Amateur Blog Mob Roundtable Week 8 - Penn State vs. Northwestern

Blog mob . . . ASSEMBLE!

Kanye West - All Of The Lights ft. Rihanna, Kid Cudi (via KanyeWestVEVO)

This week, the Amateur Blog Mob heads to the site of one of Penn State's greatest triumphs (re-live it here), as the Nittany Lions fly to the Chicago suburbs to take on the Wildcats of Northwestern in a game under all of the lights on the Big Ten Network.

Say hello once again to our panelists - Kevin McGuire from the Nittany Lions DenWilliam F. Yurasko from William World News, all of the D-O-double-G's from JoePa's Doghouse, and Bill Engel, Ali Soheilian, and Timothy Johnson from PennLive's 50-Yard Lion!

The "Bend-But-Don't-Break" defense is supposed to prevent the big play and force the opposition to put together a long, mistake-free drive if it wants to score. Last week against Purdue, the Nittany Lion defense did the opposite, giving up multiple plays of 20 yards or more while forcing drive killing turnovers. What was the reason for that difference - a shift in defensive philosophy or just uncharacteristic breakdowns?

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The Underdogs: First, I have to defer to JSchnauzer on the offensive side of the ball. When we had the ball with a chance to go up two scores in the 4th, we needed a dose of Joe, the guy who has won more bowl games than any other human being to ever roam the earth (even Hay-zeus!), and we got a double dose of Jay. Going for the kill shot, with the toe on the trigger. Nevermind where it's aimed. We've got a shotgun and it's gonna get fired dammit.

As for the defensive side of the ball, early on I predicted Purdue would have no luck with the traps and misdirections they were running after Gerald Hodges knifed through the onrushing lineman to hit the ball carrier for no gain. My thought process was that Hodges was too quick in space for linemen to deal with him. But Purdue was persistent and you have to give them credit. Traps and misdirection from the running game all-game long. They used the aggressiveness of our D-Line against us. And to add insult to injury our DEs were all too happy to oblige, rushing upfield, leaving gaping holes underneath, and Purdue's OL against our linebackers, who are largely anonymous outside of Hodges.

And the last point (and this goes towards answering #4), Sukay and Stupar aren't playing as physically as is required of their positions. Sukay is too often found going for the ball, but dangnabbit if those receivers, running their routes, don't undercut the pass so perfectly thrown at Sukay. It should be noted that where they are catching the ball would make for an ideal collision point for separating the ball from the man. 

McGuire: I think the defense was just a little less prepared than usual last week. Tom Bradley admitted in the post game press conference that the team had some lighter practices leading up to the game after the big, emotionally uplifting (?) win against Iowa the week before. I think taking a step back in practices is ultimately what evolved to a defense that was not at the top of their game more than anything else.

That said, the defense came up big when it counted the most, forcing a three-and-out and a turnover on downs on Purdue's final two possessions of the game, with the Boilermakers down five. This defense is darn good and even when they are not at the top of the game they find ways to get the job done, but the defense will not be able to afford another sub-par performance in the second half with the schedule they have, including this weekend.

WFY: I don't think the defensive philosophy shifted (aside from less blitzing than the previous week), I think the Boilermakers were just more successful than many teams have been against the Nittany Lions defense getting the big play. It just worked out that Purdue played a higher risk, higher reward offense and Penn State got a bunch of turnovers out of it. It was an atypical game, but ultimately, the defense bent but didn't break.

Johnson: I read an article blaming our defensive struggles on the fact that our D-linemen were too short to see over Purdue's O-line. C'mon, man.  The D just wasn't interested in dealing with Purdue's speed, and was constantly sleepwalking unless the situation absolutely demanded they wake up.  The crowd's lack of enthusiasm was a prior indicator for the team's--if attendance can barely break 100,000 for homecoming, there's writing on the wall that the team might not show up either.

 

Silas Redd has gained 100 yards or more in each of the last three games. Last year, he rushed for 131 yards and an eye popping 11.9 yards per carry against Northwestern. Do you expect a repeat performance this week?

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Soheilian: Quite frankly, the best linebacker on Northwestern is in their head coach, Pat Fitzgerald. I would expect another 100+ yard game from Silas, and maybe even another 100+ yards for Curtis Dukes. Look for this offense to steamroll Northwestern again this year.

WFY: I think expecting any back to average almost 12 yards a carry is foolish. I'm all for Redd averaging that much, but if he averages half that, I'll be pretty happy. The biggest concern is that they don't give him so many carries, they need to keep him under 25 and give Curtis Dukes about 10 carries.

McGuire: We may not see 11.9 ypc but I would be surprised if we don't see a big day out of Redd. Northwestern's run defense is nothing too special, ranked 72nd in the nation (172.17 ypg allowed) and they have given up more rushing touchdowns (15) than any Big Ten team (Indiana is next with 11). We have seen Redd's workload increase a little bit each week and that's a good thing because it means he has become the focla point of the offense. I would be surprised if he doesn't rush for 100 yards, and I'll say he goes for 120 yards and a touchdown.

Rowlff Dogg: There is no chance Silas Redd averages 11.9 yards per carry against Northwestern this week. I certainly expect him to eclipse 100 yards. Maybe he even surpasses the 131 yards he totaled last year. But he'll need more carries to do so.

J Schnauzer: No. Because Justin Brown will be making so many ridiculous catches this week that we will hardly run the ball at all. In all seriousness, I think this will be a high scoring game. Redd will get his 100 yards, but I expect JayPa will unnecessarily place a lot of the offense in the hands of the QBs. It might work--Northwestern is the worst pass defense we've seen this year--but I think this will be another Penn State game where the offensive playcalling will keep this closer than it should.

 

Dan Persa is still Northwestern's best offensive weapon. How can Penn State make sure they contain him?

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WFYEverything I have heard about Dan Persa this season is that he's still recovering from his ACL injury and not as mobile as last year. So, I think PSU needs to blitz him early with Gerald Hodges and test Persa's mobility. If he's not mobile, send Hodges often. I don't know if Persa can be rattled much, but even if they don't hit him, making him run is going to wear him out.

Engel: Persa is still not quite 100% and is not the running threat he has been in the past.  I expect the typical short completions spreading it around to keep PSU off balance but with the majority going to Ebert.  Northwestern will move the ball but they should be held to field goals.  I also expect the Lion defense to play nickel most of the day so we should see more of Malcolm Willis and Khairi Fortt.  The Lion's defense should continue to create turnovers.

Rowlff Dogg: The same way we always "contain" somewhat above average QBs. We give them wide open tight ends. We give them quick outs. We give them quick slants. We wait and wait and wait until either a) they get greedy and make a mistake or b) their arm falls off. I expect this week will be no different.

J Schnauzer: I haven't seen any Northwestern football this year so I don't know how Persa has changed from last year. My guess is it will be frustrating. He will likely get his 300 yards, but as long as Fera punts it deep the Northwestern drives will be long enough for the defense to force enough 4th downs to contain their offense.

McGuire: I have been saying this week that the storyline for this game seems a little bit familiar. Wasn't it just a couple yars ago that Mike Kafka was Northwestern's best (only) offensive threat? Kafka shredded the Penn State defense in the first half but Penn State made their halftime adjustments and shut down Kafka and Northwestern. Don't be surprised if the same happens against Persa (who I think is better than Kafka was).

Persa is still one of the best players in the Big Ten but he is far from great. All Penn State's defense should need to do is what they have been doing all along this season. Persa will make some plays and extend some drives, but he needs a tougher supporting cast if he is going to take down this defense, which I expect will be a little extra motivated after last weekend.

Johnson: A couple years ago, the only way we could stop Mike Kafka was by knocking him out of the game.  Dan Persa isn't the same running threat as last year, but an injury might still be our best option.  Amidst his team's struggles, Persa has been his usual efficient, effective self.  His quick release could give our blitzing linebackers fits. The secondary will need to tighten up and make tackles in the open field, and constant pressure and hits from the D-line would help wear Persa down. Even if we are able to contain the Wildcats' #1 QB option, some concern should be given to Kain Colter, who has shown athleticism this season as a QB and WR.

 

In our Indiana Roundtable, we wondered whether Nate Stupar could keep up the frenetic pace set by Mike Mauti. How do you feel Stupar's played since returning to the starting lineup? Has the defense missed a beat?

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McGuire: It sure looks as though Stupar has ensured the defense has not missed a beat, and I expected Stupar to play well in place of Mauti. The kid is a fifth-year senior who knows exactly what this program and defense is all about and I didn't think that he would waste this opportunity. He has come up with turnovers and kept a senior presence on the field, and I think the players around him have fed off of that a little bit.

The second half of the season will be a solid test though with tougher games ahead. Stupar and the defense will be tested to see just what kind of character they have.

Rowlff Dogg: Stupar has played quite well and it should come as no surprise. He has always been a very solid linebacker whose lack of elite talent is made up by great instincts. The biggest leap the defense has taken is their willingness to utilize Gerald Hodges' athleticism. Why the coaches insisted on sending Mauti or Stupar on delayed blitzes is beyond me. Hodges is much more disruptive because of his quickness/speed. I'll never call our vanilla scheme "aggressive," but anything that helps us put pressure on the quarterback is a good thing. If that keeps up, the defense will have stepped it up from its performance with Mauti.

WFY: Nate Stupar has really impressed me this season. I knew he would be solid, but he's been all over the place since Mauti got hurt. I think Stupar has played his way into a NFL training camp if he keeps this up. I do not think the defense has missed Mauti yet, but there will probably be a game this season when they do.

Soheilian: Stupar has had a huge impact on this team since the Indiana game, but the problem is that it has gone hugely unnoticed due to the emergence of Gerald Hodges and rebirth of Drew Astorino. He seems to have a knack for making plays and just has the natural instincts for feeling out a play before the snap. Yeah, the defense misses Mauti and his presence, but in all reality, they have not missed a beat. Instead of looking for Mauti to make plays, they are all making plays, and seems like they have become a tighter unit since the injury.

Johnson: I never realized I actually appreciated Stupar until it looked like he may have been seriously hurt against Iowa, but came back on the next play.  He obviously isn't on the same level athletically as Mauti, but he's gotten plenty of support from the other LB's, especially Hodges, who has grown into a man since Mauti went down.  Our back 7 relies on cohesiveness to make stops and create turnovers; Stupar has been an important part of meshing the unit together, much as Mauti did.

Engel: I didn't expect much of a drop-off but it is fair to say that Stupar has exceeded my expectations.  He is our best linebacker in space and he continues to make plays.  The performance of the defense particularly against Iowa (holding them to 35 points below their average) clearly demonstrates the defense hasn't missed a beat.

 

Predictions?

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WFY: A prominent player's mother will be shown on television several times. Pat Fitzgerald will be mentioned as a possible successor to Joe Paterno. Penn State won't come out flat. Matt McGloin will play fairly well against the Northwestern secondary, but still throw some passes that make over 140,000 dues paying alumni cringe. Rob Bolden will start, but be pulled early and thus continue to be humiliated. Penn State will win and cover, but it will be back and forth and decided in the 4th quarter. Penn State 27 Northwestern 19

McGuire: Don't be shocked if Penn State is losing at halftime, but look for this defense to hold off Persa and Northwestern long enough for the offense to find a way to win (sort of like the Temple and Indiana game). In the end, I say Penn State 23, Northwestern 17

The Underdogs: 23-20.

Rowlff Dogg: PSU 30-19. 3 field goals, one fluky defensive touchdown, and 2 (count ‘em TWO!!!) offensive touchdowns.

J Schnauzer: 26-24 Northwestern. Penn State is a far better team on paper, I just feel the offensive playcalling and penalties will give Fitzgerald the breaks he needs to actually WIN a game in the 4th quarter.

Engel: I am shocked that a Northwestern team that returned 18 starters from last year is underachieving so dramatically. But I think they will be up for this home night game and will lead most of the game but not be able to hold on.  Another game the ends closer than everyone thinks it should.  Penn State 24 - Northwestern 20.

Soheilian: I'm going with a blow out in this one, I just don't see Northwestern having the same amount of success against us this year as they did last year. A 7 p.m. game also means that this team won't still be sleeping when kickoff rolls around. Penn State 38, Northwestern 17.

Johnson: To justify our performance last week, as with most other weeks throughout the year, I like comparing this team to the 2002 Ohio State team that somehow managed to win the National Championship.  Winning it all required eight second-half comebacks (and, presumably, many NCAA infractions): Washington State, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan and Miami.  Although a title is obviously out of the question for us, this season's mantra should be the same: Just win, Baby!

As before, I think we will play to the level of our competition. In doing so, we'll get treated to some unusually consistent offensive play, and unusually poor defense.  Under the portable lights at Ryan Field, we move to 7-1 in real life, fall to 1-7 ATS, and win 30-28.

And now for our BSD regulars . . .

Kyle Martin: The Northwestern offense has put up a lot of points since Persa's return, but it's been against average defenses. They cannot run the ball consistently with a running back, so it's really on the QB's shoulders to do everything. I think Penn State's D-Line takes up residence in NW's backfield and makes it a long day for Persa/Colter who are facing easily the best secondary they've faced all year. Northwestern's D is bad enough that Penn State will score some points (the red zone offense has to improve sometime right?) and win relatively comfortably. PSU: 30 NW: 14

Peter Gray:  A lot of people are hopeful for a breakout offensive performance this week, but I'm not going to believe it until I see it. PSU should be able to move the ball reasonably well, but their difficulty turning those yards into points isn't because they've played a murderer's row of defenses thus far. An immobile Dan Persa is a big plus for the PSU defense, but Persa is very accurate and should be able to find some holes in the zone. In the end, I don't think Northwestern has enough horses to win, but they are a historically frisky squad and I expect they'll keep it reasonably close.

PSU 20 - jNWU 13

Mike Pettigano: If this game is anything but close at halftime, I'll be surprised. Northwestern traditionally plays Penn State tough for two or three quarters, until the Nittany Lions' superior talent and depth finally wakes up and realizes, "My god, this is Northwestern! We should be crushing them!" Penn State usually snaps out of it and puts the game away by the final stanza. This year could be less exciting of a game than last year, or most other years. I'm not at all sold on 2011 Dan Persa the way I was frightened of 2010 Dan Persa. Penn State's defensive line has been the catalyst for a fantastic season on that side of the ball, leading the defense to become even more big-play oriented in recent weeks. If the trend continues, Penn State should have only slight trouble against the Wildcats. But Tom Bradley's unit is built to defend against the spread, even in the 4-3 base defense. The Bend But Don't Break philosophy will be tested again this week, after passing muster against Purdue's surprisingly well-structured game plan. For Penn State's offense, it'll be the Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes show once again. It wouldn't surprise me to see a rushing yardage for Redd/Dukes split similar to the Iowa game. Penn State 27, Northwestern 10

Adam Collyer:  I hit our score on the head last week, but thought our defense would perform better.  I think anyone expecting a break out performance from the offense is essentially throwing pennies in a wishing well.  The offense will be adequate.  The defense will struggle in the first half against Persa and Colter before adjusting and locking down.  Penn State 24, Northwestern 17.

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