Welcome back to the Blue/White Roundtable! This week, the Nittany Lions come back to the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium to take on the Indiana Hoosiers and the Big Ten officials.
You know how this works by now - every week, yours truly will pose a variety of questions to Penn State bloggers from every corner of the Nittany Lion internet. We'll post the greatest hits here each week, but make sure to check out our blogging brethren for their full responses every week!
You all recognize this week's panelists - our own Cari Greene, Matt and Tim from Victory Bell Rings, Bill Engel, Carole Kirkpatrick, Michael Canzoneri, Matthew Pencek, LB, and Ali Soho from PennLive's 50-Yard Lion Blog, Kevin McGuire from The Nittany Lions Den, and all of the D-O-double-G's from JoePa's Doghouse!
We have to start with officiating. One offensive holding called in our favor since the Northwestern game. The sideline encroachment penalty after the punt. The Matt Lehman touchdown that wasn't. What's going on here?
The Underdogs: Objection: leading question. /pleads fifth.
Cari: As soon as the announcers on Saturday said that the call on the field was wrong and it was definitely a touchdown, I turned to my mother and informed her that it would definitely not be overturned. That just seemed indicative of how the game was going-you referenced the other biggest head-scratcher in your question, when the sideline interference penalty we got defied the NCAA rulebook.
It's getting really hard to not become a conspiracy theorist, no? I've stated many times on BSD that I thought, for the most part, the officiating in the OSU game was uniformly bad-we were holding just as much as the Buckeyes, and none of it was called. The Nebraska game, on the other hand, was another story-and I've moved solidly into the camp that the Big Ten refs aren't just incompetent-they're encouraged to make sure that the league makes the most money by sending the best possible team to the Rose Bowl, and try to get a second BCS slot if possible. The best way to do that this year is if Nebraska wins out, wins the conference championship game, and Michigan follows suit-if Michigan continues to rise in the polls (ranked again this week) and beats Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend, that's a definite possibility again.
Simply put, this conference's officiating sucks ass. And when the NCAA, paragon of virtue, expresses sympathy for the players having to endure the bad calls, you know there's an overarching issue, huh?
Tim: I am the opposite of a conspiracy theorist. People suck at keeping secrets and a wide-blown secret wouldn't stay quiet for long. Having said that, what the hell is going on?!?! Bad calls happen all the time and they happen to everyone. It's the fact that Penn State has been on the wrong end of some terrible calls in their two biggest conference games that magnifies the situation. While I don't think there is some mass conspiracy among the Big Ten and it's officials, the refs have some definite issues and you can't help but wonder if there isn't a little unfair bias playing into that, on an individual level. It would be nice if Delaney and co. would issue a statement at least addressing the Lehman TD/fumble, but don't hold your breath.
Kevin: Obviously the world is out to get Penn State. What else could possibly be the case? I mean, besides the fact that officiating across the country is highly questionable these days with multiple camera angles and constantly running video that captures ever facet of the sport.
I have never been one to suggest there is a conspiracy theory, but I can see why so many Penn State fans would be upset lately. There have been some grossly blown calls and non-calls in the last month's worth of games, but of course there have been some plays that have gone in Penn State's favor if you want to be fair about it. It is just that the calls and non-calls against Penn State have had more of an impact on the end-results.
I don't think there is any excuse for the Matt Lehman touchdown-fumble. That was just blatantly missed for whatever reason. The sideline encroachment penalty was also a strange call to make considering the play had already been completed. Is there a conspiracy? I will leave that for others to determine. Hire Louis Freeh! Or not...
Rowlff Dogg: I've had a DVR for a very long time. The Nebraska game was the first time I didn't have the stomach to re-watch. I have no words to describe what has been going on since we joined the Big Ten. Heck, just imagine how Minnesota must feel. They've had 2 blown calls go against them while playing Hated Penn State (1997, 2006).
The best way to deal with the biased officiating and pro-Michigan/pro-Ohio State campaigning is to beat them. Beat them often. Beat them bad.
Unfortunately, the biggest pisser about the sanctions is that we have to continue to wait. Since the late 90's, it was obvious that Penn State would never dominate the Big Ten with JoePa in control. Now we finally have a very good coach, but his hands are tied for quite a while. Grrrr!
Matt: I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Going all the way back to 2002 against Iowa, I have always just chalked it up to incompetence. I've watched enough Big 10 football in my life to know that practically everyone gets screwed at some point (yes, even Michigan and Ohio State), but after the last couple of weeks, it's hard not to wonder if something else is really at play. Look at the calls that have gone against Penn State, especially recently, and tell me there isn't an appearance of impropriety. And just for fun, look at the calls that Nebraska has had go their way all the way back to the Michigan game. At the very least, you have to question whether someone wants to make sure Nebraska gets a shot to play in Indy, and Penn State shouldn't be effecting that game.
Carole: I don't believe in conspiracy theories except in politics. I do wonder about the lack of holding calls especially in the OSU game and that was at home. The sideline encroachment penalty I can imagine if an official ran into or was run into by a player. Whether it was something that ref regularly calls is the story. Consistency puts conspiracy rumors to rest. I think that is what has fans so upset. From all I know about football officiating on calls like that is that it should be flagrant and have some impact on the game. The Matt Lehman touchdown that WAS a touchdown I chalk up to a blown call. From my research on replay (I'll be posting a blog about it on Wed, stay tuned), they have the same video fans do. I totally understand how live it would be ruled as a fumble but not on replay. This had a direct impact on the outcome of the game. It is unacceptable, but not a conspiracy.
Michael: Yes, we are getting screwed on the calls, but that doesn't excuse the fact the receivers are dropping a lot of passes and the running game between the tackles not gaining traction until the end of the first half. The amount of points Penn State has left off the board is somewhat epic. Once Penn State figures out a way to get those points on the board, this offense will be one of the most talked about things in college football.
Penn State came out swinging and built a strong lead in the first half, but collapsed in the second, particularly on defense. What happened there? What accounts for the kinds of lapses that Penn State has exhibited in third quarters all year?
Cari: For this game, I'm not so sure that Penn State collapsed in the third quarter-more so that Nebraska came out on fire, and played like they had in third quarters all season. They were completely out of sorts by the end of the second, and Pelini and crew are notorious for making good halftime adjustments. That's what happened-I think they beat us in the third quarter, not so much that we lost that quarter.
J Schnauzer: Depth. Less-than-great teams have a habit of keeping it close in the first half before allowing mistakes in concentration and experience get the better of them. The starting players Penn State has are great, but the transfers are taking their toll. These 3rd quarter collapses will only become more regular in the following years.
Rowlff Dogg: The excellent numbers Penn State has put up in the first quarter makes their lousy numbers in the third quarter so perplexing. Clearly, the coaches can gameplan an opponent. So, what are they doing in the locker room- drinking milk and petting kittens?
Are NFL halftimes 30 minutes long? If so, perhaps no one bothered to tell Bill O'Brien that college halftimes are only 20 minutes. That's the best explanation I've got.
Tim: A lot of people have said that Roof and O'Brien didn't make the right halftime adjustments. When you're up 20-6 and dominating the line of scrimmage, what adjustments were they supposed to make? I'd say Pelini and his guys fixed a couple things and Penn State was on their heels before they knew it. As for previous games, there could be a bit of fatigue factoring in. Penn State is only using three or sometimes four defensive tackles, four linebackers and usually 5 defensive backs. Against the spread option offenses that they've played (Ohio, NW, OSU, Neb), every play is about gap and assignment responsibility. It's possible that without great depth, the front seven is becoming tired. Or Ted Roof sucks, if you prefer.
LB: Nebraska is no stranger to come-from-behind victories, and Saturday was the Huskers' fourth second-half rally against conference opponents in 2012. Penn State certainly made that rally easier by putting up only three points after halftime. The Lions just couldn't get anything going -- the calls, the safety, the turnovers and a failed fourth-down attempt were all going against the team, while Nebraska continued to roll.
Matthew: If I knew the answer I would be attempting to pass it along to Bill O'Brien. I think part of it is the "halftime adjustments." Penn State did a good job of bottling up Ohio State's Braxton Miller for the first half and allowed him to run loose in the 2nd. In the losses to Ohio, Ohio State, and Nebraska the defense could not get off the field and the offense failed to keep up their first half production. This is O'Brien's first head coaching gig and he has done plenty that has been right. The second half strategy may need a tweak.
Indiana's offense has put up big numbers against many teams this year. How will Penn State try to quiet the Hoosiers?
Matthew: Pedal to the metal offense! The Hoosiers have given up the most points in the conference (32.2 points a game). They have the worst rush defense so I hope to see ZZ Top - Zach Zwinak and his band of running backs chew up big chunks of Beaver Stadium turf with long drives that keeps the second best passer in the Big Ten Cam Coffman off the field.
Kevin: I do not want to over analyze what it will take to beat Indiana, something Penn State has done all 15 times the two have met since Penn State joined the Big Ten. Establish the run. Indiana gave up over 500 yards on the ground last week to Wisconsin. Sure, the Badgers have Montee Ball, which helps but this is a defense that has allowed at least 200 yards on the ground four times this season. They have lost each time. There is a reason teams rush more times against Indiana (48.9 rushing attempts per game) than any other team in the nation.
Running the football and keeping Indiana's offense off the field will keep sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman from establishing his own rhythm. Coffman enters this weekend second in the Big Ten behind Matt McGloin in passing yards per game.
Matt: I'll admit to not having seen much of the Hoosiers this year. Even the near upset against Ohio State, I was channel surfing between a few games at my parents. But, Indiana is the best passing offense, at least statistically, that PSU has seen this year. PSU's secondary has improved, but I'm not sure they've been tested the way Indiana will go at them. The key will be Stanley and Barnes getting pressure on the edges, and the blitzes getting to Cameron Coffman.
The Underdogs: Ideally, doing what Wisconsin did and pounding the ball for Nebraska circa mid-nineties ungodly levels of rushing yards.
J Schnauzer: Play solid defense throughout the game.
Cari: We've rebounded well all season, and this week shouldn't be any different. I think we come out on fire and score the most we've scored all season.
45-21, Penn State.
Kevin: Indiana flirted with a nice happy story this season but had their dose of reality last week at home against Wisconsin. I expect more of the same this weekend, although given the series history I think a blowout win would be unwise to bank on. Indiana has a knack for keeping things looking closer than they probably really are or should be. Penn State struggled to pull out a victory last year in Bloomington, but given the new-look offense I think Penn State is able to jump out to an early lead and never see this game hang out there for the Hoosiers to have much of a chance.
Penn State 34, Indiana 23
The Underdogs: We lack the predictable and dependable grind of Wisconsin, but we can still run the ball well enough to keep Indiana's passing game off the field and in perpetual catch up mode. Indiana scores a few late to make it closer than it should be, 35-29. And in proper respect of that score, the NCAA and B..!..G (my new, preferred method of spelling knuckle-knuckle-finger-knuckle-knuckle) tack on a few more punitive measures for the offseason.
Rowlff Dogg: Penn State 40, Indiana 17. In other battles this weekend, I predict the Cullens will triumph over the Volturi.
J Schnauzer: The streak goes on. Penn State 34, Indiana 22.
Michael: The opposition gets holding called on them. Hell, me accurately guessing the final score is a more likely scenario. PSU 34 - IND 20.
Matthew: Penn State has the second worst red zone offense in the Big Ten, getting points on 75% of their trips inside the 20. Indiana has the second worst red zone defense, allowing opponents to score 85% of the time, so that might be one area to watch. With Sam Ficken starting to hit field goals with some consistency it may eliminate some of the non traditional 4th down attempts O'Brien has attempted this season. I think Penn State builds an early lead and keeps on scoring in the second half. Indiana will get their points but will not be able to close the gap. Indiana 24 Penn State 38
LB: The defense easily handles Indiana, and Matt McGloin has another outing with more than 300 yards in the air. Penn State 45-17.
Ali: Penn State 52, Indiana 13. Penn State scores early and scores often. PSU's front seven too much for Indiana to handle, and look for a defensive touchdown from the secondary in this one.
Bill: Penn State 38 Indiana 19
Matt: There is going to be a potential to overreact after a disappointing loss in Lincoln last week, much like we saw leading up to the Purdue game. But, Indiana, while improved, is still Indiana. Wisconsin had over 600 yards of offense last week against Indiana, and over 550 of those were on the ground. In fact, the Badgers only went to the air 7 times in the blowout win. I expect Zwinak, Zordich, Belton, and anyone else BOB can find to hand the ball to to have a huge game. Penn State: 42, Indiana: 17
Tim: Don't be surprised if Penn State gives up an early touchdown to what may be the best passing offense they've seen all year. After that, they'll settle down and out-man the Hoosiers of Indiana. Penn State gets annother big day from Z28 on the ground and Allen Robinson puts his name in the record books. Bill O'Brien goes home with a guaranteed winning record in his first year as head coach. Penn State: 38, Indiana: 20
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