They Are Penn State
Two years ago I took a road trip to State College to watch the Nittany Lions of Penn State lambast Eastern Michigan 34-6. Eastern was on their way to the 6-6 season which represents the best of the Ron English era. Penn State was on a slow boat to hell, by the end of the season their program would find itself completely devastated, and Penn State’s legendary head coach, Joe Paterno, would be dead. It was a tragedy Shakespearean in scope.
Two years later, not-so-Happy Valley is turning the corner. Yes, the Nittany Lions still have three years of scholarship reductions and a postseason ban staring them in the whiskers, but head coach Bill O’Brien has not only kept the ship afloat, he has the Lions competitive. For Penn State, competitive translates to a pretty high level of football. Take WR Allen Robinson as exhibit A. Robinson is the most talented and explosive player Eastern will face this year. I don’t mean that as a dis to Dri Archer, either, Archer is a NFL caliber player, but Robinson is a special talent.
Penn State playing at a high level, with explosive offensive talent, and a defense that could be in the top tier of the Big Ten does not bode well for EMU. For starters, Eastern’s offensive line had a hard time getting a consistent push against Howard. Establishing a run game against Penn State will be a tall order to say the least. Eastern’s passing game can be efficient, but I have low expectations moving the ball against Penn State. Punter Austin Barnes will have a chance to show us what he can do in a difficult environment.
On defense, Eastern gave up big plays last week against Howard. I’ve already mentioned Robinson, and my guess is that Penn State will score multiple touchdowns of 50+ yards on Saturday. Eastern’s only real hope is that Penn State freshman QB Christian Hackenberg is jittery in his first start at home, and makes all sorts of mistakes. Not likely to happen, unless Eastern’s front seven can put a consistent pass rush together. Like I said, not likely to happen.
My not-so-bold prediction is: Penn State 49, Eastern Michigan 9.
I love the road trip to State College. Penn State has an exceptionally beautiful campus, and Beaver Stadium is a true cathedral of college football. But I’m not ready to go back just yet. Despite the efforts of Bill O’Brien, the stank isn’t quite gone from the Sandusky scandals. Many PSU fans have been truly and deeply horrified by what happened, and understand the gross negligence that was exhibited by numerous individuals in the program. But, unfortunately there is still a cadre that refuses to accept any story other than the one that casts Jerry Sandusky as the only villain in the scandal. This is just denial, plain and simple – and most outsiders find it outrageously offensive. The truth is that Joe Paterno let some seriously evil shit go down on his watch. He was either clueless, or willfully ignorant. Neither is an excuse.
Eventually, the cloud over Happy Valley will lift for me, probably sooner than later. The charm of Penn State, the campus, the State College bar scene…I’ll be back. But for this season, I’ll be content to watch Eastern get annihilated on TV, as opposed to in person.