Preview: Penn State (0-1) at Virginia (1-0)

Sept. 1, 2012; Bill O'Brien talks with Matt McGloin between plays. Penn State fell to the Ohio Bobcats, 24-14. (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 (0-1) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (1-0)

Kickoff: 12 p.m. Scott Stadium (61,500), Charlottesville, VA
The Line: UVA -9.5
TV: ABC Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, George Smith
Weather: 85 degrees. Rain. Light/moderate breeze.

COACHES:

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

Mike London
UVA RECORD: 13-13, 3rd year
OVERALL RECORD: 37-17, 5th year
VS. PENN STATE: First Meeting

NOW THE FUN PART

UVA Offense vs PSU Defense -

Another week, another good quarterback lining up to shred the Penn State defense. But can Michael Rocco replicate the kind of success Tyler Tettleton was able to achieve in last week's upset of the Lions? One would assume, since Rocco is an experienced game manager with a good arm and good football brain inside that orange and blue helmet. The big problem here for UVA is that it doesn't run the same kind of spread offense Ohio used so effectively to neutralize nearly every defensive strength Penn State was hoping to lean on in the season opener.

The Cavs run a much more pro-style attack, as Rocco doesn't have the kind of mobility Tettleton does, though the Hoo signal caller is the superior pocket passer. We noted that last week the Bobcats used the QB Read Option with deadly effectiveness, even if Tettleton not once actually pulled the ball. Virginia doesn't run the QB Read Option, at least not in any similar fashion or regularity as Ohio. There is a reason the spread offense is called "the great equalizer," and I'm not sure UVA will have that advantage over PSU this week.

2012 Penn State vs Ohio Bobcats-23

All that being said, I'm seriously concerned about Penn State's depth on defense. There are terrible, horrible thoughts running through my mind right now, picturing Bill Lazor calling a healthy mix of runs and play-action passes in the first half to tire out the Nittany Lions, then opening it up with a bit more of a wide-open attack once the defense is gassed. Will it actually happen? I hope not. It could happen in the opposite order for all I know, or UVA could just kill Penn State with a quick passing attack all day.

Ted Roof is taking a ton of heat, as he was already on a cozy-warm seat from the moment his name was inked on the contract. I'd caution everyone to hold judgement. Penn State hasn't exactly been flawless on defense over the years. It's not prudent to jump to any quick conclusions after the Ohio loss. The two offenses Penn State will face from week 1 to week 2 are very different, meaning a very different outcome is almost guaranteed. Whether it's very-different-good, or very-different-bad remains to be seen.

PSU Offense vs UVA Defense -

Sit down for this. But I'm going to tell you right now that I thought Matt McGloin played a really good game last week, with a downright fantastic first half. The second half was a hot mess from top to bottom at almost every position on Penn State's depth chart, so lumping blame on Mac just isn't smart football analysis. Most of you know I have not been a fan of Mac's play so far in his career, but with this new offense, I'm thinking he's turning a corner. The Nittany Lions racked up 168 yards of total offense in the first quarter, which included that 67-yard drive derailed by Bill Belton's fumble. There was a lot to like from last week, even if the final score wasn't part of it.

2012 Penn State vs Ohio Bobcats-88

Offensive imbalance was the worse crime Bill O'Brien committed last week. If it's not corrected this week, I can't imagine things will turn out any differently for Penn State. Virginia held Richmond to 28 rushing yards on 21 carries. I'm not looking at the yards. I'm looking at the carries. The Spiders went one-dimensional against the Cavaliers, throwing 43 times, and suffered for it. Meanwhile, UVA had a beautiful 43-42 pass-rush ratio. Penn State cannot afford to be Richmond, and frankly, I'm not expecting them to be. Even with the likely absence of Belton from the starting lineup, a marginal improvement in offensive balance this week could help mitigate the problems experienced last week. If Penn State can reach somewhere around 60/40 pass/run against Virginia, the offensive will automatically be better off in the end.

Something to note about each team's season opener, they combined for just one total sack. Virginia didn't log any sacks against Richmond, while only finishing with 3 tackles for loss. Penn State did get a sack from Deion Barnes, but that was it for tackles behind the line. It's not like the Cavaliers defensive front played lights out against the Spiders, so it shouldn't be an issue for the Penn State offensive line to keep McGloin away from serious pressure. Maybe we'll even see some more open running lanes this week for Derek Day, Curtis Dukes or Zach Zwinak. I'm really not concerned about Penn State's pass attack, because I thought it was great in the opener, despite the bad drops.

Special Teams -

Neither team is likely to make a living off special teams, but it could come down to it this weekend in the rain and mud. With a soggy field, we're not likely going to see a fast track for kick and punt returners to run wild. Of course, that leads to our collective PTSD that emerged after watching Gerald Hodges return punts. For the love of god, let's hope we don't see him back there again this week, trying to field a wet football.

The kickers will have to take extra care getting their footing. Penn State did have a fantastic punt block by freshman Nyeem Wartman, which led to a touchdown and the biggest lead of the day for the Lions. Bad field position will doom either team's defense in this one, in a game that could end up being a low-scoring slop fest.

Prediction -

I'm an eternal optimist on the inside. But I'm also a pragmatic realist on the outside. Virginia is a good team. That's not coach-speak or anything. The Cavs really are a program on the rise with much better talent and more experience than the 8-5 team from a year ago. Playing in their home stadium, even if it's 1/3 full of Penn Staters, does offer some benefit. Penn State's depth issues were painful to see in the season opener. This weekend should be hot and sticky, just like it always is south of the Mason-Dixon Line. That's not going to help the Nittany Lions' if cramping continues to become an issue, as it was last week in Beaver Stadium.

When I used to preview games, I tried to be cool and pick projected stats and stars of the game. All it did was make me look stupid, and I'm in no mood this week to look stupid. So I'll leave you all with this...

Penn State is more talented at the top level than Virginia. Penn State can win this game, possibly even convincingly. But so could Virginia. The Cavaliers are a more stable team right now, without the distractions of still learning new systems, or dealing with a depth chart thinner than toilet paper. I do think Penn State fixes quite a few problems from week 1 to week 2, but it won't be enough to come out of Charlottesville with a win.

Penn State 21 - Virginia 26


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