSU's guards, which had issues with their down-field pickups. Clark needs to spread the ball around and not take this defense lightly though since they have some speed and athleticism to make some plays.
ND: Mark, you were dead on about that defensive line last week. They played fantastic. We knew that Odrick would be a menace and there was quite a bit of hype around Jack Crawford, the cover boy for Fight On State this month, and sure didn't disappoint. But, I was particularly impressed with the play of Latham (No. 44) and Latimore (No. 56). I thought both guys really did a nice job in their first bit of extensive action. And, Sean Lee was a menace. I forgot how much fun it is to watch him play football. Though Navorro Bowman is listed as a starting outside linebacker this week, I don't expect him to see any action this week and maybe even next week. He is needed for the game against Iowa and beyond and ensuring that his groin is able to heal properly is key. In the meantime, special teams stud Nathan Stupar filled in for Bowman and played great. He was all over the field making plays and tallied 12 tackles to lead the Lions against Akron. Syracuse brings a rather anemic rushing attack into Beaver Stadium. Against the Gophers, the Orangemen only tallied 90 yards on 34 rushes. Carter is the main guy getting the carries but this is first year of seeing any substantial action after having to watch Brinkley last year total over 1000 yards. I don't see Carter gaining anywhere near 100 yards on the Lions let alone breaking over 50 yards. Syracuse must throw the ball well to win.
Throwing the ball is converted Duke basketballer, Greg Paulus. If ever there was a case that makes one question if kids are students first and athletes second, then this is the primary argument that they are worried too much about playing than studying. Paulus was granted one year of eligibility to play football at Syracuse, which is near his home town, after playing basketball Duke for the last few years. Paulus was a 4-star football player and led his high school team to state championships in New York. But, his start against Minnesota was his first time under center since playing high school football in 2004. And, it showed. He was very quick to abandon plays and scramble trying to hit a receiver down field and he made a very poor decision in overtime, which ultimately cost the Orangemen the game. One thing we know for certain is that Paulus is used to playing in noisy atmospheres were communication is hindered. He also has a very strong arm and he has the ability to make plays all over the field. We'll see how he reacts to the Penn State defensive pressure that is applied by the Bradley "blitz from every possible angle" approach. Regardless, Paulus should be able to give us another look at how prepared the Penn State rebuilt secondary is for an aerial attack. The secondary did fine last week but Akron did not throw the ball nearly as often as they should have. I don't expect Syracuse to make that same mistake. If Paulus can get time, I think Syracuse can move the football. But, with their inability to run the football and with Paulus' propensity to run too soon, I see Syracuse punting more times than not.
MH: This is an interesting situation facing Penn State. Paulus said he will rely on his experience playing in the hostile Dean Dome to handle Penn State's crowd. Well, Beaver Stadium is over five times the size of the Dean Dome and I am not sure Paulus ever faced an opponent on the hardwood that wants to put their helmet in his chest-plate. Having said that Paulus will have to sharp given the sheer variety of speed and strength Larry Johnson can throw at him. What was most impressive to me with this defense was the depth of ability the unit showed with Crawford, Latham, Latimore, Ogbu and Odrick all come up with big negative yardage plays in the front four rotation.
Sean Lee looked solid as well, as Akron opted to run opposite him on many snaps. Bowman sidelined himself with a "minor groin injury," and will take it easy this week so don't plan on seeing him too much on Saturday. However, Nate Stupar stepped in and only took down a team-high 12 tackles. Hull had his ups and downs, so watch to see if the coaches hold that position or get Gbadyu in for some work.
The secondary is still a mystery. The pressure was so great on the pocket that Akron had little time to react. Nick Sukay was beat on a zone misread for a 40-yard touchdown strike, but other than that we're not sure what PSU has back there to work with. Andrew Dailey was a nice surprise though bringing in an interception and how about that fourth down 37-yard fake punt run? I had almost wanted the PSU staff to pull the defensive line starters to allow the secondary to get some more work against Akron.
I expect the same type of front pressure will help the secondary, but Syracuse struggled with Minnesota's pass rush, so it could be a long day unless Paulus can get the intermediate passing game in gear. So watch for some bubble screens and short curls to give him some options on the pass.
ND: Mark, I never thought I would ever say this but I miss the consistency of Kevin Kelly. Colin Wagner was probably wishing that Coach Paterno was back up in the booth after missing a 28-yard FG attempt in the second quarter. Wagner could very well be the Achilles heal to PSU push to repeat as Big Ten champs. He must get consistent very quickly especially within 40 yards.
Meanwhile, I loved that the Lions used Devon Smith on kickoff returns. I'd like to see him on punt returns because I'm not sure that Royster is the best choice for returning punts.
Syracuse brings a pretty good kick returner in Michael Jones. Though he didn't score a TD, he did return a kick for 79 yards against the Gophers. Kicker Ryan Lichtenstein was solid in action in the windless confines of the Carrier Dome hitting his two extra points and two FGs. We'll see how he does in Beaver Stadium where the temperature and the wind aren't so constant.
MH: Devon Smith was exciting on returns, but Penn State's wedge is not allowing him to leverage his speed as a return weapon. It's too slow to develop and forces his to stay in second gear until it engages. As for kicking Paterno chalked it up to first game nerves, but if Wagner can't get consistent true freshman Anthony Fera is an option.
I really don't like Royster back on punt returns given how important he is to the team – an remember PSU has no bye weeks this season, so they can't afford major injuries. I also think the coverage team needs work, but that should improve given the speed and athleticism they have on the unit.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: I really thought that the Zips would test the PSU secondary more than they did this past weekend. But, I think that the passing tandem of Paulus and Mike Williams will provide a good litmus test for the PSU secondary. We'll see if Lynn, Timmons and the safeties are able to cover a variety of routes – especially the post, which killed the Lions against USC and was the source of the sole TD from Akron. Should be interesting to watch.
MH: I am going to go on the other side of things and say that a great matchup will see how Daryll Clark manages the pressure Syracuse tosses at him. He has to play smart and not be afraid to use those check-downs and the wings. I know he wants some big passing numbers, but putting drives together early will be vital.
Keys to the Game:
ND: I think the Lions really need to focus on assignment football. This is what was lacking against Syracuse particularly in the run game. Syracuse is a team that can hang around if given the chance so the Lions need to make sure that Royster can run effectively. The O-line needs to get crisper and that's my key to the game.
MH: I think this game all comes down to the Syracuse offensive line against the Penn State defensive line. If the Orange OL can give Paulus time to deliver the ball Syracuse will put together some drives. However, that is a tall order because the line will be coming "fast and hard" at him. I know the boys in Orange are pretty amped that they made it a game with Minnesota at home, but now they are on the road, with a first year QB facing probably the best front seven they will see all season. The offensive line better tighten those chin straps.
ND: Syracuse is still a shell of the team that they used to be, which has been good for Penn State recruiting in the northeast. Though they played Minnesota tough, Weber is not near as efficient and as dangerous as Daryll Clark and the Carrier Dome is far more cozy than Beaver Stadium in the fall. I like the Lions big in a statement that they are far better than the Akron game showed.
Penn State 49, Syracuse 10
MH: Greg Paulus takes his game on the road for the first time, saying he's played in hostile environments like the Dean Dome. Well, Beaver Stadium is like five Dean Domes and I doubt he's face a hostile front like Odrick and company.
Penn State 33, Syracuse 10
Until next time,
Fight On State!