ESPN Play-by-Play Announcer Sean McDonough was kind enough to answer a few questions prior to the Penn State-Ohio State game. I spoke with him on Thursday afternoon just as he was about to board his flight to State College.
JS: I'm going to start off by putting you on the spot. How did you see Penn State's season unfolding before the start of the season? How many wins were you predicting for Penn State?
SM: I didn’t consciously make a prediction in the preseason. In my mind though, I remember thinking given everything that happened and the departures from the program a .500 season would have been a pretty good year. I felt even more that way when they started 0-2. Obviously they will do much better than that because they are playing very well.
JS: Based off your interactions and observations with Bill O'Brien, what are your impressions of him as the new leader at Penn State? Why do you think O'Brien has succeeded in breathing life into Penn State's offense and turning the season around after such a rocky start?
SM: I’ve always been impressed by him. Of course, I have an initial bias because he’s a fellow Irish-Catholic from Boston. I did have a chance to spend some time with him last spring when the Celtics played a Game 7 in the Garden and he and his wife went to the game with mutual friends. I grabbed a bite to eat with him afterwards and, after talking to him, I felt even more than before he was the right man to take on this monster task. He demonstrated in New England that he had a bright and creative offensive mind so I don’t think it’s a big surprise he has been successful.
JS: Does Penn State deserve to be ranked right now, and if so, where would you put them?
SM: They can only be ranked in the AP poll and if they win this game I think they will be. They are right outside the Top 25 right now. Look at their season though, there was a lot of angst when they lost to Ohio but I think people now realize that is a really good team. They should have beaten Virginia. They outplayed them but missed four field goals in a one-point loss.
JS: Matt McGloin went from perhaps the worst QB in the Big Ten to the best passing QB in the league this year. Historically speaking, have you seen a quarterback be able to elevate his game like this before? If so, who would you compare his season with?
SM: Excellent question and I haven’t really thought about it. I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone else in that category off the top of my head. From past Penn State games I did, I would say he was mediocre at best and he has completely that turned around. I think that comes from his dedication and hard work as well as the coaching of Bill O’Brien and the staff. He’s very productive and not making the mistakes that hurt the team.
JS: What do the Buckeyes do well that could really hurt Ohio State on Saturday?
SM: Braxton Miller is a great dual-threat quarterback that could hurt you with his feet and his arm. He is the best player on the team. And the strength of the defense this year is on the front four. They’ve been vulnerable in the passing game, but the secondary is getting better. You wonder how Ohio State is doing this when you look at their stats. They are winning as a team. That is a testament to the coaching and the character of the team.
JS: Are there any specific match-ups that you think will play a major part in determining the result of the game on Saturday?
SM: I think it’s a real even matchup. Can Ohio State prevent Penn State from passing? On the other side, can Penn State keep Braxton Miller in check?
JS: How do you expect the game to unfold on Saturday? What's your prediction for the final score?
SM: I think it will be very close. I don’t think it will be particularly high or low scoring, somewhere in the 20s and a field goal game one way or the other.