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ND: The Lions are headed for another major New Years' Day bowl. And, they are one of three Big Ten teams that face teams that everyone thinks has superior speed. Wisconsin faces Miami, Iowa faces Georgia Tech and the Lions square off against LSU. But, make no mistake; all three teams have a really good chance in their games because they have speed at key spots.
LSU comes into this game looking to prove that they can play at a high level without superstar running back Charles Scott, who is ruled out of the Capital One Bowl because of a broken collarbone that is still mending. Since his injury, the Tigers lost to Alabama, gimped by La Tech, lost to Ole Miss and needed OT to beat Ryan Mallett's Arkansas team.
Though the team might be disappointed that they are not playing in a BCS game, I think the LSU matchup is a really good one and can serve as a great springboard into next year.
MH: The Nittany Lion players are up for this game and excited to face off against the SEC. LSU is dealing with some injuries, particularly in their offensive backfield, but they are an athletic group. Penn State will have to come out sharp and aggressive with some good ball protection to square up with the Tigers.
The team is hoping to send out the seniors like Daryll Clark, Sean Lee and Jared Odrick in winning style, but that will take them playing up to their abilities and avoiding any major mental mistakes in the form of penalties and turnovers.
Who: No. 13 Penn State at No. 12 Louisiana State
When: January 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm ET and 10:00 am PT
Where: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium Orlando, Florida
Series: Penn State leads 1-0 with a 16-9 win in the 1974 Orange Bowl.
TV: ABC with Brad Nessler, Penn State alumnus Todd Blackledge and Erin Andrews calling the action.
Line: Penn State favored by 2.5 points
Other Big Bowl Games:
ND: Mark, I'm really interested in the Rose Bowl this year. Ohio State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1997 when Joe Germaine led a late scoring drive to knockoff the Jake-the-Snake Arizona State team. However, Oregon has only been to the Rose Bowl five times including this year and their last win was in 1917 in the third Rose Bowl. A few months later, the United States would declare war on Germany and would enter World War I.
Despite some key losses on offense, namely Ray Small, I like the Buckeyes chance in this game. I don't think the Ducks' running game is going to be difficult for the Buckeyes to adjust to because of their strong front four. And, Jeremiah Masoli has not impressed me as a pocket passer this year. If the Buckeyes can keep the Ducks from getting big chunks of yards on first down, then I think they can force some turnovers and help Pryor score some points by shortening the field. The Buckeyes owe the Big Ten with a high-profile win after years of laying an egg on the national stage.
MH: I am interested to see how Iowa handles Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Iowa had a dream season for their program, until they collapsed in November with the loss of Stanzi. The question on many Big Ten minds is can the Hawkeyes hang with the Yellowjackets and their triple-option attack?
Aside from the Rose Bowl, I am also curious to see how Bobby Bowden closes out his career at Florida State against his old West Virginia program. On paper, the Mountaineers should beat out the ‘Noles, but FSU could have some additional motivation to send out Mickey Andrews, Bowden and likely much of the FSU staff on a positive note.
ND: The folks in Austin are feeling déjà vu all over again. Leading up to their last game in Pasadena, the Longhorns were written off because they were facing the No. 1 team with an explosive offense and a Heisman winning running back. Instead, Vince Young single handedly came out and beat USC. Now, Colt McCoy is being asked to do the same thing against Alabama in the National Championship game.
Mark, nobody is talking about how Texas hasn't lost a bowl game since the 2003 Holiday Bowl against the Cougars of Washington State (note: this might be the only time that the Cougars are mentioned this bowl season). That doesn't happen by coincidence. The Longhorns have a pretty good defense and McCoy and Shipley can change a game with a flick of the wrist and one little juke.
Every time the media thinks the national title is a foregone conclusion, the underdog pulls out an upset. Vince Young's Texas team and Craig Krenzel's Ohio State team come immediately to mind. I like Texas' chance in this game.
MH: I like Texas too, Nirav. I also think that Michigan State could surprise a "Leach-less" Texas Tech squad in the Alamo Bowl after their head coach was suspended from the bowl due to some odd happenings allegedly with the son of ESPN announcer Craig James. I think those distractions coupled with MSU's Cousins could give the Raiders a lot to handle.
I am also going to go out on a limb and say watch for the Northwestern Wildcats to give a run at the Auburn Tigers. Auburn has the coveted SEC affiliation, but they collapsed midseason, losing five of six division one contests. I have a feeling Pat Fitzgerald will have the Cardiac Cats ready to win their first bowl game since 1948.
ND: The SEC is noted as being a conference with strong defenses that are particularly fast on the defensive line. But, that's not really the case with LSU. LSU's defensive line has played well but they have really struggled getting pressure on the QB. The starting front four have only tallied a combined 6.5 sacks this year. As a point of comparison, Penn State's front four have 14.5 sacks this year. This is good for Penn State because the Lions have not done well when Clark is under pressure. Penn State should be able to continue to use all of their normal formations and roll Clark out after the play action. Clark will need to continue to look for the underneath passes and then take some shots down the field. I am looking for Andrew Quarless, Evan Royster, Stephfon Green and Joe Suhey to have big games catching the ball because LSU will try to take Moye and Zug out of the picture. The guy that just jumps off the screen when you watch the Tigers is Patrick Peterson. He has 47 tackles on the year with 38 being unassisted. But, more impressively, he has 13 passes broken up. He's a big, physical corner and he'll probably be matched up with Moye. However, another area that favors the Lions is that the LSU corners do not play press coverage. Though they play more man than zone, the LSU corners are generally 5 to 10 yards off of the line of scrimmage. We'll see if Coach Hall throws the ball quick to the WRs to take advantage of this cushion coverage early on. It will also help Clark get settled down after the long layoff.
Where I think Penn State can do the most damage is on the ground. In their last three games, they allowed 4.2 yards per carry against Arkansas (77th in rushing offense), 4.3 yards per carry (33rd in rushing offense) and 3.5 yards per carry (30th in rushing offense). Penn State is 38th in the country in rushing offense so they should be able to point out some yards on the ground. The Tigers do like to play a LB right up at the line of scrimmage at the snap to bring added pressure in running situations. Both Perry Riley and Kelvin Sheppard are really good against the run. Sheppard leads the team in tackles (103) and is 2nd in TFLs (8.5). The Lions offensive line will need to get a good push and will then have to get a hat on these guys. I think the read option would be a really good attack for the Lions but we'll see if the coaches allow Clark to take those types of hits. If that's the case, it'll be interesting to see if they bring Newsome in off of the bench like they did with Clark in the 2007 Alamo Bowl.
LSU's defense is not spectacular in any particular facet so I am expecting the Lions to go with a balanced attack and to use the same sort of formations and play calling they have used all season long. The key for the Lions will be protecting Clark but considering that the Tigers are only generating 1.67 sacks per game, it shouldn't be much of a problem.
MH: LSU's defense is not the most disciplined Penn State has faced, but they are quick and athletic and can improvise to get pressure on the pocket. Although the Tigers have had trouble grabbing quarterbacks, the PSU offensive line will have to set and hold their block from the get-go to give Daryll Clark time to make his reads and deliver the ball. I agree with you Nirav that LSU will try to take away the wideouts in this game, so Clark will have to look for his short passes to the tight ends and backs. Penn State has also been working on more intermediate routes for the receivers to help move the ball.
Watch for the LSU linebackers to play in tight early to try to plug up the lanes for Royster and company. Penn State cannot ignore the run, but they should look to the screen and some swing passes to break the Tiger front seven up off the line. The concern I have is that if a screen doesn't work out of the gate that PSU tends to drop the concept. They need to keep a myriad of weapons in the game as to keep the LSU defense guessing.
LSU's defense is ranked No. 28 in total defense, giving up 326.6 yards per game. Their passing defense is No. 29 and their rushing defense is No. 44. As you said, the ground could be where Penn State opens things up and Royster is looking to make a statement, which could be his final one in Blue and White – that remains to be seen. The Tiger defense is stingy though, ranked no. 12 in scoring defense nationally, allowing only 16 points per game. Clark will have to spread around the ball and find a way to use his weapons and come out with a balanced attack.
ND: Let's just cut right to it. The LSU offense stinks. They are 108th in the nation in total offense, which means they have fewer yards per game than Syracuse and Temple. Minnesota is only 15 yards per game behind the Tigers. And, with the loss of Charles Scott, they are going to suffer even more. They will now turn to Trindon Holliday and Steven Ridley. This is the Tigers' version of thunder and lightning. Holliday can fly and he's only 5'5". Ridley is a typical SEC back at 6'0" and 226lbs. The Tigers are going to need both of these guys to have good games to keep the pass rush off of Jordan Jefferson. The Tigers will use a variety of formations from a pistol look to the shotgun to a normal I-formation. They will run some option and they will run a Wildcat formation with Russell Shepard, the 5-star freshman QB from Houston. Shepard is explosive and he has run the ball very well this year. Interestingly enough, he has not attempted a pass out of the Wildcat. I am certain Les Miles is going to change that in the bowl game. Look for Shepard to take a snap, run in one direction, step back and try to catch the Lions napping. Shepard will remind quite a few folks of Denard Robinson of Michigan. They are the same height and weight and both run a 4.4 forty yard dash.
The Tigers have faced two teams with the type of run defense that the Lions possess – Florida and Alabama. In both games, LSU never got over 100 yards rushing and if you take out Charles Scott's 34-yard run against Alabama, the Tigers had a really poor yards per rush average. With Bowman, Hull and Lee fully rested and recovered, I have real doubts that the Tigers will be able to run the ball on Penn State.
The passing game is where the Tigers may be able to do some real damage. They have a talented set of WRs and if they can use Holliday in the passing game that will be a further boast. Brandon LaFell is one of the better WRs in the country but he has not had the ball thrown to him nearly enough. He has size and strength but the Tigers have not been able to get him the ball in open space. But, the real key is going to be Jordan Jefferson. The sophomore signal caller has struggled with his footwork and has missed some easy throws. But, he is generally accurate. The problem has been keeping him upright. The Tigers have given up 35 sacks this year. As a point of comparison, Penn State has only given up 16. The problem has not been solely that of the offensive line. Jefferson has to get rid of the football quickly. When his initial read is not there, he's holding on to the football rather than running or throwing it away. This will be a point of emphasis in the practices leading up to the game. The Lions need to get pressure on Jefferson early to have him panic when his reads don't pan out. Look for Coach Bradley to send the PSU linebackers early in this game and for the defensive line to stunt so that they can get pressure on Jefferson.
The LSU offense will need to find a way to move the ball on first down. If they are in second and third and long situations, the Lions will send pressure in an attempt to rattle Jefferson and force a turnover. LSU must be able to run the ball in order to get points up on the board. But, I think the PSU defense is well equipped for that approach and I see the Tigers struggling to score.
MH: Let's go right to Holliday as the LSU primary offensive weapon. This guy has wings on his feet and his small stature makes him tough tot pickup and track in traffic. As you said, their 180th ranked offense is averaging 309.7 yards per game. Their passing game is ranked No. 99, averaging only 180 yards per game and their rushing attack is No. 84, averaging 129.6 yards per game.
Jordan Jefferson is an athletic quarterback who has completed 169 passes on 272 attempts (62 percent) with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. The stat that really jumps out at me is that the LSU offensive line has coughed up 35 sacks. Jared Odrick and the front line have to be salivating at that stat. This is why Miles will have to use misdirection and some gimmicks to keep the Penn State defensive line at bay.
The major concern for me is Penn State's secondary against the LSU wideouts. Terrance Toliver is 6'5" and Brandon LaFell is 6'3". If A.J. Wallace comes to play he and D'Anton Lynn should have the wings covered. The question is with the safeties; Drew Astorino has been playing with an injured shoulder much of the season and although he continues to improve Nick Sukay needs to be sharp on his breaks to support the coverage.
The Tigers have been hurt with running back injuries, losing Charles Scott and Keiland Williams. Despite this, LSU has shown a preference to stay on the ground with 410 rushing attempts to only 312 pass attempts, likely due to the concerns around Jefferson's consistency. Despite this, the Tigers have had more success going to the air with 2161 passing yards and 18 air touchdowns to 1555 rushing yards and 14 ground touchdowns.
ND: The Achilles heel of the Lions all season long is certainly going to be a focal point in the preparation for the bowl game. The Lions have struggled in punt coverage and the Tigers are No. 1 in the nation in punt returns averaging 18.64 yards per return. Trindon Holliday is the main returner and he is lightning in a bottle. Holliday is a fast football player but he is also the NCAA 100m champion clocking a time of 10.0 this past summer. At 5'5", by the time you see him, he's gone. The Lions will need to stay in their lanes and Boone will need to do a great job of angling his punts so that Holliday will be forced to run in one direction.
Meanwhile, the Tigers stink on kick returns. Believe it or not, they are actually worse than Penn State this year. But, to offset things, the Tigers do have a solid kicker. Josh Jasper is 16 of 19 this year with a long of 52 yards. Wagner must matchup and kick the ball well in this game because FGs could be really key in what I believe will be a low scoring game.
MH: It is strange to see a team so strong at punt returns, but so weak at kick returns. The coverage team has been getting in extra work in Florida and they will need it to stay disciplined to contain Holliday. He could really give LSU a major edge in the battle for field position.
Jeremy Boone will have to have his big leg ready in order to help Penn State keep pace with Holliday's abilities.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: The matchup that I am really going to enjoy is how Brandon LaFell performs against either A.J. Wallace or D'Anton Lynn. Both have tremendous experience against some talented WRs. LaFell is tall and strong. His 10 TDs this season is an amazing mark so I'm really interested to see how the Penn State corners perform against LaFell especially in the red zone.
MH: I am anxious to see how Clark handles the pressure the front seven throw at him. This is his final game and he certainly has a chip on his shoulder. I should be interesting to see what he can do regardless of whether his offensive line can give him time or not. I expect that he'll be using his legs a bit more in this game.
Keys to the Game:
ND: The two losses that Penn State has suffered this year have two commonalities – inability to protect the QB and inability to prevent big plays in the kicking game. I think it is the former that is absolutely critical in this game. If Penn State wants to win this game, they offensive line will need to have a good game and the coaches will need to keep TEs and RBs in to help protect Clark. If Clark has time, he has shown over and over again that he can perform at a high level. But, when he is under duress, the game usually ends in a loss.
MH: I think this game comes down to discipline. And not just protecting the ball, but particularly with assignments and lane coverage. LSU is not the most disciplined team, but they have the speed an athleticism to improvise and make plays when things break down. If Penn State plays disciplined they should have the edge in this game.
ND: I like the Lions in this game because the LSU defense is not as strong as the other competition that Penn State has faced and I'm not convinced that without Charles Scott that the LSU offense can really move the ball consistently. Too much is riding on Jordan Jefferson and he has not shown the ability to win games through the air.
Penn State 24, LSU 17
MH: On paper Penn State seems to be the better team. The key will be how the special teams match up, if the offensive line can manage the trenches and if Clark can spread the ball around. Watch for LSU to have some big plays, but Penn State's steady play outpaces the Tigers in this catfight.
Penn State 27, LSU 17
Until next time,
Fight On State!