In nearly 237 years of college football, Ohio State and Penn State have combined for a staggering 1,584 wins, 7 national championships, and 217 All-Americans. While Ohio State’s accomplishments are split between College Football Hall of Fame inductees Woody Hayes, Francis Schmidt, Earle Bruce, John Wilce, and Howard Jones (not to mention a guy named Brown from the 40’s), Penn State’s center around one man.
Joe Paterno has been the Head Football Coach at Penn State for 41 years. For the better part of the last ten there has been nation wide speculation that the game had passed him by, that he cannot relate with his athletes, and that his role on the team had been diminished to a sort of figurehead status. Many have said that Joe Paterno should do what is right for Penn State and step down. That may or may not be best for Penn State on the field, but it would certainly be a sad day for college football as a whole.
Paterno is the last remaining relic of a golden era in college football; the era when team’s were not only coached by firey men in suits, but the the team’s themselves seemed to take on the persona of those men. When Ohio State took the field against Michigan during the Ten Year War, it was as if the combined wills of Woody and Bo were battling on the field and the players and teams were just an extension of the two. Names like Woody, Bo, Joe “Pa,” Bear Bryant, Ara Parseghian, John McKay, and Bud Wilkinson dominated the sport and commanded the headlines.
So while many look at Joe Paterno and see Mr. MaGoo, I see him as a looking glass of sorts; a chance for me to look back to a time in college football before my own. Joe Paterno is living history. It is interesting that while people will travel thousands of miles to tread on a battlefield or see a monument first hand in an attempt to connect with history, they often ignore the living history that surrounds them until it is gone.
At 80 years old, Joe Paterno’s days at the helm are obviously coming to a close, maybe not this year or the next, but the fact remains that one day someone else will run the show on the Nittany Lions sidelines. How will you remember these days? Will you remember the teams that could have been, or the fantasies of prospective head coaches that have since caught on somewhere else?
I will remember watching Joe Paterno stomping down the sidelines in the same way that I remember watching Michael Jordan going to the hole, Tiger Woods driving off the tee, Barry Sanders breaking ankles, and George Brett on the diamond. While it may be true that Joe Paterno is not as intimately involved with the X’s and O’s as he used to be, it is equally as true that Joe Paterno still knows how to work a sideline and that his passion, will, and determination are still evident in his team.
Introducing the Penn State Nittany Lions…. What the hell is a “Nittany” lion?
I have asked the magic Google machine that question and I have found the answer. Nittany is a valley in central Pennsylvania, presumably somewhere near Penn State. I was not aware that lions of any sort were indigineous to Pennsylvania, but whatever. So, if you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and you get that question, feel free to send me my cut, care of TheClevelandFan.com.
From the Big Ten Preview:
4. Penn St: Sell. Why is Penn St. one of the media darlings this year? It escapes me completely. I see an ordinary offense that lost its best player, Tony Hunt, to the NFL. I see a veteran quarterback, protected by a below average offensive line, who has been inconsistent (good numbers, but erratic play) and average wide receivers.
Penn State’s losses on the offensive line were so substantial last year, three starters and five second and third stringers, that they brought in a couple of junior college players. Penn State never brings in JUCO’s, so that should tell you something. Penn St. is generally offensively impaired to begin with so this just amplifies the problem. Fortunately you still have time to sell your stock in Penn St.; they should not be completely exposed until October 27th when they pick up their fourth loss.
Although the wide receivers are better than I thought, I still stand by this assessment. Penn State will not lose its fourth game of the season tonight (unless Ohio State can find a way to beat them twice), but the point remains the same.
This year’s rendition of the Penn State Nittany Lions is just about the same as last year’s (or every other year’s for that matter). They feature a great defense up front supplemented by some of the best linebackers in the nation, as usual. They are somewhat susceptible in the defensive backfield and take a lot of risks on defense. The more things change the more they stay the same.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Nittany Lions are led by 22-year old senior quarterback Anthony Morelli. Morelli’s numbers are pretty good this year, completing nearly 60% of his passes for just under 220 yards per game and a TD-Int ratio of 13-7, but those numbers do not tell the whole truth. Penn State, like the rest of college football, played a horrific non-conference schedule in which the Penn State quarterback put up some pretty nice numbers. Since entering Big Ten play, Morelli has a TD-Int ratio of 5-6 and is completing 57% of his passes. He has further hurt his team’s chances with key fumbles, including one in the shadow of his own goal post against Michigan.
This year’s version of the Nittany Lions throws the ball a little more than they usually do and features probably the best trio of wide receivers in the Big Ten; Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and Derrick Williams. All of these receivers are big play threats and each boasts at least one play in excess of 40 yards this season.
Penn State’s ground attack has not missed a beat in spite of losing starting running back Austin Scott to rape allegations. 5’9” 201lb Rodney Kinlaw has picked the slack nicely averaging 5.2 ypc. The ground attack is not great, but it is generally adequate considering Penn State lost most of its offensive line last season.
Defensively, Penn State features the best DE in the country right now, sophomore Maurice Evans. Evans currently ranks second in the nation in sacks with 10.5 and his match up against Alex Boone will be one of the keys to the game; it will also go a long ways toward determining how much Alex Boone has improved since he was embarrassed by Florida’s defensive ends in the National Championship Game.
The Match Ups:
Ohio State’s Offense vs. Penn State’s Defense (and 109,000 fans): Advantage Penn State. Penn State’s defense, in spite of last week’s let down against Indiana, is very good, particularly in the front seven. Ohio State’s offensive line, in spite of what the numbers tell you, has been struggling all year. The Buckeyes best hope for success on the offensive side of the ball is balance and unpredictability. If Penn State knows what’s coming they will stop the Buckeyes.
The offensive line, yes you Steve Rehring, is going to have to get its act together this week and man up to give Todd Boeckman some time. Rehring in particular has looked very slow this year and that could be big trouble against an athletic front four. Penn State blitzes a lot and the coincidentally, the Buckeyes miss a lot of blocking assignments on blitzes. Yes, I am talking about you Maurice Wells, and if that trend continues, it will be a bad night for Todd Boeckman. Additionally, the offensive line committed five procedure penalties last week against an overmatched MSU team AT HOME (where they quiet down to help the offense), how many will they commit tonight with Penn State’s rabid, hungry, loud, and excited fans barking in their ears?
Now if the line can keep it together and if Maurice Wells sits on the bench, the Buckeyes should be able to make some big plays against single coverage downfield, forcing PSU into zone, taking the crowd out of the game (helping the O-line even more), and pulling the eighth man from the box.
Ohio State’s Defense vs. Penn State’s Offense: Advantage Ohio State. The Buckeyes must pressure Anthony Morelli to force the mistakes that Morelli is prone to making. The secondary has played tremendously this year and should be up to the task of maintaining coverage during blitzes. Look for Penn State to vary its offense between traditional running formations and spread formations, and look for them to run and pass equally from each in order to try to keep the Ohio State defense off balance.
Thus far this year, the Buckeyes defense has proven to be up to the task against both types of formations, and by and large most teams have appeared to have no answer for the speed and power. Penn State’s best chance for success is probably to hit a couple of big one’s down the field from a running formation as I just don’t see anyone sustaining drives against this defense consistently. So far this year, Ohio State’s first team defense has given up an astonishing 23 points. That’s it, and I don’t think that PSU has the type of big play offense that could have success against them.
Don’t Be Surprised If:
-The Buckeyes come out throwing to start the game, not downfield but intermediate routes. It is no secret that the Buckeyes need to start well to get that crowd out of the game. Penn State and Ohio State both know that this game can be won or lost in the first five minutes of the game.
-Maurice Wells becomes the third string back this week. I have been harsh on him this year, but based on what I saw last week, I have no idea how you can keep him in the game. I counted no less than three completely blown assignments in pass pro against blitzers last week. He has been a disaster carrying the ball and really only brings a decent set of hands to the field, but he cannot protect well enough to be a suitable 3rd string back against an aggressive defense.
-The Buckeyes feature Ray Small in some misdirection tonight. Small has been electric the few times that he has touched the ball this year and you cannot help but think that against an aggressive defense, there might be some opportunities for Small particularly from the slot and in misdirection. Penn State is going be watching for Robiskie and Hartline, the Buckeyes are going to need someone else to step up.
-James Laurinaitis has a big game tonight. Yep, predicting a big game out of Laurinaitis is a lot like predicting that Christmas will come, but Laurinaitis seems to be at his best in big games at night, when his team needs him most. Laurinaitis gets two turnovers tonight.
If I were a betting man:
I would take Ohio State minus four. While I think Penn State’s defense and the environment in Happy Valley will provide a huge obstacle for the Buckeyes, I still think they will win by more than four. I expect the Buckeyes will cash in a couple of Morelli mistakes and win by 14 or so. Ohio State 24: Penn State 10.
As for the over/under, barring a reoccurrence of last week’s disastrous third quarter, this game should go under. I just cannot see Penn State putting more than 17 on the board, nor can I see the Buckeyes scoring more than 30.