Preview: Penn State (0-2) vs Navy (0-1)

Sept. 1, 2012; Matt McGloin (11) and Miles Dieffenbach (65). (Photo by Mike Pettigano)

That, umm, didn't go how I thought it would last weekend. It's a new week, new opponent, hopefully a new result. Time to preview this sucker...

Penn St. Nittany Lions (0-2) vs. Navy Midshipmen (0-1)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Beaver Stadium (107,252), University Park, PA
The Line: PSU -6
TV: ABC Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, Jeannine Edwards
Weather: 70 degrees. Mostly sunny. Light/moderate breeze.

COACHES:

Bill O'Brien:
PENN STATE RECORD: 0-2, 1st year
OVERALL RECORD: Same
VS. NAVY: First Meeting

Ken Niumatalolo
NAVY RECORD: 32-22, 5th year
OVERALL RECORD: Same
VS. PENN STATE: First Meeting

NOW THE FUN PART

Navy Offense vs PSU Defense -

The option. Nothing like it. Nothing like defending it. You've no doubt heard the term "assignment defense" all week, which is exactly what Penn State will need to emphasize tomorrow against the Midshipmen. Teams have been burned big time by not preparing thoroughly for Navy's option attack. However, this isn't the typically talented Navy team we've come to expect over the last decade. In 2012, for the second year in a row, Navy is breaking in a new quarterback. But two weeks ago against Notre Dame, Trey Miller injured his ankle when a defensive lineman fell on him. He's feeling better after the bye week, but things are still iffy heading into State College.

For the first time this season, Penn State won't have to defend against a good-to-very-good quarterback. Miller or whoever ends up taking the snaps for Navy will not have the passing skills to really threaten the Nittany Lions, even though Penn State's pass defense has been sketchy at best through the two losses. Though Penn State did surrender 263 pass yards last week, Virginia was never able to get into the kind of rhythm Ohio U. used so lethally in week one. Forcing four turnovers against the Cavaliers also set a perfect tone going up against the Midshipmen. Option teams that aren't well-oiled machines tend to be more vulnerable to losing the ball, as you'd expect from chucking the ball around mid-rush. Provided the Nittany Lions can maintain that same level of ball-hawking aggressiveness, there's no reason to believe they shouldn't be on the positive side of the turnover margin once again.

PSU Offense vs Navy Defense -

Matt McGloin looks like a different quarterback this season. He still has some tendencies that make my blood pressure shoot through the roof, but overall, it's been an incredible improvement for him since last season. Over the first two games, despite the final scores, he's been far from the top of the list of reasons Penn State failed to achieve victory. This week he should look even better. Though the Navy secondary returns in tact from 2011, the front seven has been decimated by dismissals (for various team or academy rules) and departures. Without a strong pass rush against the improving Penn State offensive line, Navy's backfield will have little chance against the increasingly-complex Nittany Lion passing attack.

This Navy defense finished 92nd in rush defense a year ago. Without key players this year, it's been looking even worse. The Midshipmen gave up a whopping 293 yards against the Irish in the opener. Penn State hasn't exactly been churning it up in the ground game, but one would have to go with the Lions in a matchup of the two sides of the run game. I wouldn't be surprised to see Curtis Dukes or Zach Zwinak--or Akeel Lynch, if his redshirt gets burned--top 70 yards on the ground as Penn State finally has a decent day rushing the ball. If Penn State fails to reach 150 rush yards in this game, it's time to really worry about the progress of the running game in 2012. Yes, Bill Belton and Derek Day are gone, but the offensive line and backups are good enough combined to run over Navy's struggling front seven.

Special Teams -

All I'll say about Sam Ficken is that I feel bad for the kid, but it's his job to make those kicks. Let's hope he has better luck and nerves this week. Then again, let's hope it won't come down to his leg at all this week. It would be nice to see a bit more from the return game, as it hasn't really affected either of the two games thus far. Navy's special teams never really factored into the Notre Dame loss, so it's tough to say how it will turn out this week for the Midshipmen.

Prediction -

Penn State needs this game. It's a tough-enough opponent to keep the Nittany Lions' minds sharp and focused, but the game is also the most winnable so far this young season. I've been saying it all week that if Penn State at least maintains the level of improvement it saw from week 1 to week 2, the second string should be in the game by the start of the fourth quarter. McGloin and the pass game might not have the chance to show off much, but a strong, efficient day through the air is all that's required right now. Get Steven Bench into the game again and give him and the younger guys more real-game time. That includes the defense. Ted Roof, aside from the remaining issues with defending third-and-long situations, did a great job game planning against Virginia, shutting down the Cavs run game to the tune of 32 rushing yards. As long as Penn State's typically sound tackling goes horribly awry this week, it should stifle the Navy offense early and often.

With Navy even more inexperienced and depth-challenged than Penn State, it will be the difference of talent that wins the day for the home team.

Penn State 34 - Navy 16


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