Blue/White Roundtable - Penn State vs. Nebraska

Justin K. Aller

The Penn State blogosphere answers the most pressing questions about Saturday's dominating win against the Boilermakers, Matt McGloin's place amongst Big Ten quarterbacks, matching up against Taylor Martinez, and this weekend's match up against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Blog mob...ASSEMBLE!

Welcome back to the Election Week edition of the Blue/White Roundtable! Congratulations to our newly re-elected president and all incumbents and new members of Congress who won their races on Tuesday.

(NO POLITICS)

This week, the Nittany Lions head to Lincoln for the first time since 2003 to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers!

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 will all recognize most of this week's panelists - our own Cari Greene, Bill Engel, Carole Kirkpatrick, 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!

But here's a special addition to our Amateur Blog Mob. Say hello to Matt and Tim from Victory Bell Rings!

Purdue seemed to catch Penn State sleeping on their first drive of the game, and the team looked a bit sluggish early. Was this an Ohio State hangover? Or have teams begun to catch on to the Penn State game plan?

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Cari: I don't think they caught us unaware. We knew their kick returner would be a home run threat on ST-he was, at least for the first return. They had one good play on that drive, which isn't unheard of for our D to allow-but after the kickoff return, it put them into the red zone. But our D stopped them when it needed to.

Our offense didn't score right away, but that isn't unheard of either. Even in the Iowa blowout, we went 3-and-out on our first possession (aside from, IIRC, a penalty that gave us a first down).

Tim: I think Purdue caught the refs sleeping on that first drive. The big running play was broke open by a missed holding call on the edge, then the defense put the clamps down. Watching it, Penn State's game plan doesn't seem all that complex but execution is the key. Against Purdue, they executed it to the tune of 34 unanswered points.

Kevin: I think it is possible Purdue caught Penn State at the right time, but I also believe Purdue was playing on a bit of an adrenaline rush, knowing they needed to get a win with a quarterback who gave them some life too late in the game the previous week. Teams may be catching on to what Penn State is doing, but for now only a handful of teams will have the athletic stamina to be able to slow them down too much. Ohio State was able to do it, and Nebraska might be the next physically capable of doing so.

The Underdogs: No. That's Purdue's plan. Lull opponents into a daze by their inherent Purdue-ishness then strike like an Egyptian Asp. Except they're engineers and spelling isn't their strong suit so all they got was Egyptian ass.

Matt: If it was an OSU hangover, it only lasted about 2 plays on defense. After the long return and then the long run, Purdue couldn't do anything on offense until well after the game was decided. On offense, they certainly looked disjointed, especially early. I attribute at least a portion of that to Kyle Carter's absense. I think we saw how important a guy like that is in this offense. The other factor to me was the atmosphere, or lack thereof. It's no secret this PSU team relies on emotion, sometimes to their detriment. To say there was no atmosphere in West Lafeyette on Saturday would be an understatement. I'm sure the OSU game played a role, but a road game against a Purdue squad playing out the string is not exactly what you'd order up as a rebound game. But credit the coaches and seniors for getting things going in the 2nd and third quarters to put the game away.

J Schnauzer: It was random chance fused with a bit of chaos theory and live load projections. It made the engineers salivate, only to see the whole thing collapse like the Tacoma Narrows bridge. By extension, Matty Mac is the harmonizing wind and Danny Hope is the dude stumbling away from his doomed car.

Carole: No hangover at all. You can't start a game with two or three injuries on the road and expect to just keep going on business as usual. It takes you out of your game and rhythm. Once the running game got going, the passing game opened up and vice versa. Do teams know what to expect from Penn State now? Sure. They know who the targets are and who is going to get the ball on offense. They know who to kick the ball to on punts and kickoffs and they know where Hill, Mauti, Carson, Hodges and others are lined up on defense. What they don't know is who is going to step up this week. They don't know which tight end will get open. They don't know which running back is going to make the tough yards. They don't expect Matt to run for a first down. They know that Penn State will go for it on fourth down, but they didn't know our kicking game was finally going to begin to shake things up.

Bill: Definitely a hangover. Giving up points in the first quarter for the first time all year woke the team up and the rest was history.

Matt McGloin passed Kerry Collins this week for most 300 yard passing games by a Nittany Lion. Assess McGloin midway through the season. Is he really the Big Ten's best passer? Or is his success more based on Bill O'Brien's offensive scheme?

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Rowlff Dogg: The Big Ten has been so terrible this year that I rarely watch the other teams play. College football is too short to waste on bad football. Therefore, my assessment of Matt McGloin being the Big Ten's best passer doesn't carry the necessary weight to ring true. He has surpassed my expectations in every regard this year. Heck, he even won me over as a fan which has led to many disputes within my tailgating circles.

The bottom line is this: McGloin (and the offense) doesn't improve this dramatically without Bill O'Brien and his offensive braintrust. The entire staff has done a remarkable job and there is no better example of it than McGloin.

Kevin: Sure, Matt McGloin has the basic passing numbers to make a solid case to be the best quarterback in the Big Ten and there is no question Bill O'Brien has done a solid job in making McGloin more of an effective passer in the offense compared to the previous staff. But when I look at quarterbacks to determine who is the best, I like to look a little deeper in to the numbers, and doing so reveals some not so glossy trends for McGloin in this discussion.

On 3rd down and 4-6 yards, McGloin is in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten with completion percentage, completing 54.5 percent of his passes in that situation. Of course, Penn State's willingness to go for it on fourth downs would suggest this may not be as big a problem as it is for another school, like Indiana or Michigan State. On 3rd and 7-9, McGloin is completing 59.1 percent of his passes, the best QB rating in the Big Ten among players with at least 10 attempts in that situation.

Inside the red zone McGloin is in the bottom half of the Big Ten in QB rating, completing just 23 of 50 pass attempts. That said, McGloin also has the most red zone touchdown passes, with 11, and just one interception.

Put all of that together and you have a quarterback who may not be dazzling, but seems to be proving to be effective in the clutch. Compared to some of the other passers in the Big Ten, and again just focusing on what these players can do with their arms and not their legs, and considering the system he is running, I think you can make a legitimate case that McGloin is the best quarterback in the Big Ten even without some of the raw skills and talent others may have. You have to credit that to the system, I think, more than anything else.

The Underdogs: Big Ten's best passer is like asking who the best QB on the Jets is. In fact, Goin Derp could probably start for the Jets. McGloin does have some positive traits and always has, but they were poorly understood and coalesced into the system previously. Weird thing is, his one biggest strength (only?) use to be hot reads and now it seems to be the biggest weakness. I don't really blame the line either as they seem to be sliding and adjusting much better than early in the season, but since OSU teams have been bringing more than we can block leaving it up to the QB and receiver to be on the same page and exploit the D's aggression. I hope this has been worked on all week.

Cari: Both. He is the Big Ten's best passer this year, but arguably any other year wouldn't be-the Big Ten, as has been said multiple places, isn't very good this year, and that starts with the QB position. BOB has put McGloin in a position to win (and improve any potential NFL stock in the process), and because of that McGloin looks even better. Let's face it, McGloin of 2011 was head and shoulders above the McGloin of 2010. It shouldn't have been such a surprise that he grew even more as a QB with another year, without looking in his rearview mirror and with a coaching staff familiar with developing quarterbacks.

Tim: First, how crazy is that? More 300 yard passing games than Kerry Collins. For the rest, can I say both? Obviously, McGloin is light years ahead of where he has been in previous years, and the biggest variable is Bill O'Brien. With O'Brien's help, McGloin does appear to now be the best passer in the conference. Unlike the other top QBs in the conference, McGloin presents no threat of running with the ball. His success comes from the pocket, not trickery of the defense.

Carole: Yes, I will take credit for predicting another 300 yard passing game last week for Mr. McGloin. I do believe that McGloin deserves credit considering that the Kerry Collins era had national championship caliber talent to catch those amazing passes and run the ball in the form of Ki-Jana Carter, Brian Milne, Mike Archie, Bobby Engram, Freddie Scott, and Kyle Brady. These Lions that McGloin is having success with are relatively young and were untested before this season. Imagine Collins without KiJana Carter and Bobby Engram. The stats below speak for themselves with Collins stats spanning an entire season.

McGloin, 211 of 340, 2436 yards, 62.1% completion, 18 to 3 TDs to INTs, Rating 138.0

Collins, 176 of 274, 2679 yards, 66.7% completion, 21 to 7 TDS to INTs, Rating 172.9

I think we all have seen the development of Matt over the past three years and this year in particular. To see him be so successful this year is very gratifying. Best passer? Yards passing per game, yes. I do believe that Bill O'Brien has set him and the whole team up to succeed. If you pay attention to that word, "scheme", and how many times BOB and his staff have said that word in interviews, you would know that it is true. They devise schemes for their talent and for each game that if the players play their best within that scheme then they win. They have scored above 30 in all of their wins but 1. Credit not just McGloin but the terrific pocket protection of the O line and the good hands of those receivers and backs in those PSU offensive numbers.


Nebraska was held in check for most of the game by a stout Michigan State defense. Can Penn State have sustained success against Taylor Martinez and the Cornhusker offense? What does Penn State have to do to be successful?

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LB: Penn State needs a big game from its defense since the Cornhuskers have been prolific scorers this season. Nebraska hasn't scored fewer than 20 points in any game so far. The Lion can't afford to start slow again; they have to start fast and score early like they did against Iowa. This game could be tough, but it's definitely winnable for the Lions if they can get momentum going within the first several drives.

Matt: I like the matchup with PSU's D vs. Martinez. For one, the Lions have the best corps of linebackers in the Big 10. Mauti, Hodges, Carson and Hull have the athleticism to contain Martinez. They key on defense is to put Nebraska into obvious throwing situations. In Nebraska's two losses this season, Martinez has thrown the ball 56 times and been intercepted 4 times. Contain the Huskers ground game, and you are going to force mistakes from a team that has turned the ball over more than anyone in the Big 10. I expect PSU to be able to move the ball against Nebraska's defense, especially through the air, which opens up the ground game for whoever O'Brien opts to put at tailback. I wouldn't be surprised to see more of Belton this week for some reason.

Cari: In order to be successful, Penn State can't go ultra-conservative like they did against Ohio State. Barring him stepping up, Martinez will put up his numbers (he's too talented to contain for a full 60 minutes), but will our offense be able to do enough to counter? They couldn't against the Buckeyes, at home, in a white out atmosphere. I'm not so sure they'll be able to do it on the road at Nebraska.

Rowlff Dogg: I feel like I have become a broken record with my defensive suggestions, but it remains very simple: continue to play like you have been playing. Taylor Martinez is very mistake prone. He is also probably not going to beat you solely with his arm. Keep a basic contain on him, bring a variety of blitzes to keep him off-guard, and force him to play perfect to beat you.

After last week's excellent tackling performance by the defensive backs, I think we can afford to be even more aggressive on the blitzes.

Oh yeah, and when a ball hits a defensive back in the hands, CATCH IT!

J Schnauzer: I think blitz packages will prove successful against Martinez. As proof, I submit every game where Martinez has faced blitz packages.

Predictions?

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Cari: Pessimism for many different things this week has paid off for me. I'm hoping that'll continue for the Penn State game. As much as I want to believe we'll pull out the win, this is a much better team than Iowa, and just as hostile an environment. In the ballpark of 24-17, Nebraska.

Kevin: Before the season ever started and we had a chance to see what Bill O'Brien could do, I had Nebraska marked down as a loss. Despite some good play by Penn State and a Nebraska team that has holes on both sides of the football at times, I still think that remains the case. I do feel Penn State keeps this a close, lower scoring affair than some might think, but I think when push comes to shove Nebraska will be able to pick up a few crucial yards on the ground and get by with a win.

Nebraska 24, Penn State 20.

The Underdogs: Last team to score wins. 31-27. I'll flip a coin. Heads is for Nebraska and all the heads Lo Phillips and Christian Peter used to kick in during steroid-fueled rage binges. Tails is for PSU and the amount of Nebraska tail PSU would've kicked in '94. Coin says tail. Don't tempt the fates Bo.

Rowlff Dogg: The TRUE 1994 National Champions 31, The Tom Osborne Sympathy Vote Receivers 16.

J Schnauzer: Penn State 29, Nebraska 25. Bo Pelini camera shots of him looking stupified 37.

LB: I predicted earlier that the Lions would lose this game, but I have more confidence in them now, even with their recent loss. Penn State 31, Nebraska 24

Bill: The team likes to make me look like an idiot when I pick them to lose Big Ten games on the road. So I will let them and say Nebraska 24-Penn State 21.

Carole: Nebraska is just too good at home. Their only losses occurred on the road @UCLA and @Ohio State. If Penn State can score more than 30 AND can run the ball, the Nittany Lions win. If the defense can hold the Huskers to less than 20 first downs and force some turnovers, Penn State wins. If Nebraska commits their average number of penalties per game, Penn State wins. If all of those things happen, Penn State wins. I am going out on a limb here. Penn State 31, Nebraska 28.

Matt: Despite my unabashed homer tendencies, I try to look at things fairly. I see a PSU defense that has created turnovers in practically every game this season, and a Nebraska team that cannot seem to hang onto the ball, not to mention an offense that has failed to stop practically everyone, including the inept Sparty attack. The Sea of Red and the very real chance of a trip to Indianapolis to face whoever finishes third in the . . . whatever division PSU and OSU are in will have the Huskers ready to play, but I just think Penn State matches up too well. It's close, but Penn State hangs on late 28-24.

Tim: Nebraska is not Purdue and the stadium atmosphere will be on the opposite end of the spectrum from last week. Nebraska's offense is going to put points on the board, but their defense will allow Penn State to do the same. I don't feel good about the Nittany Lions' chances on the road against a dynamic offense like the one the Huskers have. A victory would be a pleasant surprise, but I'll take Martinez and his crew to outlast McGloin and his.

Nebraska 30, Penn State 27.


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