Our blogger interview series is back and this week I have the right place to attribute for it. Dylan Callaghan-Croley of Penn State’s Black Shoe Diaries is here to answer my questions about the Nittany Lions.
1. Purdue has the conference’s worst pass defense and Penn State just hung 59 on Maryland with ease. Do we basically have to copy Pittsburgh to slow you guys down or what?
As or right now, I’d have to say that would be Purdue’s best chance at slowing Penn State down this upcoming weekend. Outside of the Pittsburgh game, Penn State’s offense when it gets rolling has been able to really do whatever they want against opposing defenses. What the Panthers did well in that game was put Clifford under consistent pressure and play tight coverage against the Nittany Lions wide receivers. That being said, that was before Penn State’s bye week and the offensive line looked much better against Maryland. But that is still probably Purdue’s best chance at slowing down Sean Clifford and the Penn State offense.
2. Conversely, Purdue does have the league’s best passing offense, so it looks like the only shot we have is a shootout with a freshman QB in his second start. Is there much of a chance of that?
I would say there’s a slight chance of a shootout. Penn State’s secondary didn’t look terrific against Buffalo or Pittsburgh but it looked outstanding against Maryland. Was that a result of good coverage and play by the secondary or just poor play by Maryland quarterbacks especially Josh Jackson? We’ll probably find that out on Saturday afternoon. On paper, I think Penn State’s secondary should be able to keep Purdue’s passing game in check for most of the game especially with the loss of Rondale Moore. That being said, I wouldn’t be shocked if Plummer ends up throwing for 250ish yards and two or three touchdowns but the game is still a blowout in the 58-21 range or so.
3. Given Purdue’s injury status and defense this looks like a mismatch, but Pittsburgh did too. What did the Panthers do to stay in the game?
What Pittsburgh did well is first of all, control the clock. When Pitt got the ball, they made sure to drain the clock as much as they could. Quarterback Kenny Pickett also by far had the best game of his career and credit him for that but if Pickett performs about how he’s performed for the majority of his career, that game is probably not as close. Likewise, Clifford missed about seven deep throws that really would’ve changed the course of the game. With that, where the Panthers really stayed in the game was defensively. The Panthers really shut down the run for the most part outside of two major runs, one by running back Journey Brown and one by Sean Clifford. They also made sure to put a ton of pressure on Clifford throughout the game, forcing bad throws (especially the deep throw) and just really not giving Clifford much time to make decisions. So in total and in recap, 1) ball control, 2) shut down the Penn State run for the most part, 3) put a ton of pressure on Sean Clifford.
4. Purdue has a lot of young guys playing, especially with Rondale Moore and Elijah Sindelar out. Do you think the element of having nothing to lose might help them a bit?
We’ve seen this Penn State team start out slow this year before so it wouldn’t be shocking if Purdue makes this a game early, mostly in the first half. I think there’s a chance that this is a tight game going into half time because of Penn State being a slow starter historically under James Franklin and Purdue’s element of having nothing to lose. That being said, I think Penn State would pull away early in the second half and win rather comfortably by 17-24 points.
5. What is Penn State’s biggest weakness so far?
Penn State’s biggest weakness so far this season is probably their offensive line. The offensive line has expected to take a step forward in each of the last three seasons but that has yet to happen which has many Penn State fans upset with offensive line coach Matt Limegrover. Last week against Maryland, they performed well but in the three games prior, they didn’t play up to expectations. If the offensive line is having an off-day, it will be hard for the Nittany Lions to run the ball and Sean Clifford will need to extend plays, a lot. We’ll see if they can build off their strong performance against Maryland.
6. Honestly, we’re expecting a blowout on Saturday. What is the worst case scenario for Penn State?
The worst case scenario for Penn State on Saturday is obviously a loss. Beating Purdue is something that is expected and losing to the Boilermakers is pretty much a season ruining loss and can send Penn State in to a tailspin. Penn State still has games against Iowa (road), Michigan (home), Michigan State (road), and Ohio State (road) left on the schedule. Oh yeah, they face Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State in the three weeks following this weekend. With a loss, I think it could put doubt in Penn State’s mind and without confidence, you’re in for trouble. That being said, I think there’s about a 5-10% chance Penn State loses this game. Now, worst case scenario for a Penn State win would be a win but you see an injury to a major player like Sean Clifford, KJ Hamler, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Micah Parsons. Losing any of those four would be major losses for Penn State this season and really make the next three weeks hard to get through unscathed.