Penn State Figures to Bounce Back on the Road at Purdue

Penn State Figures to Bounce Back on the Road at Purdue

Penn State was all amped and ready to go last week at home in front of a buzzing Beaver Stadium, but it was Ohio State who had all of the energy going for them in the second half of a physically draining contest.

Now Penn State takes to the road to take on a Purdue team that was expected to play a little bit of a larger role in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division this season.

One of the things we have learned from Penn State this season is that it is difficult to knock them down too much. Credit senior leadership from guys like linebacker Michael Mauti, fullback Michael Zordich and quarterback Matt McGloin. When the team dropped to 0-2 to start the season Penn State came back and rattled off five straight wins to seemingly turn a lost season around. Given that precedent, how likely is it they let one loss to Ohio State, the best team in the Big Ten this season, get to them so much they falter again this weekend?

Purdue is a team that is in a bit of a free fall, having lost four straight games and sitting on the bottom of the Big Ten Leaders Division with an 0-4 conference record. Three of the losses have not even been close. The struggles of Purdue have led to some speculation head coach Danny Hope is running out of time on the sidelines, but injuries have played a role in holding the team back. This weekend’s starting quarterback, Robert Marve, suffered a torn ACL early in the season and is somehow back on the field trying to spark the offense. Marve replaced Caleb Terbush last week in the second half and gave Purdue some life late to close the gap against Minnesota, but it was too little too late for the Boilermakers. This weekend will mark his second start of the season.

If Marve is able to play at full strength, he has the ability to keep Purdue’s offense in the game with receiver Antavian Edison leading the way in the pass game. Edison leads the Boilermakers with six touchdown receptions and 432 yards. Gary Bush is also a red-zone threat to catch the football with five touchdown catches this season. Purdue’s offense entered the year expected to give some teams a good challenge on a regular basis, but Purdue has thrown 11 interceptions (second most in Big Ten behind Michigan) and lost six fumbles. So when Purdue does have something seemingly going for them, the chances they run in to some problems appears likely, although having Marve starting could help cure some of those problems.

Defensively, Penn State will need to make sure Marve is rattled early and often, and maybe force him to try and move around a little because there is little chance he will be at 100 percent with his feet. Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien is also pretty familiar with what Marve can do, having tried to recruit him to Duke when he was still an assistant for the Blue Devils before joining the New England Patriots staff.

Where Purdue has fallen exceptionally short of expectations this fall is on defense. The Boilermakers had what many called an underrated defensive unit last season, but you would not know that from watching them this season. Purdue has allowed 29.8 points per game this season, third highest in the Big Ten (Indiana, Illinois). Only Indiana has allowed more points per game at home than Purdue. Purdue ranks next to last against the run in the Big Ten, allowing 194 rushing yards per game, so expect Penn State to let Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich set the tempo on the ground. Purdue is also ninth in the 12-team Big Ten against the pass, allowing 213.9 yards per game and 12 touchdowns through the air, which would suggest O’Brien’s offensive schemes could be in for an Iowa-esque sort of game if they start on the right foot.

As you are well aware by now, Penn State is ineligible for postseason play but remember that they can still win the Leaders Division crown. Having lost to Ohio State, the Nittany Lions are one game back of a split for the division crown.

Purdue is more than capable of keeping Penn State in check if they can put it together this weekend, as evidenced by their Week 2 setback at Notre Dame. Purdue fell to the Irish 20-17 in the final seconds, as the Fighting Irish rallied late for the win. Purdue has seen the wheels come off since then, of course. A loss puts Purdue one game closer to being ineligible for postseason play, so the Boilermakers may need this game more than Penn State.

Who needs the game more though is totally irrelevant. If Penn State plays at the level they have shown against Iowa and Illinois or even in the first half against Ohio State (defensively at least), this could be another long afternoon for Purdue.

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova vs. La Salle: Wildcats look to stay hot vs. Explorers at Palestra

No. 1 Villanova (8-0) at La Salle (4-2) 
7 p.m. at The Palestra

Villanova, now the top-ranked team in the country, travels to the Palestra on Tuesday night for another Big 5 game, this one against La Salle (the home team), which has won three straight games.

Let's get you ready for the matchup:

Last time out
La Salle beat Bucknell, 83-73, on Saturday.

Villanova won, 88-47, over Saint Joseph’s.

Scouting report
Villanova, which is undefeated, has become the No. 1 team in the country after beating St. Joe’s handily on Saturday. Josh Hart, who had a triple-double in the game, has been a major reason for the Wildcats' success so far this season. The senior is averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. 

La Salle has won three games in a row after losing at the buzzer to Texas Southern on its homecoming game. Against Bucknell, Jordan Price had 20 points, while B.J. Johnson had 22. Johnson, a transfer from Syracuse, leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game.

What it means
Villanova is the best in the country right now, and it moved up to No. 1 after Kentucky lost to UCLA. Another win will give the Wildcats good momentum heading into their Saturday matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame. A victory would also extend Villanova's all-time record Big 5 winning streak to 16 games.

La Salle head coach John Gianinni could potentially be on the hot seat if the Explorers suffer another poor season. A win against the defending national champions would alleviate any chatter about his status.

Series history
This is the first and only time the Big 5 rivals will meet this season. Jay Wright is 13-2 all-time against the Explorers, and his group blew them out last season, 76-47.

What’s next?
La Salle will head to Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational to take on Georgetown this Saturday at the American Airlines Arena.

Villanova travels to Newark, New Jersey, to meet No. 23 Notre Dame at the Prudential Center.

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

Doug Pederson doesn't think 2016 struggles will ruin Carson Wentz in long term

In his first month in the NFL, Carson Wentz's trophy case was filling up quickly. 

He won two NFL Rookie of the Week awards to go along with being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 3 and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. 

It's hard to believe all of that happened this year. 

Since September, the Eagles have gone 2-7 and Wentz has looked like a rookie. Sure, the Eagles have some major deficiencies on offense that haven't made his life any easier, but it's no longer possible to simply overlook the regression of the No. 2 overall pick. 

Could this tough stretch negatively affect Wentz long term?  

"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTAs and we get a full offseason in and we just continue to work on it."

It's fair to say the 2016 season was probably never really about this year and making the playoffs. It's clear the more important thing is to develop Wentz into the franchise quarterback they drafted him to be. But the one thing the team probably didn't want to see was regression. It seems like that's what has happened. 

In the first four games of the season, Wentz had a passer rating over 100 three times and hasn't done it since then. Take a look at the difference in the first quarter of his season compared to the next two. 

First four games: Completion percentage of 67 percent, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception, passer rating of 103.5. 

Next eight: Completion percentage of 61 percent, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, passer rating of 70.1. 

The Eagles will enter their final quarter of the season when they host Washington on Sunday. The best way to avoid any long-term issues stemming from a tough rookie season is to end on a stronger note. 

"Well, you avoid it by trying to win a football game, and you try to win as many as you can now with these last four that we've got," Pederson said. "If you're looking towards next season, you always want to go out with a bang and try to win as many as you can down the stretch."

Way back in training camp, the plan was for 2016 to be a redshirt year for Wentz. He was supposed to sit behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, but Bradford was traded and the Eagles elected to start their prized quarterback from the onset. 

Wentz went from a redshirt season to being on pace to throw 603 passes, which would shatter the Eagles' record for a single season. 

"These are some of the decisions that I made back when the trade was made that if there was going to be some growing pains, these were going to be some of the pains we were going to have to go through," Pederson said. "And just him understanding and him learning and us growing together as an offense, he and I growing as coach and quarterback together, it's all part of the process."

Wentz and Pederson seemingly had a disagreement after Sunday's game, when Pederson attributed Wentz's struggles to mechanical problems, while Wentz denied that was the case. Pederson held firm to his belief that those mechanical issues can be corrected and it's probable Wentz spoke out of frustration on Sunday night. 

If Wentz is frustrated, it would be understandable. It hasn't been an easy couple of months. 

"I see him handling it well," Pederson said. "These are discussions that we will have, myself, [Eagles offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich], Carson [Wentz], as we talk to him, because we've played obviously at this level, and my experience, even in this city playing and knowing what that's all about, we can really help him. It’s our job to help him and make sure that he stays on track and stays focused and he doesn't get derailed by anything that's coming from the outside."