The month of October has been pretty dreadful for Penn State with two demoralizing losses and a bye week. The team has had two weeks to reflect and refocus after one of the most humiliating losses in recent memory. How they spent those two weeks will determine the fate of the rest of the season. Getting to a bowl game is crucial in order to get extra practice time which will pay huge dividends as this young team develops and looks ahead to the 2011 season. But first they have to get through the Minnesota Golden Gophers tomorrow. Here are your BSD staff predictions.
Penn State has had two weeks to mix things up and try to fix the problems that have been going on for the first six weeks. Well the only notable change is that Chaz Powell is FINALLY moved to the defensive back after spending the first six weeks of the season as the 6th WR. This is a great move, especially with all of the injuries.
Minnesota is not a good football team. They've already fired their coach mid-season (never a good sign) and even their fans seem to think they are hopeless. If Robert Bolden and the Penn State offense come out tomorrow and light up the Minnesota defense, Penn State fans need to take a moment and realize that it is the Minnesota defense. This team is 0-4 at home and shows no sign over turning things around, at least this season anyway. Until they prove they can move the ball AND score some points in the red zone, i'm going to air on the side of caution and assume this offense can't score more than 10 points (except against Michigan and Indiana, because neither play any defense).
For the first six weeks, Tom Bradley's defense resembled the BSD photo of our offensive line from last year (stop sign, banana Peel, scarecrow). In this scenario, Jack Crawford has been the Scarecrow, with Chris Colasanti playing the role of the banana peel, and Drew Astorino the stop sign. The offensive struggles have been attributed
to a young QB and a terrible offensive line. The defense wasn't expected to be this inconsistent. The team could still potentially finish out the season 4-2, but the defense needs to stop the run and create some turnovers. Gerald Hodges is back, and hopefully will provide the defense with a much needed spark.
Prediction: Penn State 10, Minnesota 9
It's hard to remember the last Penn State game against an opponent as bad as Minnesota where the outcome was truly in doubt during the build up, but here we are. The Nittany Lions' loss to Illinois has caused a lot of unease in the sphere over the last two weeks, and that will only carry over to Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis.
Penn State would do well to shake a lot of that off by getting up early. Bad starts have been a problem in both wins and losses this season, and an early lead would be a nice sign of improvement over the bye week. If the Lions don't jump out early, though, it could be a dog fight. While Penn State has the horses to eventually pull away from the Golden Gophers, a few mistakes could change all that and then State will really be in trouble.
We can narrow the things Penn State has to do well all we want, but it'd be nice just to get a full 60 minutes of consistent football. If Penn State can do that, I like its chances. If it can't, well, could be a lot closer than the experts believe.
Prediction: Penn State 17, Minnesota 6
For the sake of the internet Penn State better win this game, they're a better team on paper, and it should play out that way on the field. The only real threat from Minnesota comes in the form of 500 year old Adam Weber who could end up having a good day if Penn State can't find 11 healthy players to put on the field. If Penn State can keep Weber from going off Penn State should win this game. On the offensive side of the ball Penn State has too much talent to lose this game..right? If the offense is going to find it's stride it has to be this game. A depleated defense will keep this game closer than it should be, but I can't bring myself to pick against Penn State this week.
Prediction: Penn State 26, Minnesota 14
It shouldn't be too hard for Penn State to play better than they did last game. But after that performance, I definitely shouldn't use should. To grab the lowest hanging fruit on offense, Doug Klopacz has to eliminate missed assignments and the coaches need to roll Robert Bolden out and give him the chances they gave him against Alabama & Iowa. My biggest key to improvement on defense is Michael Mauti, our best linebacker. Yes, defensive end has been a huge dropoff this year (even before injuries), but many, many drives still could have been halted if our middle backer play wasn't such shite. Deep depth and inexperience were the early-season causes of heavy LB rotation, and then injuries put that even more in flux. The Hodges and Gbadyu injuries allowed Scrap and Vandy to get Khairi Fortt on the field very early, which is good. But while they've also managed to get a few more minutes for an emerging Glenn Carson, Mauti is the only person they'll allow to cut into Chris Colasanti's time at the Mike, a veritable necessity for this defense to improve in any significant way this year. The return of Hodges and Gbadyu to the Stupar/Fortt rotation at Sam and Will should provide the comfort needed to get Mauti more snaps inside.
In addition to those things (and watching Andrew Dailey and Jordan Hill in increased roles), I'll mostly be looking at attitude. We knew coming into this year that leadership was a question mark, but you never know how that uncertainty will manifest itself. Last game, the dearth appeared in the form of flat play and apparent apathy, which Joe acknowledged and, by all player and observer accounts, addressed heavily in practice this week. Luckily, tomorrow the perfect storm is in our favor: we've had a week to rest up and heal up, and most importantly, this week's opponent sucks. While Illinois will likely go on to have a solid (and surprising to some) season, Minnesota is on no such path. This is the team we need to face this week; will we play with enough passion to beat up on them like we should? After last game's debacle, I'm far more bearish, but like watching Joan Holloway giggle or learning new verbs like detasseling and canning, I'm still capable of being surprised.
Prediction: Penn State 23, Minnesota 14
BSD Mike Says...
On paper this is a game Penn State should dominate. But then everyone knows they don't play games on paper. They play them with little men inside your television set.
Until I see otherwise, this is a Penn State team that still doesn't really know what it's doing. The coaches don't have the confidence to open up the playbook because they players can't execute the plays they run now. Though Minnesota's defense is pretty bad, Penn State's offensive line couldn't get a push against Youngstown State so I'm not optimistic they can get a good push against anyone.
Getting Hodges and Mauti back will be huge for the defense. Jack Crawford is still out, but Pete Massaro should be good to go. Hopefully, Sean Stanley is out of the doghouse after sitting out two games. Jordan Hill is reportedly going to move from defensive tackle to start at defensive end, so I look for Minnesota to have a really tough time running the ball. But with Nick Sukay out it will be either Andrew Dailey or Malcolm Willis playing safety. Adam Weber may be "teh suck", but he's pretty experienced. I look for a breakdown or two from the Penn State secondary due to the loss of Sukay who was taking on the role of field general before his injury.
Ultimately, I think Penn State will win this game on talent alone, but until I see otherwise I expect them to play really sloppy and make it closer than it should be. Penn State wins it late. The message boards go into meltdown, but the late win gives the players a much needed confidence boost going into the Michigan game.
Prediction: Penn State 22, Minnesota 20
As much as we like to blame the gameplan for losses, the fact is that Penn State isn't going to beat anyone unless they block and tackle better. The storied Nittany Lion defense is built on a system that's beautiful in its simplicity; the key is not and never has been out-strategizing the opponent. It's been out-executing them. The offensive line's execution this year reminds me of the oft-told tale of the first head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, John McCay, who, when asked about his team's execution, said: "I'm in favor of it."
My sense is that tomorrow's game between two disappointed teams comes down to who wants it more. Minnesota playing at home for a new head coach or a .500 Penn State team that is embarassing the school's tradition. Minnesota's season is already over; the good guys' isn't. I think we come out with more passion and punch Goldy in the mouth a few times. It won't be pretty, but we'll win.
Prediction: Penn State 26, Minnesota 20