My Big Ten road trip last season was to Penn State, where I visited Happy for the first time to knock it off the list of venues where I have seen Purdue play. It was a very pleasant trip. The fans were incredibly accommodating and even though Purdue came up just short, I was glad we went.
That was a few weeks before all hell broke loose.
I think it is safe to say that Penn State fans have felt every emotion possible about 10 times in the past few months alone. Their football program has been dragged through the mud, a legendary coach was fired and died, a former coach was indicted and conviction on charges of child molestation, and now the specter of a further investigation in the Freeh report and possible NCAA sanctions hangs further over their heads like the Sword of Damocles. I can't blame them for wanting to talk about football and only football again.
For the purposes of this preview that's what I will try to do. Penn State in 2012 will likely be a lot like their 2011 team. They started hot, were dominant at times on defense, but the quarterback position was massive question mark. Hopefully on November 3rd we can take advantage of that in addition to some NFL betting at NFLBetting.org.
2011 Record: 9-4, 6-2 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Lost to Houston 30-14 in TicketCity Bowl
Series with Purdue: Penn State Leads 11-3-1
Last Purdue win: 20-13 at Penn State on 10/9/2004
Last Penn State win: 23-18 at Penn State on 10/15/2011
Last Season For The Nittany Lions:
You can almost see where the season is divided into Pre-Sandusky and Post-Sandusky. On October 29th Penn State squeezed out a 10-7 home win over Illinois as Joe Paterno earned his 409th career victory. As it turned out, it was his final game and less than three months later he would be dead. The Lions were 8-1, 5-0 in the Big Ten, and looked to be headed to the first ever Big Ten Championship Game. They would lose three of their last four once the whole Sandusky mess started, including an ugly bowl game to Houston.
Penn State relied greatly on its defense last season. Wins over Temple (14-10), Indiana (16-10), Iowa (13-3), and Illinois (10-7) were hardly things of beauty, but they were effective. That defense was needed as Penn State's quarterback play was far from impressive. The defense ranked fifth nationally at 16.8 points per game, but the offense was 110th at 19.3 points per game.
Penn State Offense:
Once again, Penn State faces the question of Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin at quarterback. Like our own Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush this past season, the duo split snaps and the offense was far from a juggernaut. McGloin played the most with 12 games under his belt, but only with 1,571 yards and eight touchdowns against five interceptions. Bolden played in 10 games and threw for 685 yards and two touchdowns against seven picks. He also completed only 40% of his passes. You have to think the edge belongs to McGloin. He is a senior and it's not like Bolden was all-World last year.
Silas Redd, the only consistent offensive threat, returns at running back after notching 1,241 yards and seven scores. He was by far the best runner on the team, as backup Stephfon Green had only 266 yards rushing, but six touchdowns. If Redd gets hurt Penn State could be in a load of trouble. The top two backups from last year are gone, and senior Derek Day is list as the top backup after having 7 carries for 27 yards in 2011.
Freshman Eugene Lewis could be an immediate impact receiver, and that is needed with the departure of Derek Moye (40-654-3). Justin Brown (35-517-2) is the only receiver back that had over 110 yards receiving last season. Shawney Kersey (10-108-0) and Alex Kenney (no stats) are currently listed as the starters with Brown. Tight end Garry Gilliam is also a virtual newcomer.
Penn State lists a lot of seniors on its depth chart, but they are seniors that have never played in major roles before this season. This is especially true at the skill positions. The offensive line lists four senior starters in Matt Stankiewitch, Mike Farrell, John Urshel, and Adam Gress. In a rarity for the Big Ten four of the five starters are below 300 pounds. This could bode well for Kawann Short and Ryan Russell.
Penn State Defense:
The secondary should be a strength for the Nittany Lions with three senior starters. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Malcolm Willis, and Stephon Morris, but Willis led this trio with only 33 tackles. Adrian Amos will be a sophomore starter at the second corner position.
Gerald Hodges returns as the senior leader of the defense at linebacker. He had 106 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and an interception last year. He also had 10 tackles for loss. He fits in extremely well at "Linebacker U.", and Khairi Fortt and Glenn Carson also return with plenty of experience. As always, the linebacker prospects should be very deep and talented.
Sean Stanley with 4.5 sacks will likely be the leader of the defensive line along with Jordan Hill (59 tackles, 3.5 sacks). DaQuan Jones is moving into a starting role for the first time as is Deion Barnes. All told, Penn State had 31 sacks and 84 tackles for loss. They had little trouble getting into the backfield to disrupt plays, and will likely be asked to do the same again.
Penn State Special Teams:
Penn State was one of the first teams that Raheem Mostert was able to burn on kickoff returns, as his 73 take back resulted in a later touchdown pass from TerBush to O.J. Ross. Chaz Powell was the feature of their return game, but he graduated. That leaves Justin Brown as the top returner for punts and kickoffs. Devon Smith may also return punts.
Evan Lewis replaces Anthony Fera as the kicker. Lewis, a senior was only 1 of 5 on field goal attempts last season, but he did hit from 43 yards. Fera also handled punting duties and will be replaced by Alex Butterworth.
I am really starting to think that this is a game Purdue can win. Penn State is in total disarray with every focus of the university lying far from the football field. The defense is patching a few wholes, but the loss of Moye as one of their few offensive playmakers is a bigger problem. Penn State is going to have to ugly it up and win some 10-7 games this year again. You can only do that for so long before it starts to wear on you.
This has the look of a team that will struggle to come from behind in games. Last year Purdue trailed the entire time, so Redd was able to grind things out for 131 yards and a score on 28 carries. The quarterbacks were only 10 of 23 for 185 yards and an interception. Clearly, we have to focus on Redd and make them beat us through the air.
Special teams were a major factor in last season's game. Carson Wiggs missed a 44-yard field goal and an extra point, forcing us to go for two late. That was five points left on the field in a five point game. We also handed them three points on a late Robert Marve interception at the end of the first half. At home we have to limit mistakes and build a lead early.
I have had a good feeling about this game for some time. It would not surprise me if Penn State continued its offensive struggles and fell to around a .500 record this year. Since this is our only home game in a five week stretch we have to take advantage of it. I like our defense to be better this year, and that is bad news for a mediocre at best Penn State offense. Purdue 21, Penn State 14