[Bumped. Enough of this wussy basketball stuff. Eyes on the prize, baby:
I am fired up for another big game this weekend. Michigan State's fake rival comes to town. Dantonio is 1-1 against the Lions and this is a big game for both program. PSU has hopes of getting
their asses kicked in to a BCS game. MSU wants to be above .500. I'd rather be in their shoes.
This is also a big game in my household as my wife is a Penn State alum. I would love to rub an MSU win in her face, but she doesn't care about football and I have to live with her. So, hpoefully its a good game to watch. On with the preview!
PSU’s Offense vs MSU’s Defense
PSU’s dominant o-line graduated last year. This year’s line has been below average. 73 Dennis Landolt switched from RT to LT. 61 Stefan Wisniewski moved from LG to C. The new starting RT is a sophomore, 50 DeOn’tae Pannell. The Gs are both new and mediocre. Penn State has swapped personnel a few times this year and never had improved performance. Rivals list the current starting LG as 54 Matt Stankiewitch and the RG as 77 Lou Eliades. Overall this unit has problems pass and run blocking. MSU should have a significant advantage here. 99 Jerel Worthy should be able to get penetration disrupting rushing plays and pass plays. 58 Trevor Anderson should be able to beat the RT and be in Daryl Clark’s face all day. If 89 Colin Neely or 70 Oren Wilson get into the backfield as well it will be a great day for the defense. PSU’s troubles in pass protection should allow for a very effective blitz package from our LBs.
Penn State has who I thought would be the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, 22 Evan Royster. He has been shut down several times this year. Syracuse, Akron, Iowa and Ohio State all held him to less than 4.5 ypc. He did feast mightily on the teams you would expect him to, averaging 6 or more ypc against Minnesota, NW, Illinois, Temple and Eastern Illinois. Against MSU, I expect our d-line to be able to control PSU’s o-line allowing our LBs to make tackles. I expect Royster to average less than 5 ypc. Penn State will use a lead blocker and pull Gs, so expect the usual litany of 43 Eric Gordon and 34 Brandon Denson getting blocked on running plays. 53 Greg Jones will have to lead the way at shutting down Penn State’s rushing attack, basically doing what he has done all year.
17 Daryll Clark had a great season last year behind a good offensive line. This year behind the mediocre line he has regressed. Barring a disaster against MSU, he is on pace to have an improved completion percentage and more yardage, but a lower YPA and rating to go with more INTs. Clark would fit in between Nichol and Cousins at MSU. He is more mobile than Kirk and more accurate that Keith, but far less accurate than Kirk. His passes normally fit into the catchable category, but he rarely hits his receivers in stride. His ability to run the ball will probably be the key to big plays for Penn State. PSU’s route of Illinois started on a QB draw (if you ignore the LT holding on the play, just like the Refs did). A well timed draw by PSU could spring Clark for a big run at a key point in the game. His legs might also be able to give him time to throw the ball by avoiding rushers. If the d-line can get to him and rattle him early, MSU could be able to shut down Penn State’s offense very quickly.
The PSU receivers continue the fine tradition of catching the ball for not a lot of yards. The Lions have one receiver averaging more than 14 yards per catch. He also happens to be their main target, 6 Derek Moye. The rest of the WRs are in the possession category, with 5 Graham Zug leading the way. The TE, 10 Andrew Quarless, is also having a big year. The biggest threat to MSU though is Royster, who occasionally lines up in the slot. If he gets man coverage against a LB, expect a big play. Overall, none of the WRs are going to be able to beat our secondary. 29 Chris L. Rucker and 9 Jeremy Ware will keep the outside WRs covered, but, as usual, the inside WR, TE and HB are the ones that will gut our defense, and Penn State has good players at those positions.
What to Expect
As I’m sure everyone has either read or heard, Penn State loves them some 5 yard outs. This is the route that is almost specifically designed to beat MSU. It will be a heck of a chess match between Narduzzi and Paterno/Hall, if chess consisted of two pieces that only moved in one direction. If the Spartans can get penetration from the d-line, Penn State will go to the 5 yard routes by their WR. MSU normally drops the DBs off the LOS, so the route will be open. Penn State will be able to nickel and dime MSU all the way down the field. It is something that Clark has done on more than one occasion this year and has the patience to do against the Spartans. I would not be surprised to see Penn State put together two drives that are longer than 6 minutes each and for PSU to dominate time of possession. Then it will be up to Narduzzi to make his move, putting the DBs on the LOS in press coverage. That completes the chess match.
If MSU can not get penetration with the d-line, the Spartans defense will be on the field for long stretches and giving up points all day. If this happens, Narduzzi’s chess move will be to do nothing. The defense won’t get torched, but it’ll give up another 500 yards on roughly 100 plays while being on the field all day.
MSU’s Offense versus PSU’s Defense
PSU’s d-line is strong up the middle but weak on the edges. 5 Jerome Hayes is a pretty meh senior DE and the other side is filled by a young inexperienced sophomore 81 Jack Crawford. Or at least he was inexperienced prior to the season. The middle is filled with 91 Jared Odrick and 85 Ollie Ogbu. Both have been starting for PSU for the entire JoePa era, or at least it seems that way. Obviously the d-line is vastly inferior to last year, but they are not bad. It is just a pretty average d-line. I expect the typical game from MSU’s o-line, solid pass protection with decent run blocking. The pass protection is going to be far more important this week than run blocking. If PSU’s d-line can get pressure on Cousins, it is going to be a bad day for the offense.
Penn State has two studs at LB and plays a third guy just for laughs. 45 Sean Lee figured to have an All-American type season before a rash of injuries kept him off the field. 11 Navorro Bowman emerged as a good LB last year, but this year had his ups and downs. He had a huge game against Indiana, but was basically tossed aside like a toy by Pryor on a TD run. Bowman and Lee are the real deal and play quality disciplined football. The non-real deal is between them and is best known for having a mustache. MSU is not going to have a good day running the ball against these LBs. I expect the Spartans to be in the sub 3.5 ypc category. I think MSU will have to attack the edges and try to get blockers on the LBs to even attempt to get anything going. The end arounds and wildcat with Martin are not going to get past the LBs. This LB core is a good veteran unit and won’t be confused with those plays.
Penn State recruits and grooms DBs the opposite of LBs. They are generally mediocre recruits that are not that athletic and have no chance of playing on Sundays. However, they do not get out of position and play disciplined football. Tom Bradley does an outstanding job of getting the secondary to play above their talent level. PSU prefers to run a Cover 3 the way MSU prefers to use the Cover 4. This makes it difficult to throw short passes, but a lot easier to go deep, assuming the QB has time. That being said, last year’s secondary was exposed as frauds against USC. When USC was able to block PSU’s d-line, they lit up the secondary for 400+ yards. This year’s d-line is not as capable of hiding the secondary. MSU is going to have to have good blocking and run some deep routes to win this game. Dell, Cunningham, White and Martin are all more than capable of getting open against the PSU secondary. They’ll have to and they’ll need to catch everything that comes their way.
Penn State is supposed to have bad special teams, specifically their coverage units. I think this is the area where MSU has to have big plays. Martin needs to have a couple of big returns for MSU to win. Additionally, our kicker and punter are better than Penn State's.
What to Expect
It is Senior Day for MSU. The team is going to come out absolutely fired up. They’ll need to. MSU needs to ride that emotion to an early 10+ point lead before things settle down. If PSU starts off hot, MSU will be in trouble all day. I expect MSU’s defensive line will be able to get consistent pressure on Daryll Clark and will force him to make a few bad throws. I thiank at least one INT is likely. No matter what MSU does though, PSU will not quit and the game won’t be over until late in the 4th quarter. MSU will have problems moving the ball on offense, but will hit big plays to keep putting points on the board. PSU will not hit big plays, but will keep grinding out long drives that put points on the board. PSU will shut down MSU’s run game forcing everything onto Kirk Cousins and Keshawn Martin. I am guessing it will end up being a high scoring game with the Spartans eeking out a victory. The deciding factors will be 1) home game and 2) senior day.