Blog Mob . . . ASSEMBLE!
Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, everyone! Filled with turkey and dreams, the Blue/White Roundtable flies out to Madison (alongside Milwaukee native and Wisconsin alumnus Steve Miller) to see the Nittany Lions take on the Badgers in a contest to decide the Leaders Division Champion.
The Penn State offense has struggled week in and week out throughout the course of the season. The implementation of the wildcat formation by interim Head Coach Tom Bradley appeared to signal a shift in offensive philosophy from the rest of the year. What did you think?
The Underdogs: Early in the year, perhaps even in these roundtables I've been suggesting (and only half jokingly) that Curtis Drake at QB should be given legitimate thought. Sure, his throwing is limited, but then again so are our other quarterback options. We finally got somewhere closer to a 75-25 run-pass ratio which is where we need to be. Theoretically, it should open up the passing game more as the defenses cheat forward. However (and bizarrely), OSU seemed unprepared. The wildcat, ie the zone-read with a non-QB playing as QB, is intended to isolate one defender against the two players in the exchange. In the first half, it didn't seem like (whichever wildcat was in) ever made the right read (technically). But nor did they have to. Ohio State was standing around watching as Penn State players ran past them in all directions.
WFY: I think you can only credit the implementation as Tom Bradley's in the sense that he let the offensive coaches do it. I think it was pretty sharp, catching Ohio State off guard with it, but they can't do that against Wisconsin now. I don't know that making Wisconsin have to prepare for it, given they have almost certainly played wildcat teams already this season, makes much of a difference either. I am sure it can be effective, but if the Badgers suddenly see Matt McGloin out wide they know what's coming and it probably isn't a pass.
Rowlff Dogg: I'm going to put the offensive performance in the simplest terms possible: it passed the eyeball test. For the first time in a long time, the offense looked like it was having fun. Not everything was clicking. McGloin missed some throws. Brown probably should've made some catches he didn't. Plenty of runs got stuffed. But the team appeared to be playing with a pep in its step that overcame its shortcomings. It was really great to watch for a change.
Collyer: The offense in the first half passed the eyeball test, but I'm still a bit concerned with how we ended up playing in the second half. Other than the short drive after the goal line stand, I never felt uncomfortable about the game. That 20-14 score was misleading, but part of that is because we suddenly reverted to the early-2011 team in the second half. I'd like to see us stay aggressive, but I certainly liked at least part of what I saw on Saturday.
J Schnauzer: For the first time in years, it felt like the team was inventive, creative, and having a lot of fun on the field. Ohio State never saw it coming, and it was so nice to be on the other end of this type of game. They weren't perfect, and we've had better games on offense, but few have left me this pleased.
In his Tuesday press conference, Coach Bradley indicated that the team is working on some new offensive wrinkles for this weekend's game against the Badgers. What do you expect those wrinkles to be? How effective will they be?
WFY: I figure they will throw from the wildcat to keep the Badgers honest, but if I were them, I'd play it as a run every time and dare Penn State to beat them with a WR throwing the ball. Ultimately, I think the Nittany Lions offense will be as effective as Silas Redd makes it and since he's still hurt, that is a major concern.
The Underdogs: Whatever new wrinkles there might be could only be the pages of the playbook for Curtis Drake, provided he's healthy. That sounds more like coach speak to get Wisconsin worried about some things that they won't see nor that really exist.
Collyer: I wouldn't be surprised to see a few wrinkles thrown into the running game, particularly because that's where Wisconsin's defense is most susceptible. Two specifically come to mind - the fullback trap play we ran with Austin Scott as the offset upback in the 2006 Orange Bowl, and the fake bubble screen/draw handoff that we ran successfully with Tony Hunt during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Neither has seen much action, but those plays have worked well often. I'd like to see what the tailbacks can do with it now. It seems likely that they'll throw in a pass or two from the wildcat QBs, but we'll see if that's really the intent.
Rowlff Dogg: I think the primary reason McGloin was kept in during the wildcat was to not give the defense a reason to substitute. However, it isn't hard for me to imagine that there's a play that sends him in motion with a play-action option for Drake. McGloin throws really well on the run, so the threat of him getting the ball from the wildcatter and chucking it DERP appears to be legit. I must add that I'd be betraying my natural instinct if I didn't mention that Jay will probably have him running right-to-left and to the short side of the field.
J Schnauzer: Sean Stanley at slot receiver. Did you see Stanley run down the Ohio State wide receiver in the open field?! We need those jets downfield every game, and think of the YAC he could grind out!
Did you notice any differences between the defensive game called by Bradley and the defensive game called by Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden? Should we expect anything different?
The Underdogs: It would probably require some statistical analysis regarding down/distance versus playcall and tendencies of the different coaches. The real difference in my opinion has been a change in overall mindset. The defensive tactics were more varied as well as aggressive. I don't see that as playcalling, but rather something Bradley has been wanting to do for some time. More looks, more man coverage, more complexity.
WFY: The biggest difference I saw was Sean Stanley in coverage. It worked! However, I think putting the defensive ends in coverage is so special that it should never be done again. Otherwise, I did not notice anything significantly different, other than Devon Still not getting his usual 1.5 tackles for a loss. He had the flu I think.
Rowlff Dogg: Schematically, it was only subtle things. But characteristically, it appeared as though the players were allowed to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback/ball carrier more aggressively/often than prior to the coaching turnover. It's only 1 game, but it seemed pretty obvious to me that the players were playing more freely and having more fun. Sigh.
Collyer: I absolutely think the defense was more aggressive last week, but I don't have the blitz numbers to prove it. It was a welcome sight, especially against an inexperienced quarterback. Sure, Miller burned us a few times, but it made more sense to hit him hard. I'd expect the same this week.
J Schnauzer: The defense is an anomaly. They are one of the best in scoring defense but have been unable to stop anyone in the redzone. They are great at forcing three-and-outs but have been more prone to allow large chunks of yards than any PSU team in recent memory. I saw a more aggressiveness last week, possibly to neutralize Ohio State's fairly toothless offensive weapons and to draw them offsides. It worked well. I think they are trying new things, like the 4-4 we saw for a bit last week, so I wouldn't be surprised if they try to make some formation shifts just to catch the Badgers off-guard.
WFY: Contain is the right word, because I do not believe they can be stopped. The offense putting together sustained drives would be the best solution, but I am skeptical they can do it with Redd still hurting.
The Underdogs: Whatever Ohio State did in the 1st half versus Wisconsin. I'd love to tell you what that was, but I don't know. I'll say keep them off the field. Move the chains, eat the clock, win the turnover battle (hopefully by some margin greater than 1).
Rowlff Dogg: I must confess that the only times I watched Wisconsin this year, I had done so with the aid of some drinky-poos. So, let's just say I wasn't in the scouting mood. My thinking is that our defense is good enough to keep us in any game, no matter how many superlatives have been heaped upon the NC State mercenary transfer. Let's just keep it close enough to let Bret Bielema mess up the game. He's a Grade-A dunce.
J Schnauzer: Football Outsiders has them as the #1 team in offensive F+ which is a very statistical way of saying they are ridiculously good on offense. I think the game will be decided by the play of the Penn State secondary. Penn State has been incredibly fortunate to go through the season without seeing a great, uninjured passing quarterback. As a result we don't know what to expect from the secondary when pressed by Wilson. If they make plays the game will be close, if not, it will get ugly.
Collyer: Stop the run, rush the QB. Do not give Wilson too much time to throw; he will beat you. Keep him in the pocket with the defensive ends staying home and allow Devon Still and Jordan Hill to provide the rush from the interior.
WFY: I still won't care as much about the game as I would have in October. I might start wearing Penn State clothes again. Matt Millen will say something intelligent about the situation and praise the team. The Nittany Lions will play really hard regardless of what Wisconsin does. Brett Bilema will still be a jerk. Camp Randall Stadium will still inexplicably have a rug instead of grass. There will be mentions of State Street being an okay place to spend some time. I'll wish I had gone to the 2006 or 2008 games when I had a friend going to grad school there. There won't be as much sportsmanship in Madison as Columbus this year, but that's okay. UniWatch will snub this game as one of the "best looking" on Sunday morning because of the scandal. Guido D'Elia will shed a single tear when "Jump Around" comes on and wish he had thought of it. Wisconsin wins 31 - 20 and we get over it because the thought of seeing "2011" on the skyboxes isn't a real welcome one.
The Underdogs: 27-13 Badger Badger Badger, a snake a snake...nope, that's just Bielema.
Rowlff Dogg: PSU 30-24. I'd say it's the Miller High Life talking, but I gave that up this week because it's from that stupid cheese state. So, it's either the Rogue talking or it's my belief in the heart of this team. These guys are special.
J Schnauzer: 171-163 Penn State. I'm intrigued by the wrinkles in the offensive gameplan and this season is nothing but an unending stream of emotional extremes, why not finish the regular season with the highest scoring football game of all time? At this point I wouldn't be surprised by anything.
Mike Pettigano: I've missed on Penn State the last two weeks; thinking they'd win at home, but lost in the 'Shoe. This week it's even worse. Wisconsin is looking less like the world-beater it was early in the season; but still have only lost two games, both on the final plays, both on the road. My gut really wants the Nittany Lions to pull this out, if for no other reason than to give a big 'ole F-U to the college football world that has spend three weeks now running its mouth about Penn State. But I'm going with the bad guys. Had Ohio State not been so sloppy on offense, the Buckeyes probably could have won the game. Wisconsin doesn't have the defense Ohio State can field, but the offense is light years ahead of anything Penn State has faced since Alabama. It'll be another close one, but since I have to pick one final regular season game this week, I'll say Wisconsin 27 - Penn State 21.
Collyer: I'm expecting a game that will certainly be closer than the 15 point spread. Ohio State's anemic offense dropped 33 on this Badger team. Wisconsin will score - they're probably the best offense we've seen all year. Penn State has to run the ball well and maintain a healthy time of possession to keep the game in the low-20s. If that happens, we have a good chance. Still, I think the only team that is demonstrably better than the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten is Wisconsin. I thought it was true before November 5th, and I still believe that today. I'll be thrilled to be wrong and go to Indianapolis, but from where I sit, Wisconsin 24, Penn State 17.