Penn State happy to be home again
The Nittany Lions proved last week against Minnesota that they're just not a good road team.
They're 0-3 on the road this season and counting Penn State's 24-10 loss to the Gophers, the Nittany Lions have now been outscored 131-48 away from Happy Valley.
Penn State's (5-4) game against the Gophers showed Nittany Lion faithful a few more disappointing things.
One, the defense is not playing well (and to be honest they haven't played that well throughout the season). Two, the offense was shut out in the second half, which cannot happen if you want to compete in the BIG 10. There are way too many weapons on the NIttany Lions offense for them to be shut out, especially by a very average Minnesota defense.
The two things combined mean one thing and that is the Penn State Nittany Lions football team is average at best.
Coming into Happy Valley this week is a struggling Purdue team (1-8, 0-5 BIG 10) and as noted it's at home, which means Penn State should get the "W." Its only home loss came to the 15th ranked UCF Kinghts. The Boilermakers are also coming into the game with a seven-game losing streak. Simply put, if the Nittany Lions don't pull off a win this week, Bill O'Brien's postgame press conference will not have a pleasant atmosphere.
Let's first analyze the problems with the Penn State defense. It seems to have gotten worse week in and week out since the Ohio State game. The Nittany Lions gave up a ridiculous 686 yards to Ohio State, then gave up 490 totals yards to a 3-6 Illinois team. Last week, PSU gave up 381 yards of total offense to the Gophers, which is an improvement. However, they surrendered 24 points in the first half. Now, they did shut out Minnesota in the second half, but spotting a run-first team 24 points is still not good defense.
Two things that are easy to pick out about the Penn State defense is the lack of pressure they've been able to create on opposing quarterbacks and they've been playing way too soft in the secondary. For the past two weeks O'Brien has been saying that the defensive backs need to play with less of a cushion. However, it's not been happening. One would think the communication between O'Brien and his defensive coordinator is pretty good, but what O'Brien keeps saying about what the secondary needs to do is not happening in the ball game.
"I think we need to challenge some receivers a little bit more, but I think that we play good run defense, I really do," said O'Brien. "I know some teams have run the ball on us in different schemes, but I think the core of our defense plays good run defense. I think that it will carry over, and I hope it does. It's a different scheme that we'll go against this week, but I think our defense will continue to improve, and I believe it will carry over."
The Purdue offense has not been good this season as they've rushed for just 68 yards per contest and have accumulated 259 yards of total offense per game. They've also only averaged 11.8 points per game, which pretty much means they've scored a touchdown and a field goal in each game this season and that's it. It's safe to say that the Penn State defense should get back on track this week.
Offensively, Penn State has certainly had their up and downs.
One thing I can't figure out from last week is Christian Hackenberg targeted Brandon Felder on the deep routes instead of Allen Robinson. Robinson did have seven catches for 63 yards, but he was open deep quite a few times and Hackenberg didn't get him the ball. Once again communication comes into question here because one would figure O'Brien tells "Hack" to look for Robinson on certain deep routes first and then look off to the other receivers.
Now in Hackenberg's defense, Felder dropped two balls that would have certainly helped the Nittany Lions get in scoring position. The ball was on target but Felder just couldn't come up with the catch.
So far this season, Hackenberg has thrown for 2,187 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He currently has six 200-yard passing game in 2013, which is a Penn State record for a freshman. With "Hack" there is no denying his talent, but his accuracy and touch passing needs some work. He can throw a great deep ball and a great out route, but it's certain passes across the middle and in the flat where he needs to take a little off the ball. All in all Hackenberg has had a pretty successful freshman campaign.
"Christian has, in many ways, improved every week," said O'Brien. "I'll give you an example; Minnesota, we're driving the ball, I think we had a third down in their territory. We called a play that required a check. It required a check where he had to use the tools in his toolbox to get the defense to show a little bit, and I've had guys at other places that I've been that could never do that. He did it."
The Penn State running attack rushed for 190 yards against Minnesota. Bill Belton got the lesser work load against the Gophers presumably because he fumbled the first play of the game. Zach Zwinak got the bulk of the carries and played well, rushing for 150 yards and a score. Both Belton and Zwinak will need to play well this week and with Purdue's defense giving up 5.3 yards per rush that shouldn't be a problem.
Lastly, Penn State needs to get better on third down. They were a dismal 1-for-9 on third down last week and they've been terrible all season long on third down conversions. You can't win football games when you're that bad on third down and I believe it's a big reason for the Nittany Lions' four losses.
This week's game will be televised on the BIG 10 Network at noon ET. Penn State is favored by 21.5 points against the Boliermakers.
My pick is Penn State 38, Purdue 14.