Penn State Takes On Iowa in the Prime Time

Penn State Takes On Iowa in the Prime Time

It is only fitting that Penn State’s final
road game before Halloween should be played in a true house of horrors.
Kinnick Stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, has long been an unkind destination
for Penn State, with the Nittany Lions leaving Iowa City with their
last win there in 1999. Needless to say, a lot has happened since the
day Downingtown native Aaron Harris sealed a Penn State victory with
a touchdown run down the left sideline.

The Donovan McNabb era started and ran its course. A trip to the Super
Bowl is all but a faded painful memory at this point. The Sixers saw
Allen Iverson lead the team to the NBA Finals, leave town and return…
and leave again. The Phillies ended Philadelphia’s championship drought.
Arena football came to town, went on hiatus and returned again. Professional
soccer also kicked off in town. Temple was kicked out of the Big East
and welcomed back. The Flyers saw a season wiped off the calendar, and
if Penn State loses this weekend they could have a second season erased
as well.

Though he has only just joined the program this season, head coach
Bill O’Brien is well aware of the history he has inherited with the
program as it pertains to Iowa.

“It’s a very difficult place to play, as are most of the
places in the Big Ten.  It's going to be an electric atmosphere,” O’Brien
said this week. “The crowd noise is definitely going to be a factor,
so we've got to make sure that we deal with that in the right way. So
we've got to practice with crowd noise and make sure that our players
do a great job of communicating offense, defense, and special teams.
But again, it's not going to be anything like what it's like on Saturday
night, so hopefully we can just give them a picture of it, and then
when they get there Saturday night, they have a better understanding
of how to deal with those things.”

Penn State heads to Iowa coming off a bye week, hoping to keep the
momentum going after winning four straight games. The bye week may have
helped the team get a little stronger, with sophomore running back Bill
Belton back to 100 percent ready to add some more options to the offense.
Belton is not the only player who could have used the bye week right
in the middle of the season. O’Brien says the timing of the bye week
was good for his team, who has been playing a physical style since training
camp.

“It's better to have it then than it is after the
first game or something like that,” O’Brien said. “I think the
bye week helped a lot of those guys, Billy [Belton] included, and yesterday
Billy did some nice things in practice, as did a lot of those guys that
were banged up.“

Having Belton available will help Penn State try to improve their
rushing production, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten.
Penn State’s running game has shown to drop off following the loss
of Silas Redd to USC and with Belton working through some ankle issues
this season, but the slack has been picked up by continued improved
play of quarterback Matt McGloin.

McGloin enters the week leading the Big Ten in passing
with 429.8 yards per game and 12 touchdowns. He has also avoided being
a turnover machine, with just two interceptions. This week McGloin and
O’Brien’s pass-happy style will take on their toughest test against
the pass so far this season. Iowa ranks fourth in the Big Ten, allowing
just five touchdowns and owning seven interceptions.

The Hawkeyes may also have to try getting their offense going without
their top running back, Mark Weisman, who is doubtful for Saturday night’s
game. He has been cleared to play, but it remains unknown if he will
see any action against Penn State. Then again, this could all be a sly
trick to keep Penn State’s coaching staff guessing and preparing for
the wrong guys. Nobody would put Kirk Ferentz past that sort of mind
game. He’s a competitor and knows how to get an upper hand against
Penn State.

One key to the game this weekend for Penn State will be continuing
to convert inside the red zone. O’Brien has shown no hesitation to
go for it on fourth down, which may have been aided by a struggling
kicking game, but against Iowa it could be the big difference.
Iowa’s red zone defense has struggled this season, allowing teams
to leave the red zone with points on 18 out of 21 trips, including eight
touchdowns and 10 field goals. For Penn State, it could be touchdowns
or else.

Penn State’s defense has been the real story of
the season, though. The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in red zone defense,
allowing scores just 11 out of 16 times inside the 20-yard line and
allowing opponents inside the red zone just 16 times this season (second
best in the Big Ten; Wisconsin, 14). But of those 11 scores allowed,
nine have been touchdowns for the opponents, which would indicate if
Iowa can get close the odds are good they will pick up a touchdown.
The Hawkeyes have allowed 16 and 13 points in each of their past two
points in Big Ten play and fewer than 20 points five times this season.
Iowa’s defense has frustrated Penn State’s offense over the years
and appears capable of doing the same once again this season.

But that was a vanilla style offense under Joe Paterno,
with a predictable scheme consisting of run-run-pass more often than
not. Against Iowa, mixing it up is critical to keep the front seven
on their toes. That has been one of the big differences under O’Brien,
where the offense is being opened up more so than ever before, and O’Brien
taking full advantage of all four downs more often than ever before
seen in the Penn State program.

It is a new era at Penn State, of course, but will
it be a new theme in Iowa or more of the same?

Penn State plays Iowa at 8:00 p.m. on Big Ten Network.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.