It's a year filled with differences for the Big 33, and one of the big differences is the practice location. A renovation project on the athletic fields at Hershey High School and Middle School, the long-time center of activity during Big 33 week, challenged the staff to find an alternative suitable location. Fortunately, just such a location was available just a few miles down the road at the Lower Dauphin High athletic complex, and by all accounts the move has been a success.
Taking the field with the Pennsylvania team are four defenders bound for Penn State: Jonathan Duckett of Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt High, Ryan Keiser from Selinsgrove, Alex Kenney from State College and Shyquawn Pullium from Cathedral Prep. The four bring a hard-nosed attitude and a strong work ethic to the field.
Keiser and Kenney were seeing extended action on both sides of the line of scrimmage as game day approached, with Keiser getting a lot of touches as a slot receiver and Kenney coming out of the backfield. Clearly a handful for the other defenders on the Pennsylvania squad, both show good instincts and the ability to get open in the secondary, although the Pennsylvania quarterbacks, Tyler Smith and Anthony Gonzalez have been inconsistent in finding them, frequently placing passes behind all the receivers where they are easy targets for the defenders to knock down, or to pick off. Some observers commented that neither quarterback is used to having receivers with the speed seen at the all-star level, and are having issues with timing and release point, which will be something to watch for as they begin their collegiate careers with Maryland and Pitt respectively.
Linebacker Manasseh Garner of Brashear continued to impress. He may be the best developed all-around defender on the Pennsylvania team, and he'll certainly cause headaches for the next several years for Penn State when it faces Wisconsin because Garner is a lock to be a multiple-year starter for the Badgers.
Andrew Carswell of Sto Rox and Salath Williams of Bishop McDevitt are a pair of solid wideouts. Both dropped some very catchable balls, however, and consistency will be the area where they will need some work. Both will be heading to Pitt this fall to begin their college careers, along with quarterback Gonzalez, so this week of Big 33 practice may turn out to be a great benefit for these three as they work on their timing in preparation for the upcoming few years together.
The offensive and defensive lines look to be adequate on both the Pennsylvania and Ohio teams, although it is difficult to get a good idea of just how talented each individual player is. Because Big 33 rules favor a wide open passing attack and attempt to minimize the chances for injury, blitzing and some other high risk plays that ordinarily showcase linemen are not permitted. This makes the game a much better opportunity for skill players to show their abilities than for the "big uglies" down in the trenches.
The bottom line on this game, though, comes down to heart. Pennsylvania brings a solid, but not quite stellar lineup into the Big 33 Classic this year. The team has had a good week of practice and has come a long way. In the end, I think it will be their inconsistency that makes the difference this year.
Prediction: Ohio 41, Pennsylvania 31.