Here it is Nittany Lion fans. After one tune-up week we are diving right into the biggest game of the season, Penn State vs Alabama. But before we take down our Paternoville tents, pack our Yuenglings and paint our bodies white, we should familiarize ourselves with the opponent. To help us do that, NittanyLionsDen.com has gone deep into enemy territory to talk to Ell of BamaSportsReport.com. Here's what ensued:
NLD: First off, Alabama seems to be in a similar position as Penn State as far as the quarterback situation goes. Who is most likely to start, and what do McCarron and Sims bring to this offense? Should we expect a two-quarterback system this Saturday?
BSR: Most observers thought sophomore AJ McCarron had the better outing against Kent State. There are two problems with this assessment. Numbers aren't going to determine who starts. McCarron's looked better, but it's hard for the lay person to know exactly what to attribute that to. Individual film study means we'll know if receivers ran wrong routes, made dumb reads or otherwise gummed it up for one guy or the other. Sims and McCarron both looked like world beaters in spots, and chumps in others.
Saban has been his usual forthcoming self about the quarterback situation, which means we don't know anything. I'd actually be surprised if both don't play Saturday.
NLD: Last year the Crimson Tide offensive line helped Trent Richardson run up and down the field against the Nittany Lion defense. How has that line changed from last year to this year?
BSR: They're mostly another year older. Bama did lose one lineman (a first round draft pick, no less), but have replaced him with either the All American guard from the other side of the line (Barrett Jones), or the highly sought after 5 star true freshman (Cyrus Kouandjio).
That being said, the offensive line was clearly Bama's weakest unit last weekend against Kent State. They didn't run block particularly well at all, and generally didn't seem to be on the same page. There's no shortage of talent though, and this was truly expected to be a real strength for the Tide this year.
NLD: With Julio Jones gone, who is going to pick up the slack at WR? Should the overall corps be better or worse than last year?
BSR: Anytime you lose a guy like Julio Jones, you're taking a step backwards. He was a singular talent, and a real once in a generation type guy.
That being said, as with most of Alabama's positions, there's no shortage of talent. DeAndrew White is a redshirt freshman who looked quite good Saturday. He's gotten nothing but raves from the coaching staff all of last year and throughout the offseason.
The most anticipated newcomer at the receiver position though is Duron Carter, son of Cris Carter. The younger Carter played as a freshman at Ohio State, ran into some academic trouble and headed for the junior college ranks. He had some NCAA eligibility/transcript issues that took until last week to clear up, and so he didn't play against Kent State. Saban says he'll play this week.
While he's on the Biletnikoff Award watchlist - he likely wouldn't be if his name were Duron Smith. He is, however, big, strong and a very good route runner. He'll wear Jones's old number 8 and try to make Bama fans forget. It'll be fun to see where his ceiling is.
NLD: That Alabama defense is being hailed as the best in the country. What's the strongest position? If there is a weakness that can be attacked, what is it?
BSR: The defensive line is the most green unit. To help that, Bama brought in two junior college standouts - Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial. Both looked very good Saturday. However, it's awfully hard to judge the strength of a defensive line against Kent State. It's likely Penn State will have better, more athletically talented lineman, much in the same way it's likely Joe Paterno is one of the greatest coaches ever.
The upside for Bama fans is that's pretty much the only weakness on defense. The linebackers feature two or three guys who'll play on Sunday, and all four defensive backs are top notch. If you can get pads on the linebackers and/or force them to bring pressure instead of drop into pass coverage, there are some strategic angles to exploit, but I wouldn't expect to push the score into the 40's.
NLD: Finally, what are your thoughts for this Saturday? What are you hoping or expecting to see from the Tide? Score Prediction?
BSR: Actually, I wouldn't expect the combined score to be in the 40s. Alabama struggled offensively at times against Kent State, something that didn't scare the Vegas oddsmakers at all - Alabama has opened as a 10.5 point favorite. That's insanity, pure and simple. If I believed in betting against Alabama, I'd definitely do it this weekend. Penn State is rough at home, and too much remains a mystery about the Tide (quarterback and both lines come to mind).
That being said, the Tide defense is stout. They're fast, strong, and fundamentally sound. I expect a low scoring affair, but I think the defense carries the day. If I have to call a score, I'll say 13-9 Alabama in a hard fought, old school defensive game. Bama's lone touchdown comes via a special teams or defensive play, and it's enough for the Tide to take the win back to Tuscaloosa.
The kicking game is crucial in low-scoring games...and I hope the team has more confidence in itself regarding field goals than we as fans do.
Fera coming back is huge.I assume Alabama is going to come in with an ultra-conservative gameplan, which means that they will put the pressure on Penn State to take a few risks.
If Penn State wants to win, they're going to need to win the turnover battle and penalty yards 'battle'. Even that might not be enough, so a few early shots downfield (a la 2009 Iowa...sad face) might be necessary early on to keep the Bama defense honest.
At the end of the day, this is an uphill battle for Penn State. I have never in my (admittedly short) life seen PSU fans unanimously think they're going to lose. This is exactly why I'll go ahead and say otherwise:PSU - 19
Great overview. We appreciate the honesty and humility.
I agree with the "lone touchdown comes via a special teams or defensive play" thing unfortunately. But if we get our 9 points through three field goals, that means we must try about 8 of them for the game. :)
In the same vein, I think if PSU has a chance to win, it'll need to be off of a big Alabama miscue (long int. return or fumble return). Our biggest wins in recent history (OSU in 2005 and 2008) utilized key mistakes in low-scoring, tight games. Our defense has a shot at disrupting...so my fingers are crossed!