Prove It All Night

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Here's my confession: I started working on a preview article in which I was writing why and how Iowa would upset Penn State.  Then, I got nervous.  I worked on a similar article last Fall and killed it before publishing.  Both times I didn't want to jinx anything.  I'm glad that I didn't.

I wrote a pretty strong column this summer that stated that Penn State wasn't a Top 15 team and that they would end up with an 8-4 record.  I held to that prediction when I wrapped up the summer with the Penn St. Nittany Lions Closing Argument.  At this point, it seems very appropriate to look at where I was right and where I was wrong in those projections.

The thesis of my case against Penn State this summer was that Penn State was being given too much love due to the quality of their returning QB and RB.  However, the inexperience on the Offensive Line and Defense would doom them.  I summed it up with this paragraph:

So what do I see for Penn State? I envision Evan Royster swallowed up before he gets a chance to move out of the backfield. I picture Daryll Clark constantly throwing on the run to new receivers. I see a new secondary picked apart after the front seven fails to get pressure. But, I still see Penn State picking up 7 or 8 wins because of the schedule. They'll breeze through their four non-con games (Akron, Temple, Syracuse, Eastern Illinois...seriously?). But, I see the Lions losing at least four of their conference games. I think that they'll split with Iowa and Minnesota in Happy Valley. They'll blow out Indiana, but they'll lose to the OSU. On the road, they could lose each game. They won't, but it's in the realm of possibility.  I'll take losses at the Big House and East Lansing and wins in Evanston and Cham-bana.  That equals 8-4, with two losses in their last three weeks (in what will still be considered a weak Big Ten). I bet that ends up outside of the Top 25. I still see this comment being true.

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Where was I Right and Where was I Wrong?

I envision Evan Royster swallowed up before he gets a chance to move out of the backfield. 

Yes, I know that you can do anything with statistics, but I'll try to play these straight.  Royster finished with 17 carries for 69 yards.  That's a 4.1 average.  That's respectable, and enough to keep the chains moving.  However, if you remove his last carry - an 18 yard scamper on which he fumbled the ball in the game's back-breaking moment - he ran 16 times for 51 yards ( a 3.2 average).  That's not good enough.  

Here's a look at his yards on each of the 17 carries.

5, 3, 7, 0, 3, 4, 2, -2, 1, 3, 5, 7, 4, 4, 7, -2, 18(fumble)

If you believe the old adage that the blockers get clear the first 5 yards and the rest is up to the running back, you see that on only six of the 17 carries did he reach five yards.  That's on the O-Line.  That's a problem.

I picture Daryll Clark constantly throwing on the run to new receivers. 

As a Hawkeye fan, what I observed was atypical of the traditional Iowa model from the last four seasons.  Most games, our D-Line gets early pressure.  Because the team lacks depth, as the game wears on our boys wear out.  The only way that Iowa counteracts this problem is by dominating the time of possession.  Oddly in this game, the script was flipped.  Penn State owned the first quarter.  Their opening touchdown was huge.  The field goal drive was a beautiful grind, until it was stopped.

Starting with the safety, on Penn State's first pass attempt of the second half, the pressure began to reach Clark.  Front that point on, he had hands in his face and bodies to avoid.  After the first quarter, Clark went 6 of 23 for 94 yards.  He has passes tipped at the line by defenders who were able to get too close.  Her had a long completion called back due to holding.  He was rattled.

For their part, the new receiver corps is catching the ball well (answering this concern).  You'd need to have same game tapes to analyze to see if they were making the right reads against Iowa's zone.  It may well be that part of Clark's problem was that his receivers were not finding the soft spots.  I didn't hear this mentioned during the broadcast, though.

I see a new secondary picked apart after the front seven fails to get pressure. 

This was overstated.  The Penn State front seven generated enough of a pass rush to disrupt much of what Iowa wanted to do.  The secondary held their own well.  Yes, the Iowa passing stats were kept down by drops, but Penn State's pass rush and pass coverage is not going to be a problem.

I'm a bit more wary of Penn State's ability to stop a strong running game.  Over the last three quarters of the game, Iowa held the ball for 27:45.  Penn State held it for 17:15.  Much of that falls on the incomplete passes that fueled Penn State's three and outs.  But, some of it stems from Penn State's inability to stop Iowa from picking up more than 4 yards per carry via the run.  This is an area to watch when the Lions face the Michigan offense.

They'll breeze through their four non-con games (Akron, Temple, Syracuse, Eastern Illinois...seriously?). But, I see the Lions losing at least four of their conference games. I think that they'll split with Iowa and Minnesota in Happy Valley. They'll blow out Indiana, but they'll lose to the OSU. On the road, they could lose each game. They won't, but it's in the realm of possibility.  I'll take losses at the Big House and East Lansing and wins in Evanston and Cham-bana.  That equals 8-4, with two losses in their last three weeks.

Well, this is the question isn't it?  Is Iowa such a good team that their dominance of the final three quarters of the game is because of Iowa's ability?  Or, does Penn State have flaws that will enable others to defeat them in the same way?  I'm not going to back too far off of my initial 8-4 prediction.  I still think that Ohio State and what may be the best defense in the conference will beat them.  I like the ability of Michigan to outscore the Lions in Ann Arbor.  However, I don't see Michigan State winning against Penn State.  I don't think.  Probably not...no.  Michigan State will lose to Penn State.  That will result in a 9-3 Lions squad going to the Outback Bowl.  It will seem disappointing after the preseason's expectations.  But, it's in line with what the expectations should have been.

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