Over the next two weeks, Against the Spread will break down the 2009 Penn State Nittany Lions football squad. In part two, we look at the opening month of the 2009 schedule.
September 5th – 12:00pm – Big Ten Network
Akron Zips vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
Beaver Stadium – State College, Pennsylvania
Last Meeting/All-Time Records: Penn State beat Akron 34-16 in 2006 (in remnants of Hurricane Ernesto). The Nittany Lions are are 3-0 all time against the Zips.
Know The Enemy: Penn State will open the 2009 season against last year’s fourth-place finisher in the MAC East, a team that has high expectations in 2009. Many preseason predictions have the Zips winning as many as eight games and reaching the second bowl game in school history. It is expected that they will battle with Ohio University for the right to play in the MAC Championshp game in Detroit against the winner of the MAC West. This will also be Akron’s first game of the 2009 season, and their second game that they will play on September 12th will mark the opening of their new on-campus stadium which is expected to hold approximately 30,000 people, or 28% of what they should be playing in front of in Happy Valley. History doesn’t lie, Akron has not averaged more points than their opponents in an entire season since the 2003 campaign (29-33 overall record in that time period).
Who/What to Look For: Offensively, Akron features above average recievers and lineman, but lack in skill at the backfield positions. Quarterback Chris Jacquemain will be the starter for the Zips, and he is coming off a decent 2008 (231-399, 57% pct., 2748 pass yds., 20 TD’s, 14 INT’s). His primary weapon on the outside will be senior Deryn Bowser, who caught 64 balls for 785 yards and four scores last season. Alongside Bowser are fellow seniors Andre Jones (47 rec., 678 yds., 7 TD’s) and Jeremy Bruce (29rec., 345yds., 1 TD). The three senoir recievers should provide Jacquemain with the confidence to throw the ball, which poses as a problem to the PSU secondary which is considered one of the weaker parts of the team heading into the season. At running back, the Zips lost their top two statistical leaders to graduation, and senior Alex Allen, who rushed for just 164 yards on 32 carries with three scores last season is expected to be pushed by incoming freshman DeVoe Torrence for the starting job. While the o-line is experienced (85 carrer starts, 4 returning starters), improvement is still a goal as only two of them are senoirs.
Defensively is where Akron could get into real troble in ’09. The line is expected to be the strong point, as nose-tackle Ryan Bain (a 2007 transfer from Iowa who did not play last year due to a back injury and NCAA rules) is expected to be the leader up front. On the second level, there is only one returning starter in junior Mike Thomas, who is the leading tackler carried over from last season. In the secondary, Akron returns three starters including Miguel Graham, who led the team in interceptions last season with three. All in all, Akron is very inexperienced on defense, as just six sacks, four picks, and six starters retun on this unit.
What Penn State Should Do: With the type of running game PSU is expected to have running could be the option in this game, even though Akron is to rely heavily on the defensive front. The Zips use a 3-3-5 defense, and Penn State’s OL will undoubtedly be able to domiate the battles in the trenches up from. What this game will come down to will probably be size versus size, and as is so often in games whe BCS schools take on non-BCS schools, the BCS team should be winning all the physical confrontations. Controlling the ball will be the prime objective early in this game, and if the coaches like what they see early, we may see the ball in the air more the closer we get to halftime. In basic terms, I expect Royster and even Stephfon Green to have big opening days.
Prediction: This is a sneaky tough game for Penn State. A lot of questions may or may not be answered in this first game of 2009, but we still expect PSU to handle business and come away with a solid win. From my internet research, the line appears to be -27 across the board; I think that’s a high number. I’d feel better about that is we were opening against Eastern Illinois, but that’s week six. As for my score, I’ll say Penn State wins 37-17.
September 12th – 12:00pm – Big Ten Network
Syracuse Orange vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
Beaver Stadium – State College, Pennsylvania
Last Meeting/All-Time Records: Penn State beat Syracuse 55-13 at the Carrier Dome last September. All time, Penn State holds a 41-23-5 advantage over Syracuse. Only Pittsburgh has played the Nittany Lions more than the Orange has.
Know The Enemy: Syracuse has been plauged for the last decade and hasn’t had a winning season since going 10-3 in 2001. Last year, the Orange and the Nittany Lions rekindled one of college football’s more storied rivaires on the east coast, as Penn State traveled to the Carrier Dome. While Penn State dominated the game, the story for Syracuse was the lack of ability to move the ball on offense or stop the ball on defense. The orange went on to finish the season 3-9 overall, and win just one conference game (beating Louisville for the second year in a row). Upon completion of the season, it was announced that Syracuse would be firing Greg Robinson, who went 10-37 as head coach. Robinson got a job as the new defensive coordinator at Michigan this year, and former New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Doug Marrone will take the helm for the Orange, who look to build on an encouraging finishing run to last year’s season.
On the other side of the ball, Syracuse will rely heavily on their
Who/What to Look For: The biggest story in this off-season for the Orange was the incomming transfer of former Duke basketball guard Greg Paulus. Paulus was named the starter earlier this week and hasn’t taken a snap from center in four years. In 2004, he was named Gatorade’s Nation Football Player of the Year, and in 2005 he won Gatorade’s National Male Athlete of the Year. Awards aside, Paulus will have the four top recievers from 2008 returning for 2009 to throw to in Dontae Davis, Mike Owen, Laval Lobdell and Marcus Sales. Combined, those four wideouts had just five touchdowns and just over 800 yards; low number for a team that put up more the 200 yards passing in a game just once last year. On the offensive line, the Orange lose two starter, but also must learn a completely new offense under Marrone. It is hoped that the line will be able to free up the running back, which are the strength of this team. Junior Delone Carter is expected to be the starter, even though he has a history of missing game due to injuries.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Orange will need end Jared Kimmel and tackle Arthur Jones to play big in ’09 to stay in games, as the second and third levels of the unit leave something to be desired.
Special teams are also a huge question mark for the Orange, as they are starting over at the kicking position. As far as punting goes, Syracuse has one of the best in the Big East in Rob Long. Last year, Syracuse averaged just 4.5 yards on 11 punt returns for the entire season.
What Penn State Should Do: Logic here says run the ball and control the clock, but last year Daryll Clark, Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo dominated the Syracuse secondary to the tune of of 344 yards (second highest total all season for a single game). Penn State talleyed 560 yard of total offense on Syracuse last year and led 38-6 at halftime. Penn State will have to throw the ball sometime before the Iowa game and I suspect this will be that game.
Prediction: Penn State overmatches Syracuse at every position and there is no reason to think this game will be close. The match-up problems present opprotunities for certain players to step up, and I look for those to be Clark, Graham Zug and Brett Brackett. I’ll go with 45-10 Penn State in this contest.
September 19th – 12:00pm – Big Ten Network
Temple Owls vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
Beaver Stadium – State College, Pennsylvania
Last Meeting/All-Time Records: The Lions are 34-3-1 all-time against their other in-state rival, a record which includes last years 45-3 triumph at Beaver Stadium in September. In the last three contests, Penn State has outscored the Owls 124-3 and of head coach Joe Paterno’s 383 career wins, 25 have come against Temple; none of his losses have. If Penn State wins this game, Temple will have fallen to Joe more than any other team, breaking a tie with West Virginia.
Know The Enemy: Temple, a member of that Mid-American Conference, finished 5-7 last season and wound up tied for second in the MAC East. If not for a hail mary on the game’s final play, they would have wound up playing then undefeated Ball State for the right to go to a bowl game. Whats more, besides the Buffalo game, the Owls lost on the last play of the game to both Uconn and Navy (they had a 20-point lead against the Midshipmen in the fourth quarter). Last year against Penn State, starting quaerterback Adam DiMichele, who is now with the Eagles in the NFL, was knocked out of the game on the first drive and Penn State cruised to another easy win. Temple is led by former Penn State player Al Golden; four more members of Golden’s staff also played under Joe Paterno. Temple has not had a winning season in 18 straight years.
Who/What to Look For: The quarterback position for Temple is still in limbo, but it will either be Vaughn Charlton. who was redshirted last season or Chester Stewart, who came into the Penn State game last year after DiMichele was hurt. Golden has not ruled out using both, as Charlton brings a pro-style and Stewart likes to get out of the pocket and make things happen. Lining up behind either of them should be Lamar McPherson, who is playing for Temple after transfering from Syracuse at the end of 2007. Splitting out will be the leading returning reciever Jason Harper. Last year, hHarper had 33 grabs for 571 yards and three scores, and he will be the #1 man this year. Up front, Temple returns three starter and eight players with at least one start (75 total, 36th in the NCAA).
Defensively the Owls return nine total starters including all three starters at the linebacker positions. Elijah Joseph, Alex Joseph and Amara Kamara combined for eight tackles for loss from the second level in 2008. It is widely predicted that this is the best linebacking corps in the Mid-American Conference for 2009. On the front, defensive end Junior Galette returns off of his second-team MAC year in ’08. Galette has started 21 game sin his career, and last year he had 7.5 sacks. In the secondary, Temple returns three starters with at least three picks and three pass deflections in juniors Jaiquawn Jarrett and Jamal Schulters and senior Dominique Harris.
On the special teams, Temple returns both key players in 2009.
What Penn State Should Do: Defensively, Temple could be the best team in the MAC, which shold pose more of a challenge than the casual fan realizes. It should be the toughest defensive test of the non-con schedule, I have Temple playing in the MAC title game come December. While the Owls have made great strides defensively (and go figure that, because most of their coaches are from PSU), the offense still continues to struggle; an aspect which won’t be helped by a quarterback who is still learning the system. Penn State will have to win this game the way they win many games; with sold defense and a power running game. Royster will get carries, Green will get carries and maybe even Clark runs the ball a few times. Last year, Penn State put up over 300 rushing yards against Temple; this year I’ll take the under but not by much.
Prediction: This should be another in-state walkover for Penn State, but know that Temple is getting better. Last year’s result was not indicative of what kind of team they had. If DiMichele were to have played the whole game, Temple would have scored more than three points and not looked lost offensively for most of the game. Lately, these TU/PSU games have been blowouts, but this one will be closer; we’ll go with 41-16 PSU.
September 26th – 8:00pm – ABC/ESPN Networks
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
Last Meeting/All-Time Records: Iowa gave Penn State their only blemish in the 2008 regular-season, beating them 24-23 on a field-goal as time expired at Kinnick Stadium last November. All-time, Penn State holds a slight 11-10 edge, despite the fact that Penn State is 1-6 this decade again the Hawkeyes. The Nittany Lions are just 7-9 all-time in Big Ten openers, 3-3 when those games are at home. This will mark the seventh time Penn State has begun the conference season at home since joining the Big Ten in 1993.
Know The Enemy: The Hawkeyes come off a season in which they were the surprise of the Big Ten. Preseason talk of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s job security was quickly replaced by a team who not only won nine games, but beat the eventual conference champion Nittany Lions on a last second field goal that sent Kinnick Stdaium and Iowa City into a frenzy. By the end of the year, Iowa was ranked 20th in the country, played on New Year’s Day and were the only Big Ten team to come away with a win in a bowl game. This year, Iowa must replace Doak Walker (best running back) winner Shonn Greene, who left early for the NFL Draft. Along with Greene, four other members of the offense leave, while Iowa loses just three members of the defensive unit from ’09. Iowa’s home field, Kinnick Stadium, had it’s natural grass surface replaced in the off season by Field Turf, which is used by every Big Ten school except for Penn State, Purdue and Michigan State.
Who/What to Look For: Ricky Stanzi leads the Iowa offense, after starting 11 games for the Hawkeyes last season. The junior quarterback was fourth in the Big Ten in 2009 in passing efficiency and threw for 1,956 yards while throwing nine interceptions to four touchdowns. Up front, Stanzi will be protected by an offensive line that returns just two members from last years dominant crew, including three-year starter Seth Olsen. Despite the losses, Iowa is always a school that has a good offensive front, and their unit (99 career starts, 10thin FBS) is probably the best in ability for this conference season. On the edge, Stanzi’s primary target will be Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who accounted for 44 receptions, 639 yards and three scores last season. Iowa’s strenght last season was their running back play, but with the loss of Green, Jewel Hampton will be looked upon to step up. Hampton had 478 yards on just 91 carries last year, but was more prominently featured returning kickoffs than in the backfield.
Five of Iowa’s top six leading tacklers return from 2008, including all three linebackers from a group that is considered to be the B10’s second best behind Penn State. AJEdds, Pat Angerer and Jeremiha Hunter will ensure that if anything gets past the first level (both tackles will be first-year starters), they will be stopped. Behind the LB’s, three starters return led by junior Brett Greenwood, who leads a group of three juniors and a sophomore in a very youg unit.
On special teams, both punter Ryan Donahue and kickers Trent Mossbrucker and Daniel Murray (who kicked the game-winning field goal last year against PSU) will be doing battle to see who starts. All indications out of Iowa city point to Murray being the guy who’s putting the toe to the leather when points are on the line.
What Penn State Should Do: First, Penn State should thank whoever made the schedule this year that this game is being played in Beaver Stadium. Second, they should run the ball. With the best linebacking and an above average secondary, this matchup presents a lot of problems for the Lions, especially is they do not execute and gain confidence in the first three games of the season. Daryll Clark did not have a good day last year against this secondary, and for the most part the unit us unchanged. I expect Royster to get carries, and when Clark does throw the ball, it should be to his tight ends (Mickey Shuler and Andrew Quarless) early in the game to get some confidence and get into the flow of the game. What Penn State does have going for them is the fact that their defense should be able to keep the Iowa O in check in what will more than likely be the most hostile enviroment that this group of kids from the heartland will ever play football in.
Prediction: 108,000+ at night, in white at Beaver Stadium is an unbelieveable place to be, and this game will set the tone for the 2009 season. Either Penn State will come out early and punch Iowa in the mouth to get the crowd into the game, or Iowa will trade blows for three quarters and we’ll have a nailbiter. I expect Iowa to be in this game for two to three quarters before Penn State finds a way to distance themselves in the second half. 27-17, Penn State.
UP NEXT: Check back on Monday as we break down the teams and players behind the five-game October stretch of the 2009 schedule.