PSU Game Preview
The Orange has been outscored 72-38 in their first two games of the season, losses to Northwestern and Akron. Many pundits, myself included, considered these ‘winnable' games for the ‘Cuse in our preseason prognostications. After a lackadaisical defensive performance that saw the Orange surrender 478 yards to a middling MAC team, analysts and fans alike are calling for Greg Robinson's immediate firing. And what's worse, the Penn State Nittany Lions are in town to renew a long-standing rivalry that somehow went on an 18-year hiatus.
Flash back to 2007 though. SU lost its first three games by a score of 118-32. Then, in the year of the upset, the Orange pulled off one of the most stunning, as they beat #18 Louisville 38-35 on the road. Andrew Robinson's four touchdown performance briefly captivated the nation. For a split second, Syracuse basked in the national spotlight. Though they were humbled by Miami (OH), they proved one thing: any given, well Saturday in this case, a football team can go out on the field and win, regardless of the opponent.
And while we're going on coincidences, let me give you a few more to consider, a beacon of hope in the darkest of tunnels.
• Dennis Quad, who starred in the movie "Any Given Sunday", is (you guessed it) also starring in "The Express", the movie about Syracuse football legend Ernie Davis that premieres Friday night.
• About a year ago (okay, so nine days off), Syracuse defeated the #18 team in the country on the road in a highly publicized game. 356 days later, Syracuse now challenges the #17 team in the nation in the Dome, in what may prove to be the most important game of the decade for this program.
• If there's one program in the nation that can match the amount of hubbub and distractions surrounding it right now, it's Penn State…and for all the wrong reasons. Numerous Nittany Lions found themselves in the news for the wrong reasons, the most recent being cornerback Willie Harriott. He was kicked off the team last Thursday, one day after being cited for driving with a suspended license.
• Last year, Bob Costas spoke to Syracuse students in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse III in the week leading up to the Louisville game. During a Q&A session, a student asked if Costas would mention Syracuse on the following Sunday Night Football telecast if the Orange won. Win they did and Costas kept his word. Well, this year, it's Mike Tirico's turn. Tirico visited SU today to speak to students and when asked, promised to give a ‘shout out' to SU on ESPN's Monday Night Football game, if they beat Penn State this weekend.
All these coincidences are fine and dandy, but they won't mean anything if Greg Robinson cannot motivate his players. Surely, he has heard the rumors swirling about SU wanting to get the premiere of "The Express" out of the way before firing him. And if that's not motivation enough for Robinson to coax everything he can out of his players, then he'll never be motivated.
However, a win over Penn State will be far from a cakewalk. JoePa's squad comes into the game having outscored its first two opponents 111-24 and finds itself installed as a four touchdown favorite in this one. Sophomore Evan Royster is a big reason why. He has tallied six touchdowns and an impressive 8.2 yards per carry so far this season. And while there were questions at the quarterback position just a week ago, junior Darryll Clark dispelled them with a workman-like performance in last week's game. Jordan Norwood, a senior wideout, has two touchdown receptions thus far and will provide important veteran leadership for Penn State in their first road test of the season in what should be a rowdy Carrier Dome. This will be the key matchup in the game. Penn State's developing offense is yet to near juggernaut status, but the Orange defense was less effective than a sieve last week.
The Orange will need big performances on defense and a couple of lucky breaks or turnovers. Whether it is a Max Suter kick return, a Vincenzo Giruzzi fumble recovery or a Randy McKinnon pick for six, the defense will need to play their hearts out, because Penn State's defensive unit looks formidable (and that might be the understatement of this entire article.) Sean Lee and A.J. Wallace anchor a defensive unit that has routinely sent players to play on Sundays.
Keys to the Game:
1. Strike early and often; try misdirection or some trick plays in the first quarter to get the fans into the game.
2. Establish the running game; Brinkley ran hog wild last weekend, albeit not against this D.
3. Tackling; step up on defense and make plays; everyone must be accountable.
4. Channel the legend of Ernie Davis.
1. Let the playmakers make the plays: a steady dose of Evan Royster and Stephfon Green should wear down a defense notorious for tiring late in games.
2. Play like an experienced team; you're better and you know it; don't let the SU fans or "The Express" distract you.
3. Joe Paterno > Greg Robinson; make sure that's the case in this game; no need for overly aggressive play-calling or anything else drastic.
4. Don't look past this game, no matter how bad Syracuse is, it's only Temple you've got to look forward to next week.
Now, it's prediction time. Maybe it's the optimist in me, but I really do expect the Orange to come out and play inspired football this weekend. Unfortunately, tackling is just one of the many problems SU has and these problems can't be fixed in one week. SU keeps it close until the end, but can't quite pull off the upset.
Penn State 27, Syracuse 17
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