It's almost game day, which means it's time to check in with some Penn State gurus to see what sort of Kool-Aid those kids are still drinking over there. Today we're joined by Devon Edwards of Black Shoe Diaries, who's absolutely crushing it over there while covering this week's UVA-Penn State matchup. Also they have a picture of fried mac 'n cheese as a shout-out to Mr. Jefferson, so that's worth a read in and of itself. I digress.
Streaking The Lawn: Based on the comments from your website, it looks like your fan base is...divided on how to take Saturday's loss. Some are accepting it as a part of the Recent Unpleasantness with hope of improvement going forward, while others are calling it a season and just waiting for basketball season. Given what's left of the PSU team, did Saturday come as a surprise, or was that as expected?
Black Shoe Diaries: I think that everyone expected Saturday to go a whole lot different then it did. Even though we were only 6 point favorites over Ohio, it seemed that most were understimating the Bobcats and expected the game would be an emotionally-feueled romp. As it was, I still think Penn State's the better team--horrible coaching, terrible luck, and some hideously timed cramping spells were really the difference in the opener. As it is, though, it portends bad things moving forward. That's historically a game Penn State always wins--playing a pretty solid game against a legitimately good non-BCS team--but the lack of depth (not to mention the dearth of talent moving forward) is going to really take its toll.
STL: Penn State's offense had a lot to replace on account of the transfers. The opening drive resulted in a fumble, one of three turnovers on the day (though interception came on the final, presumably desperation, drive). Still though, the offense found the endzone twice in the first half and, for whatever it's worth, was perfect in the redzone. What's the biggest threat for Virginia's defense to worry about?
BSD: In the first half, we saw what Bill O'Brien's offense is all about: a spread passing attack that puts playmakers in position to take advantage of the defense's weakness. Matt McGloin still isn't a good quarterback--and he missed some throws that could've got the Lions up way more than 14-3 at the half--but he found WR Allen Robinson and TE Kyle Carter in space. Those two are Penn State's greatest weapons this week, with starting RB Bill Belton likely sidelined with an ankle sprain. Robinson is a smooth route runner and Carter a matchup problem waiting to happen. But after Belton's injury in the second half against Ohio,. Penn State became one dimensional, and Ohio had little difficulty defending the downfield passing game without a threat of anything else.
STL: On the other side of the ball, it looks like the Nittany Lions' defense, which was what kept PSU in games last year and which was not nearly as pummeled by the open season transfers as the offense was, held strong in the first half and then just completely fell apart in the second half. Was there anything to account for this?
BSD: Yes. Ted Roof. We'd heard the horror stories (seriously, getting run out of town a year after winning a national championship?!), but last week, we saw just how hideously bad of a defensive coordinator Ted Roof is. Ohio's offense ran all of about three plays during the second half--quick slants, swing passes to running backs, and read-options. Roof never went to a press coverage--or even man, preferring to stick with the 4-3 against 3- and 4-receiver looks; he continued to incessantly blitz his outside linebackers blindly off the edge opening up half the field; and despite Tyler Tettleton keeping the ball all of zero times on the option, he kept playing the D straight up. The lack of depth, especially in the secondary, contributed greatly to all the struggles--as did a tipped would-be-interception on a 3rd-and-long Hail Mary that turned into a long touchdown pass--but the story is that Frank Solich made adjustments at halftime and Ted Roof couldn't catch up.
STL: Penn State secondaries. I think there was concern about these guys during fall camp. Is this the biggest hole in the defense, as Ohio racked up 325 passing yards, or were there other factors involved there? The more holes, the better.
BSD: Like I said before, Ted Roof is pretty much the worst. But it's not his fault that the secondary has zero depth and a starting CB who left with an ankle injury in the second half. The transfers of Curtis Drake and Derrick Thomas, each of whom left before the sanctions were released, were fighting for a starting spot. Instead, it's the banged-up Morris, Adrian Amos, who's more of a natural safety, and, uh, a bunch of true freshmen and walk-ons. At safety, it was another walk-on, Jake Fagnano who was burned for the game-sealing touchdown pass. Penn State's weakness has always been its defensive backs, but it's never been this bad. The hope is that with an offense that's less west-coasty, the front seven--this team's strength--will have the opportunity to get to the quarterback, but the pass rush last week was nonexistent.
STL: During the off-season I read a comment on one of the Penn State message boards likening UVA to Ohio. Realizing that the point of these Q&As is so that I can tell you all about the greatness that is Virginia, what are your impressions of UVA football?
BSD: Honestly, I think it's a pretty apt comparison. Hell, since Ohio beat us by 10 at Beaver Stadium and the Hoos are 10-point home favorites, I guess the bookies think the Bobcats are even better than UVA. Seriously, though, it's a similar scenario: this is a game that, before all this, Penn State expected to win--maybe it'd be a challenge, but this was firmly a W in most fans' minds. After seeing what the reality of the post-sanction teams, well, we're still fairly hubristic, but I'd say Penn State fans see it as a toss-up which, short of a matchup with a top-10 team, is about as pessimistic as the fanbase has been in a while. UVA seems like a program on a major upswing--seriously, how is Mike London pulling in some of these recruits?--and one that will benefit from Penn State's sanctions, given the great similarities (great academics, power conference, middle of nowhere) between the programs.
STL: To put you on the spot -- what's your prediction for Saturday?
BSD: I'm an unrelenting optimist, and I'm hopeful that Bill O'Brien can work out the kinks from his first ever game as a head coach at this level. Honestly, I think this comes down to how Stephon Morris and Bill Belton deal with their injuries. Without its starting running back and a cornerback, Penn State probably doesn't have a chance against UVA. Morris seems more probably than Belton to play Saturday--which is good, because there's way more depth at running back--but Penn State is going to need to establish the run to have a chance. In the end, I think Penn State plays a much better game, especially defensively, but UVA makes the plays in the second half that they have to, McGloin falters late, and the special teams prove a liability. UVA wins, 27-24.