Sweet, sweet Saturday football.

Saturday marks the first time since 2000 the Penn State Nittany Lions will open a season away from Beaver Stadium, and I extremely fine with that, as I WILL BE IN ATTENDANCE. The Lions will be locking horns with the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium in the dirty Jerz (I’ve never ridden a train to a game before…).

It has been 272 days since Penn State has played an official football game (not counting the Blue and White game, even though I showed up with my buddy at our Penn State bar in NYC, demanding they put the scrimmage on). The now very-much-revered Bill O’Brien enters his second season as head coach, and something feels very familiar… oh yes, Penn State once again does not have a specified starting quarterback.

Which young skinny boy is ready?

Will it be Christian Hackenberg (true freshman, left) or Tyler Ferguson (sophomore, right)? Neither has played a D1 game (or has even taken a snap in a D1 game) in his life, which might be O’Brien’s hesitation to throw all of his blue and white eggs in one of their proverbial baskets. But what is this, the start of the 2011 season?! Cough, Rob Bolden vs. Matt McGloin, cough. We all know how that turned out, but it was severely cringeworthy for a while. No matter what happened in 2010-2011, B.O.B. is not revealing his starting quarterback until the first offensive snap tomorrow.

Quarterback situation or not, tomorrow marks another step forward. The Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions still weigh heavily on the program, but a year passing makes a difference. The courage and heart of 2012’s seniors and everyone else who stayed, coupled with O’Brien’s heightened prominence has helped nudge Penn State football out from under the thick dark clouds of last year.

We Are.

 

 

Homecoming.

PRETTY.

Tonight I’m hopping into a rental with two other Penn State alums and cruising on 80 West for four odd hours to make the trek from NYC to State College, PA. It’s Homecoming, for the 92nd time in Penn State’s history, and the third “homecoming” in my history (as an alumni). Other friends of mine are converging from different corners of Pennsylvania in the name of coming home – to the place where we met and spent years together, happy in Happy Valley.

Football starts early tomorrow (tailgating breakfast sandwiches.. oh yeah) for 5-1 Penn State and the visiting 3-2 Purdue Boilermakers: kick-off at 12 PM. Penn State has enjoyed plenty of Homecoming-game success over the years, with an overall record of 65-21-5, and a Joe Paterno record of 39-6. The Nittany Lions are looking to keep that winning feeling against Purdue and its noteworthy ground game (specifically RBs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers, who have combined for seven TDs).

Last week, Penn State dropped Iowa, while Purdue had no trouble with Minnesota, winning 45-17. The obvious match-up to watch for is Penn State’s bruising defense vs. Purdue’s take-care-of-the-football offense. In its five games this season, Purdue has only turned the ball over four times. The nasty Nittany Lion D, on the other hand, has forced 14 turnovers in six games.

Stat that doesn’t really matter: Purdue has not played at Beaver Stadium since 2007.

Non-stat that matters to me: I have not been in Beaver Stadium since September 18, 2010.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Big Ten match-up (with new Spartan uniforms), #11 Michigan at #23 Michigan State, 12 PM kick-off
-Offensively explosive #6 Oklahoma State visits #22 Texas, 3:30 PM kick-off
-Can Wake cause another upset? Unranked Wake Forest hosts #19 Virginia Tech for a 6:30 PM ACC battle
-10:15 PM (ET, obv) Pac 12 match-up between #18 Arizona St. at #9 Oregon

A Defense that Roars.

As I wrote in my previous post, we were due to find out whether Penn State’s defense was as good as it seemed, and whether they had enough to shut down Iowa’s Big-Ten-best passing game.

Crunch.

They were good enough.

Penn State grinded out another win, beating the Hawkeyes 13-3 at Beaver Stadium. Iowa entered Saturday’s game averaging nearly 38 points and 281 passing yards a game, but the Nittany Lion Defense held Iowa to 169 yards in the air and THREE points. Like I said… good enough.

On the other side of the ball, Matt McGloin again seemed to be the stronger QB, though Rob Bolden again got the start. Again (I’m tired of typing again), neither was able to really get the offense going. Instead, the ground game came alive, with sophomore RB Silas Redd rushing for 142 yards on 28 carries. If I were Galen Hall, giving the ball to Silas Redd as much as possible would be my game plan from here on out.

Next week, I’ll be in State College when Penn State takes on Purdue. I can barely describe how excited I am to be screaming (at noon) in Beaver Stadium. And I hope I’m screaming positive things.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-#3 Oklahoma finished off its beat-down of #11 Texas, 55-17. Ouch.
-#1 LSU stops #17 Florida easily, winning 41-11 and staying undefeated (and still #1?) in the process.
-#15 Auburn didn’t have it against #10 Arkansas, Razorbacks win 38-14.
-#14 Nebraska comes back from a 21-point deficit to beat Ohio State 34-27. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez took a lot of flak after the Wisconsin loss (and a lot of boos from the fans in the first half of this game), but Martinez ran for a TD and tossed two others to bring his team to victory. I’m sure he’s thinking something along the lines of “suck it”.
– Upset alert.. Wake Forest downed #23 Florida State 35-30. The Demon Deacons improve to 4-1 and start 3-0 in ACC play for the first time in school history.

Pigskin & Pumpkin Preview.

It’s a gorgeous Saturday in New York City, although a little on the warm side for fall (for me). College Football has already kicked-off today across the country, and there is a semi-full slate of big-time match-ups (see below). As for Penn State, the 4-1 Nittany Lions host the 3-1 Iowa Hawkeyes at 3:30 PM for the Lions’ Big Ten Home Opener. In recent years, Iowa has been notorious for thwarting Penn State’s efforts.

I felt her pain.

But with this being Iowa’s first conference game of the season and with a considerably different defensive roster this year, it’s hard to say just yet where the Hawkeyes stack up. We’ll soon find out if Iowa’s #9-in-conference ranking in total defense is reality, and subsequently a big positive for the (impotent) Penn State offense. We’ll also see if Penn State’s defense is as good as it seems (Devin Still is beastly in a good way), while they try to contain the conference’s top passing offense led by Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg and receivers Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:
-#3 Oklahoma is currently visting and beating on #11 Texas (48-10 in the 4th quarter)
-#17 Florida attempts to knock off #1 LSU in an SEC match-up at 3:30 PM
-Another big SEC game – #15 Auburn (people are taking note of the Tigers now/again) visits #10 Arkansas, 7 PM kick-off
-Ohio State @ #14 Nebraska for a Big Ten battle at 8 PM. Both are coming off ugly Big Ten opener losses.

PUMPKIN THING TO NOTE:

Plastic cup.. bummer.

I am working on sampling a vast variety of pumpkin beers available this season, and I’m going to be reviewing them. I am not a beerie (foodie… but with beer.. no?), but I have opinions, and I am very pro-beer and pro-pumpkin, respectively. With that said, my rating system is going to be unique. Check out my first review tomorrow.

Lions and Hoosiers, Oh My.

Woof. What a sloppy game. Penn State snuck away with a (somewhat pitiful) 16-10 victory over Indiana in the the Big Ten opener for both teams. Despite starting 1-0 in the Big Ten Leaders Division with another strong defensive showing, Penn State made it clear (again) that the offense is going to struggle (with mediocrity) to put points on the board. For most of the first half, this game was painful to watch. Neither team had anything to speak of in terms of offensive rhythm – it was 3-3 at the half – and turnovers kept things ugly throughout. Penn State gave the ball up three times, including a Rob Bolden tip-turned-interception at the Indiana 1 and a Silas Redd fumble at the Indiana 2. Indiana had two turnovers of their own.

Matt McGloin again looked sharper than Bolden (not a high bar) and was 10 of 22 for 204 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and no sacks. McGloin’s TD was one of the lone scoring highlights from the game, connecting with Derek Moye on a long ball early in the third quarter. Moye hauled in six on the day for 158 yards and the TD, and despite the fumble, Redd rushed for 129 yards on 29 carries.

Next week, Penn State hosts Iowa in what will sure to be a tougher challenge than Indiana. Squeaking by is not going to work for long, especially in Big Ten play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
– Speaking of tough Big Ten play, #8 Nebraska was welcomed to the Big Ten with an ass-kicking from #7 Wisconsin. The Badgers looked like the Big Ten team to beat after the 48-17 win.
-#3 Alabama stays undefeated after a test from #12 Florida, beating the Gators 38-10.
-In a turnover-laden game of their own, Auburn ended #10 South Carolina’s streak, defeating the Gamecocks 16-13.
-#13 Clemson continues to roll, taking down #11 Virginia Tech 23-3.
-#18 Arkansas bounced back from their loss last week to Alabama, edging #14 Texas A&M 42-38.

Haggard Weekend Recap.

Whoa, it’s Wednesday. I was not on my game (my game is updating/grumbling about teams of my choosing) this weekend, so I’m going to make this quick. Everything is old news.

Penn State beat Eastern Michigan soundly, 34-6, with Joe Paterno back on the sidelines for the first half of play. The two-headed QB attack put points on the board, but Matt McGloin outshined starter Rob Bolden, going 14-17 for 220 yards and 3 TDs. Bolden finished 7-13 for 115 yards, 1 funky interception that only went about one foot out of his hand, bounced back into his chest and was then rebounded, and tossed a screen to Devon Smith that extended into a 71-yard TD pass.

The offense relied more on the pass and it seemed to work (for the first week so far – there were giggles during the halftime report that PSU had finally scored a receiving TD), but the defense tacked on a dominating performance, and they seem to be the consistent side of the ball for the Nittany Lions, who enter Big Ten play this weekend against Indiana.

Other notable games:
-Gameday was in Morgantown, but it wasn’t pretty for the #16 Mountaineers. They fell to #2 LSU 47-21
-#7 Oklahoma State edged #8 Texas A&M 30-29 with just a little help from QB Brandon Weeden’s school-record of 438 yards passing.
-Last week Clemson took down the defending national champs, this week they were ranked (#21) and slipped by #11 Florida State (still smarting from that Oklahoma loss) 35-30, giving the Tigers their first 4-0 start since 2007.
-#3 Alabama is still looking very strong, handling #14 Arkansas 38-14.

Blue and White and Cherry.

sigh.

Penn State somehow beat Temple today, 14-10. Temple led for most of the game; it was 10-7 Temple until a 1-yard TD run by PSU fullback Michael Zordich with just under three minutes to play. If what I wrote doesn’t make this immediately clear, the Nittany Lion offense continues to struggle mightily.

Penn State’s two-prong mess of a quarterback situation is still in effect. Matt McGloin looked slightly better than he did against Alabama (not a real high bar set for him that game), but Rob Bolden has better goods – it just doesn’t seem like the receivers can perform for him. At any rate, neither is getting (or deserves to get) enough reps to really settle into the rhythm of being the offensive leader. And this problem isn’t going to resolve itself, so it does not bode well for future conference games against much better defenses than that of the Temple Owls.

Aside from the offense, the Special Teams put on an absolutely offensive show. Two missed field goals. One blocked (and therefore missed) field goal. One blocked punt. I really have nothing else to say. Other than I miss Kevin Kelly.

The one positive thing I can say about the game is that the defense is looking fairly stout this season. Typical, grinding Penn State defensive play is almost expected of the Lions, but it’s a nice thing to see (when so many other things are going wrong). But for as much as the defense can do, the offense still has to put points on the board, and one of the kickers needs to figure out how to get the damn ball through the uprights because field goals count too.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Watching unranked Clemson snap #21 Auburn’s 17-game win streak was fun. Seemingly everyone on the Clemson football team has braids. Clemson wins 38-24.

Flowing braids.

-#10 South Carolina grabbed another sloppy win, edging a surprising Navy 24-21. Navy was driving in the last minutes of the game but an interception rained on that parade.
-Notre Dame stomped on #15 Michigan State for its first win, 31-13. Turnovers abounded for both teams, but Michigan State gave it up more when it counted.
-In the battle of the scandal-ridden, Miami trounced #17 Ohio State 24-6. Miami’s QB Jacory Harris was back after his one game suspension as part of the NCAA sanctions connected to the Nevin Shapiro case. He had two touchdowns but also two interceptions and a fumble.
-In Saturday night’s prime time event, #1 Oklahoma beat #5 Florida State 23-13. The Seminoles offense was shaky (although go check out the late-game 56-yard TD pass by back-up Clint Trickett on third-and-28 that tied the game at 13), but the defense kept Florida State in it for most of the game. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones had an up and down night (18-27 for 199 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions in a LOUD Florida State stadium), but he connected with Kenny Stills for a tie-breaking TD in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma’s D held on.

Blue and White.

Time to get rowdy about college football. It’s BACK, in full-swing in my world this weekend with Alabama visiting my alma mater, Penn State (I do not count last week’s throttling of Indiana State as a real game for PSU). Just a little bit nervous about this one, but the one true thing going for the Nittany Lions is that this game is in Happy Valley, and home field advantage makes a notable difference in State College, PA. The quarterback indecision at Penn State is problematic, though, as the Crimson Tide looks to have another strong season atop the rankings.

I am off to join my fellow alumni in NYC at a Penn State bar, where I can be nostalgic about the not-so-far-away past (I miss Michael Robinson and the terrifying Posluszny/Hali duo in Blue and White uniforms) and yell at a plethora of bright TVs.

Other notable games to watch for today:
-Toledo at 15 Ohio State (Toledo currently leading OSU 15-14 with a little under five minutes until halftime)
-16 Mississippi St. at Auburn (Currently tied 14-14 at the beginning of the 2nd quarter)
-12 South Carolina at Georgia (4:30 PM kick-off of SEC play for the Gamecocks who had a sloppy win last week… and they’re headed to hostile territory)
-Notre Dame at Michigan (8 PM kick-off. ND offense vs. Michigan Defense.. what kind of game can Tommy Rees put together for the Irish?)