By Thomas Frank Carr
- “Bring Your Own Energy”
You may have heard this week that Penn State is 1-7 in their last eight road games. While this young team plays well at home, they don’t travel well. It’s not uncommon for a young team to struggle on the road. Head Coach James Franklin has talked about making that a priority this week.
“This week obviously after being in our stadium last week and what that environment was like, this environment will be a little bit different than that. So we talked all week long about our players bringing their own juice.”
Running Back Saquon Barkley echoed those sentiments this week and told reporters that the team practiced without music, essentially in silence. Slow starts, top opponents, now road games are the next on the list of things for this young team to check off its list. This game versus a poor Purdue team is a good game to get that on track.
- Passing game Patience
The Penn State defense has played it’s last four games against Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland and Ohio State. What’s in common with those teams? They’re all smash mouth, run heavy teams. It’s been two straight months slobber-knocker football.
Purdue does not play slobber-knocker football.
They are a pass-heavy team that throws to set up the run and their offense could be described as gimmicky. Will that catch the Penn State defense off guard? Linebacker Brandon Bell agrees that there is a different mentality that you have to go into this game with,
“With pass oriented types of teams, they pass it to open up the run. So you still have to be ready to clap your pads together, but at the same time you have to be more read-oriented on your reads and the wide receivers and the tight ends. They are going to try to make you look this way to throw it back that way. We definitely have to keep our heads on a swivel.”
If there were to be a reason that the Penn State defense would struggle, it would be that one. However, with the veteran leadership back on the field, it is unlikely that Purdue can take advantage of Penn State. The Nittany Lions also have an exceptionally talented and deep secondary. It’s going to be a long day for Purdue.
- Strength vs Strength
Purdue has allowed only 11 sacks this season, tied for third in the Big 10. Penn State has brought opposing quarterbacks to the ground 22 times, good for second in the Big 10.
Something will have to give.
The Nittany Lions have quietly developed one of the most athletic and deep defensive lines in the Big 10. Teams struggle to contain the explosive interior players in Curtis Cothran and Kevin Givens who come in waves versus teams. Cothran in particular might be the Nittany Lions most impressive physical specimen,
“Gives us a guy who is 6-4, 6-5, 280-plus pounds, great wing span, great athleticism. He’s one of our great explosive linear-type athletes on our team. Really, really good in the weight room, as well.”
Parker Cothren and Robert Windsor aren’t slouches either when it comes to get-off and also provide beef and run stuffing ability beside their former defensive end counterparts.
At defensive end the Nittany Lions have four players who can all affect the passing game as well. It will be very hard for Purdue to keep up their pace of not allowing sacks on Saturday vs Penn State.
- The Next Step
The Penn State offensive line took huge strides since the Michigan game. They showed the ability to protect vs Minnesota and Ohio State, and they were able to open up holes in the running game versus Maryland. While losing Andrew Nelson is a huge blow, the rest of the offensive line still needs to take the next step in their development in order for this offense to reach its full potential. Franklin knows what that next step is.
“I think the next thing, it could be really physical. Create a lot of space where you have gaping holes that the running back can run through and that you’re finishing blocks and taking people to the ground, because that’s our mentality. That sets a tone. That tells your opponent you’re in for a long day, those types of things, intimidation-type blocks and things like that. I’d like to see us have a little bit more of a nasty streak, but we’re headed in that direction. There’s been signs of it. I just want to see it more often. I think that’s the next step for us.”
Saturday would be a good day to start that process. Purdue is 2nd to last in rushing defense in the Big 10, giving up 249 yards a game on the ground. Which leads us to…
- Complete Game
The Nittany Lions have to show that they can beat a team on the road, but also that they know when they’re better than someone and can put a complete game together. The questions about this team have easy answers versus Purdue; Show that you can dominate in the running game, be efficient through the air, and continue to smother opponents on defense. It’s unfortunate to put expectations on a team like this, but anything other than a dominant performance will be a letdown. Purdue will play hard, but they just don’t have the talent to keep up with the Nittany Lions.