Black Shoe Diaries is one of the oldest blogs on all of SB Nation. They are even older than we are! This week Aaron Yorke from BSD contacted me for the weekly Q&A.
T-Mill: Penn State is coming off of its biggest win in years, but there are still offensive concerns. Will there be a letdown against a Purdue team it should beat?
Aaron: There are some Penn State fans who are still questioning the viability of James Franklin as a long-term coaching option. Call them pessimists or skeptics or whatever you like, but it's supporters like those that make games like this one against Purdue fun. Fans who think that Penn State has just taken that big step forward won't be satisfied with anything less than a blowout. Others just want to see the Lions escape West Lafayette with a victory. Franklin himself hasn't been in a position like this before, so hopefully he'll prove himself able of keeping his team motivated. The one game that he lost as a sizable favorite was at Temple last season, but that was the first game of the season against an Owls squad that proved to be quite competitive.
T-Mill: Saquan Barkley is a very favorable matchup for Penn state. Is there going to be a commitment to him running the ball?
Aaron: Penn State has been more successful rushing the ball in recent weeks when Barkley shares carries with quarterback Trace McSorley, but the star halfback should still see plenty of action against Purdue. We've know that Barkley is capable of huge, game-changing plays like the ones he made against Temple, Minnesota, and Ohio State, but in this game, Penn State fans want to see him consistently gain chunks of yardage like he did against Maryland. That game stands out as one in which the Lions consistently moved the ball down the field instead of relying on the big play.
T-Mill: I was surprised to see teams rushing for 203 yards per game on Penn State. What's going on there?
Aaron: Starting linebackers Brandon Bell and Jason Cambinda have missed a lot of time due to injury this year, and that in part has led to big collapses in rush defense against Pitt, Michigan, and Minnesota. Things started to turn around for the front seven in the Maryland game and then the defense looked like an entire different unit on Saturday with both Bell and Cabinda back in action. Lions fans are hoping that the 4.2 yards per carry allowed to Ohio State are a sign of things to come. If you take out that long touchdown run by Curtis Samuel in the third quarter, the Buckeyes only gained 94 yards on 39 carries.
T-Mill: What has caused some of the offensive problems and what is Penn State's biggest weakness?
Aaron: Penn State's biggest weakness is pass efficiency, as McSorley has seen his completion percentage for the season drop to 56 percent following an 8-for-23 performance against the Buckeyes. Although pass protection has continued to be an issue, it's stronger than it was last year and McSorley has done a good job of mitigating the problem by getting rid of the ball or creating plays with his legs. Still, the sophomore needs to find a way to complete more passes if he's going to hang onto his job in the long term. He looked great throwing the ball against Pitt and Temple but Big Ten play has been a different story. Even before Ohio State came to town, McSorley completed just 19 of 41 passes against Minnesota and 10 of 19 against Maryland. Both of those performances came with long touchdown throws and zero interceptions, but this offense is not going to reach its potential until the quarterback starts completing more passes.
T-Mill: Penn State is undefeated at home, but winless on the road with a couple of slow starts. What does Penn State need to do to change that?
Aaron: I have a feeling the road woes will start to go away when the Lions start to play some easier teams. So far the only two road games of the season were at Pitt, which the Lions had a chance to win late, and at Michigan. It was disheartening to see Penn State so severely overpowered by the Wolverines, but it's not like Jim Harbaugh's team isn't doing that to the rest of college football as well. If their rush defense can remain as stout as it has been the last two games against Ohio State and Maryland, the Lions will find a way to win away from Beaver Stadium this year.
T-Mill: Finally, do you have a prediction for Saturday?
Aaron: Purdue has been tough lately, and it will be interesting to see how the Lions match up against a team that prefers throwing the ball to running it. So far, Penn State's pass defense has been solid, but it also hasn't been tested very severely. I'll take Penn State to win 30-14.