We sat down internet style and went back and forth with Lake The Posts, still one of the best named blogs after all these years. Let's talk red zone, the four QB system, Zack Mills and Dan Persa's version of sweet revenge. First half starts here, head over to the below-linked second half at LTP...
LTP: Clearly Penn State's brand in 2011 is lockdown defense as you rank near the top in every statistical category, except one. That "one" is usually a tell-tale stat, red zone defense. You're dead last in FBS (tied) giving up 100% scoring when opponents enter the famed 20-yard block (15/15). Fortunately, Penn State doesn't let opponents get there too often. Explain this statistical anomaly.
KP: It's curious. Penn State is 17th in allowed trips to the red zone and has the sixth lowest TD/FG against ratio there. The contextual story is that Penn State is very good at not allowing big plays, very good about keeping teams out of the red zone, very bad at taking the ball away near the goal line, and very fond of allowing teams to hit their field goals. It gets more convoluted, though, because teams are not inclined to either throw the ball against Penn State (the secondary is 4th nationally in yards/pass attempt), nor are opponents finding themselves 4th and short in the red zone because of overall stoutness. The result: no turnovers or failed 4th down attempts so far and that 119 ranking.
What's strange is Penn State had a below par defense in 2010 and finished 116th in this red zone number, managed to be 5th in 2009 with a better group, and placed 100th in 2008 when the defense was as good as ever. I think this is just an uninsightful stat, although certainly an interesting one. If Northwestern gets to the red zone four times on Saturday, they're getting no less than 12, but almost certainly not more than 20 points.
Especially because of Dan Persa's solid history against the "Bend But Don't Suck," so boring question first: is he up for it after the injury?
LTP: If "up for it" you mean to be "should he still be feared?" the answer is a definitive yes. Because of our deplorable communication issues and blown plays in the secondary, poor Dan Persa is going to go down in history like John Adams was as a president. The guy is downright sick in terms of a passer. He's BETTER than last year in that department both to the naked eye and in the stat category (where he has improved upon his 2010 all-time Big Ten pass completion percentage record of 72% - he's now near 75% for the year/3 games he's played in). He has indeed lost that infamous step and perhaps + another .5. He exhibited his Houdini-like ways escaping several sacks vs Illinois in what was the most impressive 10/14 passing game you'll ever witness (4 of those 10 were TD passes). However, the Iowa game highlighted this lost 1.5 steps as a few times he was tripped up in what would've been 10+ yard escape routes in 2010. The general consensus among NU fans is "poor Dan, what a bummer". We were all led to believe he'd start and it wasn't until 10/1 that he took a snap. By then we had appled to Army in a game that he would've shredded their "D" and put up silly stats. Obviously last week the rare INT by Persa (31/40, 246 yds, 1 INT) was of the pick-6 variety for 98 yards and a gamechanger. But, Iowa implored what you described on your "D" and we put up 495 yards on the day and get this - 16/22 on third downs, 29 first downs and 92 plays (to Iowa's 50) and somehow lost. Kain Colter has been brought in to run the option run plays and is doing it brilliantly while moonlighting as yet another great WR threat. Throw in the fact the fact Persa wanted to go to Penn State and wasn't recruited (how much that must hurt PSU fans when fantasizing about what PSU would be this year with Persa on the team) and his legacy on the line and he'll be ready. The real story with Persa and the Mick McCall offense is the disparity in terms of converting yardage to 7 points. Penn State's "D" of giving up 3 over 7 plays right in to our struggles. We give up 7 over 3 in the red zone, but yet, on offense, struggle mightily to punch it in. The option with Colter has been our most consistent 3rd and goal from the 6 kind of TD conversion. Make no mistake about it, Persa will be ready. Will the rest of NU? That is the question.
Every year the Northwestern game for Penn State seems to be on that you can play the Stella Got Her Groove Back madlibs, replacing "Stella" with INSERT HERE...PSU RB or Matt McGloin in 2010. Silas carved us up in the second half last year and McGloin went from the average passer to Joe Montana. Do you think JoePa will continue to try and aid and abet his buddy Fitz and try to give us the win by platooning Bolden and McGloin or will we be subject to PSU wising up and benching Bolden who might not be able to hit the receivers who have 10 yards of space BEHIND our secondary?
KP: If you're suggesting we start recruiting Persa now I'm all for it. I mean if Wisconsin was able to sign a guy well into his collegiate years to fill a OH NO DOOM hole at quarterback I'm not sure why Penn State can't too.
Penn State has a recent history of recruiting quarterbacks that don't have 10% of the game sense Persa brings to the table, and you could also argue the only time in the last decade they've had a true asset under center was when they used a football player who could make up for not really being quarterbacks by being a fantastic athlete. Persa would have been the right guy at the right time in 2010.
It's been discussed at BSD this week and it largely under-appreciated (if that's the right phrase), but the 2010 Northwestern game was really the turning point in the out of control monorail that is our QB "battle." McGloin came in two weeks earlier for a concussed Bolden, played well enough to beat Minnesota for whatever that's worth, and then absolutely carved up Michigan's terrible defense the next week.
Paterno was very adamant about not allowing Bolden to lose his starting role because of injury, so he started against Northwestern and was woefully underprepared for the simple blitzes Fitz drew up. We figured he was hazy from being out, but that's actually a fundamental weakness in Bolden's game that he needs to grow out of. McGloin came in and dug the hole further before redeeming himself with a comeback.
Now the platooning? That's still happening this week. Fake Starter Rob Bolden enters, Matt "OR" McGloin arrives in relief in the second quarter, and then I'm predicting either a continued split if PSU coasts to a semi-comfortable lead or, and this is my least risky prediction ever, McGloin taking most of the second half snaps so that he can hand the ball off to Redd and run screen plays in the event of a seven point game. It either is or isn't not an advantage for Northwestern, depending on what you believe either QB could do if given the confidence vote to play every snap. There's a well worn out theory that we'd be better at QB if one guy ran the offense, but there isn't any evidence to suggest that's actually true.
Speaking of multi-quarterbacking, Northwestern had four different guys throw passes last week, which is either two too many or signs of an impending transition to the A-10 offense. Is the change of pace sticking around for the PSU game or are you going to take one more shot with an All Persa Plan? Because if you score 21 points there's a good chance you win this game.
LTP: Great question....