Penn State, Alabama. Just reading those two names next to each other is enough to get any college football fan excited. Today, they face each other for the second straight season, and 100,000 crazed Nittany Lions fans will be ready to go for one of the biggest games in Beaver Stadium since the 2005 Ohio State game.
There are some parallel storylines between today's game against the nation's second or third ranked team, depending on which poll you pay attention to. This is a Penn State team that is searching for some national respect, and feels as though they have the right blend of players to make that kind of statement similar to the way the 2005 Nittany Lions did when they upended the favored Ohio State Buckeyes. But that 2005 team had a few more games to get in the flow of things before announcing to everyone that they are indeed back. This year's team is still trying to sort through a quarterback competition, with sophomore Rob Bolden battling the scrappy and confident walk-on from Scranton, Matt McGloin. Expect both players to see some equal playing time, unless one guy can keep the offense moving consistently against one of the toughest defenses they will face all season.
A year ago Alabama roughed up Penn State and let their foot off the gas pedal out of respect for their undermanned and overmatched opponent. But Penn State's players remember every detail about that game and have been thinking about it all week, all summer and since the end of the 2010 season. This is a game they have circled on their calendars for a long time.
This is the game they want to win, and some feel they need to win.
Joe Paterno is 0-8 against the last eight ranked opponents Penn State has faced and he has lost the last four of five meetings against Alabama, dating back to the 1980's. Nick Saban has never won a game in Beaver Stadium, going back to his time as Michigan State's head coach (had to work a Land Grant Trophy reference in for good measure), and he knows just what kind of atmosphere his Crimson Tide will be walking in to Saturday afternoon.
Don't expect Alabama to be intimidated.
The Alabama defense is stacked with potential NFL draft picks, although they lack some of the name recognition they had last year (except for linebacker Dont'a Hightower), and they will make it tough for Penn State sophomore running back Silas Redd to find much room to work with. Penn State’s run blocking worked very well last week against Indiana State, but that was Indiana State. Alabama is a whole different animal to tame.
Last season it was Alabama running back Trent Richardson who snapped a streak of games in which Penn State did not allow a 100-yard rusher (plenty of players did that last year). He was a strong runner who refused to be tackled and overpowered Penn State’s linebackers. Penn State generally plays better at home (I know this is a silly thing to say) and they should be able to cut down on the effectiveness of Alabama’s running game a little better than they did last season. If they can do that then Penn State may start to build an advantage because the pressure will be on the Alabama quarterbacks, who like Penn State, are battling for the starting job. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are young and inexperienced players, and young quarterbacks playing on the road at Penn State have a poor track record. Could Penn State force McCarron and Sims to make a few mistakes and force some turnovers? If they do, an upset may not be entirely out of the question.
If Penn State wins, they will come to Philadelphia next week riding an emotional high. Could that distract them from focusing on preparing for Temple in Lincoln Financial Field?
Let’s just take this one game at a time, shall we?
Nick will have your Temple pre-game post in a little bit to get you caught on the Owls and their road game against Akron.
Photo: Marvin Gentry-US Presswire