Know Thy Opponent 2013: Penn St. Nittany Lions

Justin K. Aller

Purdue takes on Penn State for one final time as Divisional rivals.

We're now up to game 10 on Purdue's 12-game 2013 schedule. By the time our trip to Happy Valley rolls around on November 16th it is hoped that Purdue has already reached at least four victories because a closing stretch of Illinois and at Indiana is about as easy of a slate as you can ask for. Getting a punchless Iowa team in Game 9 is nice, but game 10 is a bit of a mystery.

Penn State is entering the 2013 season once again under sanctions. After losing 10 scholarships last year they can have up to 20 gone this season, limiting their available pool of players. Still, they fought hard to a nice 8-4 season last year despite everything. This year's challenges are similar with a different group of players, so the result should be interesting.

2012 Record: 8-4, 6-2 Big Ten

Bowl Result: None (Serving year 1 of 4-year ban)

Blog Representation: Black Shoe Diaries, Nittany White Out, Linebacker-U.com

Series with Purdue: Penn State Leads 12-3-1

Last Purdue win: 20-13 at Penn State on 10/9/2004

Last Penn State win: 34-9 at Purdue on 11/3/2012

Last Season For The Nittany Lions:

Last year's game followed the same script that Purdue had against the three big home games against quality opponents. Purdue had a nice opening drive and scored, this time on a short Sam McCartney field goal, before the Nordfense packed it in and did nothing the rest of the day. Purdue led 3-0 before giving up 34 unanswered points. The Boilers finally scored again on the final play in front of four people on a soggy, dreary day in West Lafayette. After moving the ball 49 yards for the opening score Purdue went as follows on offense:

3-and-out (7 yards)

5-and-out (18 yards, 15 from a roughing the passer penalty)

6-and-out (18 yards)

3-and-out (-1 yard)

4-and-out (19 yards)

7-and-out (22 yards, missed FG)

3-and-out (9 yards)

7-and-out (10 yards)

3-and-out, (6 yards)

9-and-out (39 yards, turnover on downs)

11-and-out (60 yards, turnover on downs)

14-and out (79 yards, turnover on downs on 4th and goal from the 18)

51-yard, 6-play TD drive

For the record, it was 34-3 before the 39 yard drive there midway through the third quarter. Purdue gained 93 total yards of offense in the time that Penn State scored all 34 points they needed.

The sad thing is that this looked like a winnable game early in the year. Penn State dropped games to Ohio and Virginia to start the season before getting it together and winning eight of their last ten. With nothing to play for they rallied behind Bill O'Brien and got better. Purdue, with everything to play for, got worse under Danny Hope.

Penn State Offense

The Nittany Lions got a lot from former walk-on Matt McGloin last season. That's why the senior quarterback was named as the Burlsworth Trophy winner last year. He threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns against us and finished the year with 3,266 yards and 24 TDs against just five interceptions. He also ran for five scores, but still did not get an all-Big Ten mention.

McGloin is gone, however, leaving bunch of questions at the QB spot. Christian Hackenberg is expected to start from day 1 as a five-star prospect out of Fort Union Academy. He's a big guy at 6'4" 212 pounds and was the No. 2 QB prospect in the country last year. Sophomore Steven Bench is the only player on the roster that has completed a collegiate pass, going 2-for-8 last year for 12 yards.

Zach Zwinak returns after rushing for exactly 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in 2012, with 134 coming against Purdue. He had a good year after losing 2010 to a torn ACL and getting only three carries in 2011. Zwinak is more of a fullback at 6'1" and 240 pounds, so he can be a bruising runner. Bill Belton (263 yards, 3 TDs) should also get plenty of carries as Penn State adjusts to a freshman under center.

Hackenberg has a very nice asset to work with in receiver Allen Robinson. The First Team all-Big Ten player is back after catching 77 passes for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tight End Kyle Carter must be replaced after a First Team all-Big Ten season and it looks like Jesse James (15-276-5) will do a fine job there. Brandon Moseby-Felder (31-437-1) is also back after catching six passes for 129 yards and his only touchdown against Purdue. There are other receivers with either experience or talent to like Alex Kenney (17-172-0), Eugene Lewis (4-star 2012 commit), and tight end Adam Breneman (4-star 2013 recruit).

Hackenberg should have plenty of weapons at his disposal, as a freshman QB can't ask for a much better situation to step into. He has plenty of weapons in the passing game and two good running backs to help him out too. The offensive line also features three seniors (Ty Howle, John Urschel, and Adam Gress) among the projected starters. Urschel was a Second team all-Big Ten selection at guard (First Team according to the coaches), but Howle has a big role to step into after First Teamer Matt Stankiewitch left. Miles Dieffenbach also returns as a starter.

Penn State Defense

Defense has defined Penn State for decades and will continue to do so going forward. It certainly did last year when Purdue struggled to gain 150 yards before finally moving the ball against the backups. The Nittany Lions had a pair of First Team all-Big Ten players in Jordan Hill and Michael Mauti as well as Second Teamer Gerald Hodges. All three are gone, however, from a defense that gave up less than 20 points per game (16th best nationally).

Mauti was the heart and soul of the defense. He was an emotional leader with 95 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and three interceptions before injuring his knee and missing the final game. Both he and Hodges leave Glenn Carson as the lone returning starter at linebacker. He'll be paired with Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman. Wartman is coming off of a redshirt year while Hull had 58 tackles in 12 games.

Penn State had a solid pass rush by committee in 2012 with 17 different players getting in on 34 sacks. Defensive end Deion Barnes led the team with 6 sacks and 10 tackles for loss as a freshman, so he could be one of the best young defenders in the Big Ten. C.J. Olaniyan is expected to start on the other end with massive tackles DaQuan Jones (6'3", 333 pounds) and Austin Johnson in the middle. Their sheer size in the middle will make running the ball very difficult.

The secondary could be a bit of a question mark with Stephen Obeng-Agyapong returning as the lone senior in the defensive backfield. He had 41 tackles a year ago, but Penn State had only 10 interceptions as a team. Five of those picks belonged to Mauti and Hodges. Jordan Lucas, Adrian Amos, and Malcolm Willis do bring experience, however, as Amos and Willis each had over 40 tackles last season.

Overall the defense should still be very good, but it is tough to replace leaders like Mauti and Hodges. Mauti especially, with his intangible leadership skills that brought the team together after all the offseason crap, will be sorely missed.

Penn State Special Teams

This area was pretty much a disaster to start the season as poor Sam Ficken was thrown into the melee after Anthony Fera left. The kicker missed four of his five field goal attempts in a one-point loss to Virginia, but did recover to go 14 of 21 on the year with a game-winner over Wisconsin in overtime. Punter Alex Butterworth struggled to average over 37 yards per kick, so Cody Webster should be an advantage here.

Penn State did not do much in the return game. Bill Belton handled most kick returns and he is expected to do the same on punt returns this year.

Game Outlook

Much of this season will go as Hackenberg goes. Black Shoe Diaries had this to say about him when he committed:

Hackenberg is the elite quarterback that Coach O'Brien wanted in this class (and that Coach Fisher stated specifically they were looking for). He's a legit four-star (will he get that fifth star?), pro-style quarterback with great awareness and a strong arm.

Christian was on campus for the Junior Day a couple of weekends ago, and seemed to really come away impressed. Fortunately for Penn State, Ryan Burns also came away impressed. The two four-star, Virginia quarterbacks were (and continue to be) the only signal callers offered by Penn State, and many were watching closely to see who Penn State could land. It was, for all intents and purposes, a race to the commitment.

They later did an interview with him:

"We were forced to go into shotgun this year, because our OL wasn't really strong, we really didn't have much of a run game. My whole high school career I've run the pro-style, you know, work off some play action, throw it 15-20 times a game, up until this year. Ideally, if I had to pick one, I'd like to go to a pro-style offense."

With Penn State you know what you're going to get. Bill O'Brien proved he can be an excellent coach last season after dealing with the Sandusky mess about as well as it could be dealt with. There are enough front-line pieces left to think there will not be the big fall off that some originally predicted. With someone like Hackenberg running the show their fans can begin to see the light at the end of their 4-year bowl ban purgatory after this year.

To win this Purdue is going to have to avoid the mistakes that cost them in Happy Valley in 2011 and get some semblance of a running game going. Coahc Hazell wants a tough, physical football team that can run the ball well. That will be extremely tough against Penn State.

Prediction

I'd like to think we can win this one, but Penn State pushed us around too easily last season. Purdue would need to buy into Hazell's philosophy 100% and be a completely different team this time around. I like our guys, but overall Penn State has the better team and the better defense. Penn State 21, Purdue 10

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