Saturday, December 31, 2005

Orange Bowl Preview- Defense and Prediction

Penn State Defense:
For the past two seasons, the Penn State defense has been as dominating as it has ever been, save the 1986 championship season, and built the foundation for the success that the team in total experienced this season. 10 starters returned to the unit this season and the only other "new" starter was Chris Harrell, who had started games in 2002 and 2003 prior to a neck injury that sidelined him in 2004. Simply put, Penn State's defense has been dominating and this match up with Florida State is their "last hurrah" as a unit. For seven, possibly eight if Paul Posluszny leaves for the NFL, starters, this is their final college game. I expect them to play with the same emotion and nastiness that the defense displayed in the 35-14 victory over Wisconsin, their final game in Happy Valley.

While Tamba Hali is the only Penn State defensive linemen who is a nationally recognized player, the rest of the defensive line has done an outstanding job this season. The only weakness to this group is the lack of experience and depth behind them. Because of the extreme need for help along the line, A.Q. Shipley, who played and is expected to start on the OL next fall, moved to the other side of the ball. He became a fill-in for the dominating force that Ed Johnson brought to the line in 2004 (he will return for the 2006 season). Hali is an absolute beast on the defensive line. He is reasonably sized but is exceptionally quick and will eat a tackle alive if he can. Anyone who watched the Wisconsin game can easily recognize that. Jay Alford and Scott Paxson aren't the biggest of tackles but they do a terrific job at stuffing the run and occasionally rushing the passer. Having Ed Johnson back will be a big help in 2006 because replacing Scott Paxson will not be an easy task. Matthew Rice has done a serviceable job opposite Hali. He isn't a dominating presence but he is a capble run stopper. The only way Florida State is going to have success running the football is if they do it from the start and have success early on. This is how Northwestern was able to keep it close and Michigan was able to win. They both hit the ground running and never looked back. The front seven was exhausted by the fourth quarter because of the extreme lack of depth.

While many will argue that Ohio State has the best linebacking unit in the country, it is easily debateable that Penn State has the best as well. Paul Posluszny finally earned some national recognition this year, taking home the Bednarik Award and Butkus Award, after most probably didn't know his name outside of Big Ten country. Poz has the size, athleticism and tenacity needed to be a dominating college linebacker and translate the success into the pros. Many have compared him to PSU LB great Shane Conlan. While Poz is the most dominating linebacker, Dan Connor and Tim Shaw should not be forgotten. Connor is an emerging force at linebacker who really wasn't able to do that this season after missing the first three games because of a suspension. He is also a dominating force on the outside and is a more htna capable run stuffer. Shaw is a bit undersized in the middle but with two tremendous talents on both sides of him, he isn't asked to be a hero. Much like Rice, he does a serviceable job but there are many more talented linebackers behind him. Also look for Tyrell Sales to get some snaps at linebacker in the game, he may start next season at LB if Poz leaves early or at DE.

The secondary is just another dominating unit. However, unlike the others, the entire unit is playing their final collegiate game in the Orange Bowl. Captain Alan Zemaitis has been determined to return PSU to prominance and he has been playing hard all season. His statistics aren't overwhelming but that is because teams more a less try to avoid him. Hence why there haven't been many receivers to dominate the PSU secondary this season. The only name that comes to mind is Michigan's Mario Manningham. Anwar Phillips is a serviceable corner opposite Zemaitis. Chris Harrell is one of the hardest hitters around. Any Florida State receivers who comes across the middle are going to have to contend with him. Calvin Lowery, though much maligned for his awful punt return skills, has had a tremendous senior season as the hero. He has been a consistent tackler and has come up with some big plays, including an interception that set up the winning touchdown against Ohio State. Justin King, Tony Davis and Donnie Johnson are all likely to see significant action in the Orange Bowl. All have had good seasons and all are expected to be favorites to win starting jobs next season. King is a future All-American.

Florida State Defense:
Florida State seemed to have an solid defense in 2005. Kamerion Wimbley is a dominating presence on the defensive line and he will need to keep Michael Robinson and Tony Hunt in check if Florida State has any prayer of beating Penn State. Much like Penn State, the linebackers are the heart of the defense. Ernie Sims and Buster Davis are both outstanding linebackers with NFL potential. However, A.J. Nicholson has been suspended for the game and that is a major blow to the FSU defense. Losing a linebacker as good as Nicholson will not be easy to replace and it will allow Penn State to get the run game going more easily. The Florida State secondary is led by safety Pat Watkins and really don't think they have what it takes to stop Penn State's speedy group of receivers. Perhaps if they had Antonio Cromartie it would be a different story. I expect Penn State to have relatively easy time moving the ball against the Florida State defense. I don't think as a whole the has enough to stop Penn State's running attack and passing attack.

Penn State 28, Florida State 17

I see Penn State dominating for most of the game and Florida State adds a late touchdown to make it look a little better on the scoreboard. This is a cautious prediction. I can also very easily see Penn State just going out and beating the crap out of Florida State, much like LSU did to Miami in the Peach Bowl.


Anonymous Kevin @ said...

I guess you've decided the game will be a little closer (28-17) than you thought a few days ago (31-17). Interesting.

Monday, January 02, 2006  
Blogger The Nittany Blog said...

Yeah a big FG difference. Not as though I radically changed my prediction.

Monday, January 02, 2006  

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