Blog mob . . . ASSEMBLE!
Even though the Nittany Lions are on a well-deserved bye week, the Blue/White Roundtable never takes a week off.
Say hello once again to our panelists - Kevin McGuire from the Nittany Lions Den, William F. Yurasko from William World News, all of the D-O-double-G's from JoePa's Doghouse, and Timothy Johnson, Bill Engel, Bob Smith, Michael Canzoneri, and Ali Soheilian from PennLive's 50-Yard Lion Blog!
The Nittany Lions now sit at #15 in the polls, having won 7 straight. Think back to the morning of September 3rd. What were your expectations for this team? Are they were you thought they would be today?
The Underdogs: I didn't really have expectations going into the season. I had no idea what we had as a team. I thought there might be a good defense in there, but didn't know that Hill/Still would become the wrecking force they have. I think we all knew the schedule, save Alabama, was pretty easy over the course of the first two months and that the fate of the entire season would swing one way or another in November. And I find myself in the exact same place as 9.3.11, I have no idea where these final three games will take us. The fulcrum of our season wasn't the beginning of September but the beginning of November.
Engel: I predicted 7-2 at this point but the fact that the team exceeded my expectations doesn't jive with the sour taste in my mouth. The defense has certainly overachieved. But the offense has been a train wreck in large part due to poor coaching and because the quarterback play has been subpar. Line up Russell Wilson on this offense with a legitimate offensive coordinator and I think you have a Top 5 team.
WFY: I expected this team to be 7-2 at best with a loss to Iowa thrown in because I also picked Iowa over Penn State until proven otherwise. I also expected Rob Bolden to have turned into a decent quarterback by now and the defense to be improved, but not this improved. I did not expect Silas Redd to be this good. Lastly, I did not expect Penn State to have a 2½ game lead in the (looks it up) Leaders Division.
McGuire: Honestly, this is the position I expected Penn State to be in at this point in the season, although I thought they woudl get here in a different way. I think we can all agree that a win against Alabama was going to be unlikely but what games on the schedule did not have Penn State with the edge? I think most of us thought games against Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern could go a couple different ways but they were all certainly winnable games.
We knew they would win games against Indiana, Purdue, Temple, Eastern Michigan and Indiana State. We knew the defense was going to be solid. What we didn't necessarily know is how the quarterback situation would unfold. At the start of the year I swore Rob Bolden would be breaking out a little bit this season. Obviously that has not happened. But other than that, I think this season has met my expectations entering the bye week.
Rowlff Dogg: I expected Penn State to finish at 9-3 (losses to Alabama, Northwestern, and Ohio State), but 1 extra win/loss either way would not have surprised me at all. I assumed that the coaches would settle on a quarterback early and establish an offensive identity by now. The WRs have been disappointing, but the offensive line (which I annually assume will be terrible) has been impressive at times.
I figured the defense was going to be good, but not this good. Especially without Michael Mauti. Creating turnovers is how I distinguish between a "very good" and a "great" defense, and the 2011 unit looks more the latter.
Special Teams is a roller coaster that appears to be more up than down. So, in short, I think this team's performance averages out to what I expected (with the O being a bit worse and the D being a bit better than I would've figured).
Canzoneri: I was very optimistic before the season. I even coined a term for it, Delopplelionitis, or Delusional Optimistic Nittany Lion Fan Syndrome. Oddly enough, as the season went on, my optimism declined. That has everything to do with the offense. The only one-loss team, who may be better than Penn State right now is Clemson.
The defense has obviously been spectacular, and several players have made game changing contributions. For much of the year, the defensive MVP has looked like Devon Still, who is playing as well (or maybe even better) than Jared Odrick during his stellar senior campaign. Recently, Gerald Hodges has been virtually unstoppable. Who is the defensive MVP after nine weeks?
J Schnauzer: Stand-out individual defensive performance resides on a bell-curve of team defense. On the worst defenses no one stands out, on mediocre-to-good defenses one or two players stand out as they make big plays to neutralize coverage mistakes by others. On the best defenses no one stands out because most everyone is performing at a high level. As a result I would have to split my MVP vote. I would award it to Still and Hill, who have created so much interruption in the backfield of the offense that it allows the linebackers to utilize their talents to the fullest.
Soheilian: I would actually say the defensive MVP has been Drew Astorino. He is usually the first hat to the ball and does a great job of forcing stretch plays back inside to his help. Also, when Mauti and Lynn went out with injuries earlier this year, Astorino was fueling this team's psyche with his enthusiastic play. He doesn't shy away from contact and is easily the best open field tackler on the team.
The Underdogs: I'm going with Jordan Hill. Devon Still has a been a monster, no doubt, but let's remember why he's able to be a monster. He's facing the majority of the one-on-ones, a matchup I'd pick him to win 99.44% of the time, and hence making plays in the backfield. Meanwhile, Mr. Hill is playing the role of the favored uncle coming over during the holidays while the rug rats (the offensive line) drape from each of his limbs. Amazing really. That we have been on the receiving end of so few holding calls this season, that when we actually got a few versus Illinois, it illustrates just how badly Illinois was holding all game. Something I pointed out on twitter after the first or second series. It all starts with the anchor upfront.
Johnson: It has to be Hodges. When Mauti went down, JoePa singled out Hodges as the guy who needed to elevate his level of play, and we've witnessed the catastrophic results. We are yet to see an offense with any kind of answer for his athleticism, and should we run into one over the next month, we'll see just how valuable he really is. With all that said, I mentioned in a previous roundtable that the strength of our defense is their cohesiveness and ability to help each other out. It sounds so cliche, but it really does apply. Our secondary's tight coverage allows Still and Hill to wreak havoc, Pressure from the line allows the LB's to shoot gaps and stand up runners in the backfield, and Nick Sukay's tackling style allows everyone to tee off on injury replacements.
WFY: Devon Still has been a beast throughout the season. He has what, 15½ tackles for a loss this year? Outstanding. He's the defensive MVP. Gerald Hodges is probably the runner up, he's really come on this month. Overall, I'm quite pleased with the defense, I knew they would be better, but I didn't think they'd be this much better.
Smith: Hodges or Still? It's like splitting hairs. Still had one sack on Persa where he appeared to leap over the lineman blocking him in order to grab Persa. That sack was a game saver (as they all were) but it has gotten lost in the shuffle. Hodges has just gotten better and better as the year has gone on. I can only imagine what the Defense would've become with Mauti still playing. At this point I would probably support Hodges but we are asking a mother to choose between her newborn twins with this one.
Is there any appropriate way to get Rob Bolden playing time at this juncture? What do you expect will happen with him by the end of the year?
McGuire: Unless Matt McGloin gets injured, no. You cannot play Bolden at this point because when he is on the field the offense looks like a mess and the offense can't seem to move the football. Bolden has had some good moments on the field and receivers dropping the football and an offensive line that looked like Swiss cheese at times did him no favors but with everything on the line right now Penn State needs to have the offense in sync, and that means using one quarterback and one quarterback only. I have come 180degrees on this as the season has progressed, but McGloin gives Penn State's offense the best chance to do something right now.
My only concern is that McGloin clearly struggles against the better teams and defenses Penn State plays. We all remember the Outback Bowl of course but also remember the Ohio State game last year. The Alabama game this year. The Michigan State game last season started slow and McGloin didn't put up the big numbers until the Spartans eased off in the fourth quarter. These final three weeks will be huge for McGloin. He has something to prove and Bolden can't be thrown out there to change things up with a Big Ten championship game appearance on the line.
The only appropriate ways for Bolden to play are at the end of a blowout with Penn State up big or if McGloin gets injured. I was in favor of him playing in the second quarter since McGloin was having problems, but Bolden is just lost. I think he leaves the program which is a shame, but I can't blame him. Starting as a true frosh was the worst thing that could ever happen to him and supports the old Joe Paterno cliche "I'd rather play a kid too late than too early."
Nice to hear his mom thinks he's taking it well, certainly not the impression one gets from his sideline demeanor.
Rowlff Dogg: There are only two circumstances where Rob Bolden should step on the field: an injury to Matt McGloin or a complete blowout where Rob just has to hand off. Rob looks like Ed DuhCheLLLLLLis trying to talk to a ref: he's timid, afraid, and has no idea what to do.
Johnson: I hope I'm wrong, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's permanently ruined. As a former student-athlete at PSU (albeit one that played an infinitely less important sport), I can say the pressure of everything college offers is overwhelming--I never really figured out how to manage myself properly until I was ready to graduate. And I never had to get booed by 100,000 frustrated fans while D-linemen put their helmets in my earhole, only to go back to the bench and have JayPa tell me "Don't worry, you're doing great, keep it up...just kidding."
There was a ton of controversy last year when Bolden was handed the keys to the offense as a true freshman--so far, we can see why the coaches took so much pause in doing so. The best thing now could be to shut him down and give him the deserved and needed chance to start fresh, if he's willing.
Smith: Bolden is a mess. The real question is can Rob Bolden save himself. This is the one prediction that I have wrong form the preseason. I had the Lions 10 - 2, Wiscosin smacking Nebraska in their first B1G game, but I had Bolden becoming the Lions clear starter.
Now I am not at practice so I don't know what goes on there, but it looks like the team has lost all confidence in him. For a guy that looked so poised in his first few starts he looks lost now. At the start of every game this year I would say out loud "now take control of this team and make it yours". He never did. This is now McGloin's team. Only Bolden can save himself now. He can let it all slip away or fight back and be ready for the next time he gets in the game.
The Underdogs: During the Illinois game, I was beside myself that they brought him in despite the struggles of the offense to that point. In a blizzard, with a cold, rusty, low on confidence QB, we bring him in and immediately start throwing the ball? Were we trying to get him killed so we don't have to face these questions anymore? Look, I'm in the camp that the best Rob Bolden was the one that stepped onto campus his first day. And we've slowly over coached him (or under-coached?) to (hopefully not) the point of no return. The kid is not playing loose, relaxed. He's stiff and thinking too much. Sports are never best played that way unless you count chess a sport. Even then, it is largely intuition and still muscle memory.
With all that said, we know McGloin, perhaps even better than Bolden. He hasn't regressed because he's got enough moxie to ignore Fredo Corleonterno (sic). He also struggles mightily versus athletic defenses that sit back in zone and dare His Royal Moxxiness to fit his ball into tight holes. The next few games could go very badly if he's not careful with the ball.
Silas Redd has rushed for over 1000 yards and still has at least four games left on the schedule. What will he finish with for the year?
Canzoneri: Seeming how there at least four games left, not including the B1G Championship game, I think Redd finishes the year with 1,550 yards. Although the next three games are tough, I still see Redd hovering around the 100 ypg mark.
Rowlff Dogg: Silas is going to embrace the devil: 1,666 yards.
McGuire: Don't forget, it could be five games left on the schedule with three regular season games, the bowl game and a Big Ten championship game possible.
Redd has had a solid string of games for sure but I am not sure the 100-yard streak will continue in the final three regular season games. If Redd finishes the season with 1,400 yards I think that will mean very good things for Penn State, but to get there he is going to have to have big games against Nebraska's defense, an improved Ohio State defense (and Penn State never plays a good offensive game in Columbus) and Wisconsin.
I would guess Redd finishes the regular season (not including a possible Big Ten championship game) with 1,250 yards, which means an average of about 83 yards over the next three games.
WFY: I think Silas Redd finishes with between 1,300 and 1,400 yards in the regular season and a lot of stingers. Oh and All-Big Ten as well. Figure on another 100 yards in post-season play.
Most Penn State fans have embraced this team's "win ugly" attitude and believe they can finish strong. If this team were to lose 2 of the next 3, how will that change your opinion of them?
The Underdogs: It won't. I'm *hoping* we can pull out one of three.
Engel: The key to that question is whether the team ends up in Indy on Dec. 3rd. I think for the majority of fans, given where we are at this point in the season, anything less than a trip to the B1G Championship in Indy would be a major letdown
WFY: I don't think my opinion would change much if they only won once in November for a few reasons - they have tougher teams on the schedule and the last two games are on the road. Only blowouts in the last 3 games could make me feel really bad, but I'll be disappointed if and when they lose because they have come so far. Winning 2 out of 3 would be outstanding and 3 out of 3 is a mortal lock to not happen I'm afraid.
Soheilian: To be honest, I'm at that point where I don't care how we win, I just want to keep winning. At the same time, I know that the last three games on this schedule are the measuring stick for this year's team. If they lose, I will be disappointed, but I don't think that will change my opinion of this team. They are gritty, tough, and constantly play with a chip on their shoulder. This team will forever be to me the team that kept fighting til the final bell was rung.
McGuire: While I think that winning ugly and living by a "just win baby" mentality is fine, the gaping holes on this team are going to hold them back and cause Penn State to fall back to earth a bit. I think losing two of the next three is a very real possibility and losing all three may be very likely. My opinion probably will not change much though. I still think their defense will be impressive but I have never been in love with this passing offense. I don't see much changing regardless of their regular season finish.
Predict the team's record and bowl game.
WFY: I predicted a 9-4 season at the outset, some I am going to stick to that here, much as it pains me to do so. I think they'll go to the Capital One Bowl or possibly the Gator Bowl. Outback is out because they went last year.
McGuire: I think Penn State finishes the seaosn with a 9-3 record, which puts them in a New Year's Day bowl game. I think the Outback Bowl will again be a possibility but return trips to the same bowl game are a rarity for Penn State. I think the Gator Bowl will come in to play but we'll see how the rest of the conference plays out as well.
The Underdogs: 8-4, Alamo.
Rowlff Dogg: 9-3. Citrus Bowl vs Georgia.
J Schnauzer: 13-1. Win Rose Bowl. They have no business winning any game remaining on the schedule and I don't think they can do it, but they keep proving me wrong. I'll just continue to expect the unexpected.
Soheilian: I'm going to go ahead and stick to my guns from the preseason and say this team finishes at 11-1. Call me an optimist, call me an idiot, or whatever you want, but I firmly believe that this team is going to match up really well against the three teams we have left on the slate. Nebraska's offense is one-dimensional and should be a grind it out game for potentially Joe's last home game. Wisconsin has shown that its defense will continue to be its Achilles heel as their season comes to a close. Ohio State is still breaking in a freshman quarterback that has yet to face a defense of Penn State's caliber all year long. I guess what I'm trying to say is that all these games are very winnable, let's just hope we prep for them accordingly.
Johnson: Same as in the preseason: Find a way to beat Nebraska with the crowd behind us, let down and lose to Ohio State and Wisconsin on the road. (For the record, I don't actually think we should lose to tOSU and their QB's noodle arm, but as a devout Philly sports fan, I often prepare myself for failure by anticipating it--really eases the pain.) I guess that would leave us at 9-3, out of the B1G title game, and making travel plans for Tampa or Jacksonville instead. Please, PSU defense, don't let this happen.
Engel: I said 8-4 at the beginning of the season but thought we would have 2 losses at this point in the season. I am going to stick with us winning one of the last three for a 9-3 record. That being said, this team has an amazing resiliency and I could see 2 more wins if they continue to get some calls and some balls bouncing their way.
Smith: I have to stay with 10 - 2, but now that loss to Wisconsin doesn't stop them from reaching the B1G title game. The bowls think this could be Joe's last game (see Larussa) and invite the Lions to a BCS game. Let's say the Orange Bowl. Joe dissapoints them and comes back in 2012.
Canzoneri: I am saying 12-2, winning the next 2 out of three. Then winning in the B1G championship game and in the Rose Bowl against Stanford.
Adam Collyer: I'm back in with this squad. Lots of guts, so much heart. The defense isn't just outstanding; it's legitimately fun to watch. The offense is confusing. They can look unstoppable at times, but the receiving corps still drops too many passes and the quarterback rotation is hurting offensive consistency. Silas Redd is dominant and explosive. I think we win at least the next two to lock down the Leaders, then roll into MadTown with some serious momentum. I'm going all in - 11-1, a conference title game win. Running for roses in Pasadena.