Knowing The Enemy: A Q&A With Black Shoe Diaries

Hunter Martin

SB Nation's Penn State blog stops by for a chat about Saturday's Leaders Division game.

It is Penn State week, so the famous black Shoe Diaries, one of the longest established sites in the SB Nation Network, is here to answer some questions about the Nittany Lions.Here is what Devon Edwards had to say about a team fighting with a lot of spirit under severe sanctions:

T-Mill: With the success of Penn State this year, what are the long-term prospect of the next three seasons of sanctions and scholarship restrictions?

Devon: I think most people generally expect that this will be the best season for Penn State until we're through the bulk of the sanctions--ironically, though, we're playing with a roster that's just about the same size as the one we'll have in the next few years.

Honestly, though, this season has given us a lot of hope moving forward. Not only are so many of the key contributors, at least on the offensive side of the ball, younger students, but we've also seen how this coaching staff has been able to develop talent that wasn't considered to be superlative. Matt McGloin is, legitimately, the best pocket quarterback in the Big Ten, an offensive line that's struggled for years has become, last week notwithstanding, a competent unit, and guys like Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter, who nobody had heard of coming into this season, are among the best receivers and tight ends in the conference.

I think there's enough confidence that our dark years, redux won't be a bunch of 3-9 seasons, but 6-6 and 7-5 ones, that we'll be able to stay competitive even when depleted.

T-Mill: How stylistically different is Penn State under Bill O'Brien s opposed to the older regime?

Devon: The biggest difference between the new and old regimes is the communication. At times last year, it seemed that nobody had any idea what was going on, and that's partly because of the incredible game of telephone the coaches played when calling plays and partly because Joe Paterno had long since delegated pretty much all of his duties. Now, you can tell that this is clearly O'Brien's team, and while swagger isn't the right word, there's certainly a level of confidence that he's put in his players. Maybe it's a product of playing with house money--it's not like a loss can knock them out of bowl berth--but Penn State has played loose, aggressive--especially when it comes to 4th downs--and just generally seems like they're having fun, which is a completely novel concept for the Nittany Lions. It's pretty fun to watch, too.

T-Mill: Purdue comes in at possibly its lowest point in 15 years. How much does this help a Penn State team that was set back a bit by Ohio State?

Devon: The concern with this Penn State team is that, because it's so fueled by emotion--what else do they have?--the loss to Ohio State in what was not just the biggest game of the season, but likely the biggest game of the next 5 seasons, the rest of the season will be a letdown. I'm not quite buying that. The coaches and senior leadership on this team have been outstanding, and while there may be some hangover from Saturday, I think that Penn State's good enough to power through it even if they don't play their best football. That's the hope, at least--with next week's game at Nebraska, it sure would be nice to get back on track before heading into Lincoln.

T-Mill: How has the past year been for Penn State fans strictly from a football sense? I'm not even touching the scandal.

Devon: It's been, for lack of a better word, really really weird and more of a roller coaster ride than you could possibly imagine. Consider that a year ago at this time--before the scandal broke--Penn State was 8-1, its only loss to #1 Alabama, ranked somewhere in the teens, and being called the worst 8-1 team ever. Then you just had the emotionally draining and incredibly cathartic Nebraska game, and then the unveiling of the wildcat in a win in Columbus, and somehow we were playing in Madison for a chance to make it to Indianapolis. That, uh, didn't work out so well. Neither did the TicketCity.com bowl.

The hiring of Bill O'Brien raised about as much consternation--guys like LaVar Arrington were disowning Penn State, as we started hemorrhaging recruits from what had been a really strong class. But then O'Brien actually started coaching, said all the right things, made all the right moves, recruited like a madman, and all was well again. Then the sanctions hit and crippled our program for the foreseeable future.

Then we lost to Ohio and Virginia, and wondered if that was what the next 5 years had in store. Then we won 5 games in a row, and thought we'd win out and show the NCAA what they could do with those sanctions, and then Ohio State came into our house and (with an assist from some extremely suspect officiating) beat us down, and here we are and wow, I'm out of breath just typing that.

T-Mill: Finally, with Purdue in such disarray, do you really have much to fear given how Penn State as exceeded expectations somewhat?

Devon: See, Purdue, you guys are killing me. You go and get blown out by pretty much everyone, but in the midst of that, go into Columbus and almost beat the Buckeyes, and we're all like "If Purdue can do that, so can we!" Thanks for the false hope, guys.

Honestly, though, Purdue matches up fairly well with Penn State--we'll struggle against a spread passing attack because there are about 5 defensive backs on the roster, and starting Robert Marve seems a better bet than sticking with TerBush. But offensively, I still think there's just too much firepower for Purdue to outscore the Nittany Lions--unless, like Ohio State, your defensive line suddenly and without warning becomes this completely dominant unit that shuts down everything. I'll say Penn State 35, Purdue 20.

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