Blog mob . . . ASSEMBLE!
Earth, Wind & Fire - September (Video clip) (via gferdinandus3)
This week, the Amateur Blog Mob returns to the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium as the Fighting Illini (accompanied by Illinois natives Earth, Wind and Fire) try to rekindle their magical September run!
Northwestern's offensive output against the Penn State defense was rivaled only by Alabama. What made the Wildcats so effective? What adjustments did Penn State make in the second half?
J Schnauzer: For once a prediction of mine was correct: Persa would get his 300 yards but Penn State would do just enough on defense to keep the Lions in the game. The Wildcats were effective in the first half because they exploited the weaknesses that occur in the Cover Two and Penn State couldn't make the initial tackle. Credit where credit is due: I don't know if there is a more underrated corps in college football than Northwestern's wide receivers. Nine different Wildcats caught passes of eight yards or more. Jeremy Ebert stole the show with some acrobatic catches and MRob-in-purple Kain Colter will give Penn State fits in the future. Penn State must have adjusted the secondary coverage at the half because Persa often had time to throw but ended up taking a loss.
WFY: Getting the ball in the red zone 5 seconds has a way of increasing the opposition's effectiveness, no? A big factor is Northwestern is very good and taking advantage of Penn State's soft coverage, especially early. Also, Dan Persa is a really good QB and he completed something like 80% of his passes, many of them quick ones. The Wildcats have matched up well against Penn State for years and usually score a bunch of first half points.
Half-time adjustments certainly helped Penn State, so did Jordan Hill getting that big arm up in the path of a pass that Gerald Hodges intercepted off a deflection. Additionally, Northwestern's offense left it all on the field...in the first half. They don't have the stamina/talent to go 60 minutes this season.
The Underdogs: Without a way to verify this with the coaches, I got the sense that they realized at some point throughout the game that NW couldn't cope well with our blitz. Rather than bring pressure every down and allow NW to make adjustments, the defensive coaches kept their trump card in the bag only for key moments. Playing a bit of rope-a-dope if you will.
McGuire: Northwestern came in to last weekend and played an up-tempo style and found a way to crack a soft secondary, which was giving Northwestern all kinds of room to work with in a bend-don't-break philosophy. I think that everybody was prepared for a wild first half but I just did not see Northwestern being able to do what they did in the first half for 60 minutes, which favored Penn State.
I think the key in the second half was not necessarily the adjustments made, but the fact that Penn State's defensive line was more athletic and physical than Northwestern's offensive line. There was more pressure in the second half than the first and I credit that to wearing down the offensive line. It looked as though Penn State brought more pressure in the second half by blitzing a linebacker or two more often as well.
Rowlff Dogg: With Dan Persa finally healthy, Northwestern is a pretty good offensive team. You have to tip your hat to their performance. But that is what Penn State defenses do against average teams with a good offense. They let them put up their numbers, wait for that big mistake, and make them pay. The Wildcats' stats are nothing to be concerned about.
Illinois also features a mobile quarterback and an option style attack. How helpful is it to have played Northwestern one week before facing Illinois?
Rowlff Dogg: It was very helpful. I always get a laugh when they say "so-and-so mimicked Nathan Scheelhaase in practice." That's great, but a junior walk-on is not Nathan Scheelhaase. Dan Persa and Kain Colter gave us the best practice we could have asked for. Seriously, the Big Ten schedule-makers did us huge favors this year.
WFY: I think Northwestern is a good primer for Illinois to a degree, but hopefully the Nittany Lions defense has recovered sufficiently. If this were a noon kickoff in Champaign, I'd be pretty concerned.
McGuire: It can't hurt, that's for sure, but Illinois should be more physical than Northwestern and that is what will make this a tougher game to get through for Penn State. Like last week, it may be important for Penn State to weather a storm from Illinois in the first half and not get too discouraged if they make some big plays early on. Illinois is going to cause some problems for Penn State's defense but after the last couple of weeks I expect Penn State's defense to come out with a strong performance.
The Underdogs: All that matters is that the players seem to be more of a cohesive unit, not prone to laying down vs. Illinois as they did last year. Not so much emotion as Kirk Herbstreit apparently thinks every football game comes down to, but will, desire, and pride.
J Schnauzer: Very. Take Northwestern, give them a good defense and bring them to State College and you have a rough approximation of Illinois. If Penn State can bring out their 2nd half Northwestern defense for the whole game, things should look bright.
Welcome back, Stephfon Green. How large of a role do you see him playing for the rest of the season?
WFY: I think Green will get a big role because he's a better pass blocker than the other guys on the depth chart and that is why he got so much time last week. I don't see him taking any plays off either, he's got precisiou few games left and he's got to be hungry after being off the team. That being said, just because he was successsful running up the middle against Northwestern does not mean he should be called on to run that play ever again.
Rowlff Dogg: Green is going to have a very difficult time fitting in with his younger teammates. Who else is going to buy them beer? He was already in the doghouse, so why not continue to be the team keg?
The Underdogs: I'm guessing he'll be the back to spell Redd, particularly on passing downs as he's always been a threat on screens and is our best pass blocker.
McGuire: I think Green is going to see an increased role each week and will be the first alternative to Silas Redd by the end of the season. Of course, I wrote a story in Maple Street Press Nittany Lions Kickoff 2011 about the dynamic duo of Redd and Green and it clearly has not panned out as I expected this season. But seeing Green contribute is a very good thing to see for Penn State.
J Schnauzer: Great to see him there, but at some point you have to recognize the shortfalls on Northwestern's defense. If he can eat up yardage against Illinois' defense in relief of Redd I will be very happy. I think he will be given an opportunity this week to become a regular in the running back rotation.
Gerald Hodges has emerged as the playmaker he was expected to be coming out of high school. Can he continue his streak of exceptional play against the Illini?
J Schnauzer: Abso-Poz-ilutely.
McGuire: Since Mike Mauti was lost for the season I think the pressure was turned up on Hodges to step his game up a bit and I think he certainly has done that, which is why I felt Penn State's defense may be able to survive without Mauti (not saying they are better off without Mauti of course). I don't expect to see monster performances like last week but it will be important to see Hodges be a leader on defense the next four games.
WFY: I think asking anybody to duplicate their performance from Northwestern game is asking an awful lot. He had about 13 tackles and that interception. That being said, he's a force and a pleasure to watch. Illinois might try to go a different direction than the one he's in which is also highly desirable.
The Underdogs: The king stay the king.
Rowlff Dogg: As long as the coaches allow him to keep blitzing, Hodges is going to make good things happen.
WFY: Joe Paterno will have more sideline and game awareness than Ron Zook. The Illini will wear pants that appear to be stolen from the Denver Broncos. The Lavar Leap will be replayed at least once during the game. The defense will be angry after last year's embarrassment. The weather will be awesome (I'll probably watch the game from my parents house with a roaring fire). In a shocking development, Jay Paterno will be on the sidelines. Penn State fans will read nothing into it, that's a lock. Amish Buggy Alumni will become a beloved and endearing term. There should be a bye week roundtable, if Northern Virginia/DC BSD bye-week happy hour (can't confirm I could attend though). I will pronounce the opposition as "eely nwah" because StrongBad (remember him?) did once. Oh yeah, Penn State wins a physical game that will be extremely stressful and leave the Nittany Lion desperately needing a bye week. Of course, they could also score a few times early and demoralize the Illini, but that would isn't the way things go this year. PENN STATE 27 Illinois 20
McGuire: I have this strange feeling that Penn State comes out on fire this weekend and puts Illinois away early. Maybe it's the revenge factor from last year's game, which seems to be fresh in everybody's mind this week. And the way Illinois has played the past couple of weeks tells me that they are ripe for a loss this weekend. Penn State 27, Illinois 14
The Underdogs: 34-10 Every year there seems to be one game where everything either comes together or everything falls apart and it is right there for all to see. I expect a bit of an atonement for last year's Illinois game here as our pieces seem to be assembling while Zook fiddles with the lug wrench undoing the wheels of what was thought to be a finely-detailed orange and blue Escalade going into the season. It should also be noted that this blood-letting game, never, NEVER occurs during noon kicks EST. This game is 3:30. And it has 2007 Wisconsin game written all over it.
Rowlff Dogg: PSU 22-10. Bad weather is going to keep an improving Penn State offense from blowing this game open. (I'm totally trying to jinx the weather into being nice)
J Schnauzer: Penn State 31, Illinois 17. This game is coming at the perfect time, and it sounds cliché but the Lions won't forget what happened to them last season.
And now for our BSD regulars . . .
Kyle Martin: Penn State gets to 8-1 this week, but they will need another half to adjust to the dual threat QB that is Nathan Scheelvowels. Illinois is zooking its way through the season, and after two wtf? losses, it makes complete sense that they'll make a game out of this on Saturday. Silas Redd will find it hard to top 125 yards for the fifth straight week, but I'm not sure Illinois has faced a back as good as Redd. PSU wins if they don't turn the ball over, giving Illinois a short field and they figure out a way to slow down Whitney Mercilus.
Peter Gray: Illinois will give up rushing yardage against teams that run the ball well, so I expect Redd, Green and company to have a nice day on the ground. However, like almost every game this year, the outcome will be in doubt all the way to the end. I still can't shake how easily Scheelhaase was able to operate last year, and while I don't expect a repeat performance, the Illinois offense is not to be underestimated. Penn State 17 - Illinois 13.
Tim Aydin: Revenge Factor Alert: Surely, the returning players have not forgotten about last year's Homecoming debacle in the which the Illini offense moved the ball with relative ease against a defense that ended up seeing its entire starting lineup knocked out of the game. Not to mention, the Illini defense flat-out pummeled PSU's anemic offense... Given that it's also a 3:30 game, look for PSU to try and set the tone early with Silas Redd and Stephfon Green pounding the rock while Devon Still and the linebacking corps hit Nathan Scheelhaase & Company like they stole something.
Illinois won't be deterred, and I expect this to be a ballgame for all four quarters, but I like a PSU team that simply finds ways to win over an Illinois team going through yet another collapse eerily reminiscent of pre-Dantonio Michigan State. Penn State 17 Illinois 10
Mike Pettigano: Penn State 24, Illinois 21. This game will rest on the shoulders of Matt McGloin. No, he won't have to play lights-out. But he will have to avoid mistakes against a defense that's light years ahead of Northwestern's pathetic unit. I think he can do it... unless Joe Paterno & Co. decide it's time to start rotating quarterbacks again, which is entirely possible. But whoever starts at QB will need to follow the same formula: manage the offense, protect the ball. Illinois will have a much tougher time this year moving the ball on Penn State. I'm confident the defense will hold the Illini when it matters, similar to how Purdue moved the ball but couldn't finish drives.
Adam Collyer: It's nice to see people so bullish on this team right now. I've still got a healthy dose of skepticism. Illinois is clearly the best team we've played since Alabama, but the best part about this game is when it comes on the schedule. Penn State is rolling with some confidence right now and the Illini look like a team in a dramatic downward spiral. Still, I think they've got a last gasp haymaker in them. Penn State's defense plays well but Illinois keeps it close before collapsing under the weight of the superior Nittany Lion run game in the 4th quarter. Penn State 20, Illinois 13.