Thursday, December 27

Alamo Bowl (not Historically Based)

Some bowl games feature up-and-coming teams and excited fan bases. They play games that people will be talking about for years to come, epic tilts that end up immortalized on ESPN Classic for 25 years And then there’s clunkers like this year’s Alamo Bowl team, which includes:
- two fanbases with unrealistic team expectations, but they travel well
- two teams that couldn’t even top .500 in-conference
- two teams whose out-of-conference slate included Fresno State and the Chess Club Champions of 1-A football (plus Notre Dame)

Yes, Penn State and Texas A&M combined for a 15-9 record, but don’t think either team is good. Yes, both teams have storied histories, but one of them hasn’t even won a game on January 1st or later since 1986. And given Texas A&M’s 264.2 ypg allowed through the air, maybe they could use the 12th man on defense if the refs would agree not to flag them for it. And you just know they're going to be making fun of the Longhorns because they're playing in a later bowl game (even though it's way less prestigious).

Fun fact that’s not related to this game at all: of the 12 teams Notre Dame played, 5 of them finished in the top 20 nationally in sacks – not including Boston College, who’s 22nd. Georgia Tech (9 sacks against) and Penn State (6 sacks against) are 1-2 overall. Is that a product of great defenses or Notre Dame’s O-line – who, for completeness sake, allowed 58 sacks on the season? You make the call!

Penn State (by Coach Pendley)

Did you know that Penn State played their first football game in 1881? Yeah, Joe Paterno wasn’t on the sidelines yet, although given the map of the world currently on his face, you’d be forgiven for thinking he did. Since he’s come on board, the Nittany Lions have gone 22-10-1 in bowl games, which is impressive any way you slice it. (And yes, that includes the “who wants it less” Orange Bowl of 2006.) Of course, that’s also a nice way of saying he’s old as dirt, but: duh. He’s an excellent coach, and that really can’t be stated enough at this point, recent struggles or no.

After Austin Scott spent most of the season pissing his chance away, the rushing load was picked up by Rodney Kinlaw, who ran for 1186 yards and 10 scores. QB Anthony Morelli was excellent at home, throwing for ~1400 yards and an 11/4 ratio. (Ignore his road numbers – not great – and his hideous second half numbers, the least of which is a 4/7 ratio.) The WRs aren’t complete world-beaters, but Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, and Jordan Norwood all average between 40 and 50 yards a game.

On the other side of the ball, Penn State’s defense kept them in tons of games. They have the 8th-best scoring D in the country (allowing just under 18 points), which is helped by their 2nd-in-the-country sack squad. Also helpful: the 6th-best rushing defense – in the run-happy Big 10, holding your opponents to 2.57 ypc is impressive. Just ignore the fact that their run defense gets worse in the second half and spread / spread rush offenses gave them fits (216 yards on the ground against Illinois, 145 against Michigan State).

Keys to Victory:
1: >=3 sacks. Yeah, it sounds like a lot, but Penn State has won every game they’ve gotten to the QB at least 4 times – and lost every game they didn’t. This’ll be difficult against an Aggie team who only averages 28.8 passes a game – and has only allowed 14 sacks on the year.

2: Shake off the running QB. Steven McGee is a threat between the 20s, but it’s Jovorski Lane who’s the threat to score – 16 TDs on the year and the kid’s a beast – 6’0” and 268. McGee will cause coverage fits, but Lane will have to be stopped somehow. Actually, this Aggie team has everything that causes the PSU front seven to lose sleep – a mobile QB and a two-headed RB attack (Mike Goodson is the “normal” RB).

3: Solid second half. It’s already been documented here that the Nittany Lions seem to play worse in the second half; if they can maintain their first half production through the final 30 minutes, they’ll have an excellent chance to come out and win.

4: Hypnotize Morelli into thinking it’s a home game. While his raw stats aren’t that worse on the road – he does have more passing yards, but also another 5 attempts a game – he doesn’t look as comfortable playing in a hostile environment (PSU fans would use harsher language than that). If he thinks it’s a home game, then he should be fine. Maybe someone can pay off the PA announcer to play “Zombie Nation” after every first down or something.

Texas A&M (by Coach Lawrence)

Since their ’99 Alamo Bowl shutout defeat, A&M has gone bowling just 4 times in six seasons, compiling a 1-3 record. However, A&M appeared to turn things around last season, finishing with a 9-3 regular season mark and a win over archrival Texas before getting pummeled by Cal in the Holiday Bowl. This season didn’t look much better, losing to the hapless Miami Hurricanes and getting blown out by Texas Tech, with a string of games against the conference’s top four teams to close out their season. However, after losses to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, A&M got the win they really wanted against Texas once again, spoiling the Longhorns’ late-season momentum and propelling the Aggies into this late December bowl.

A&M does one thing well: run the ball. Their rushing defense is average, passing offense and defense below average, but they rank 13th in rushing at 215.6 ypg. Three players average over 50 ypg rushing in their option offense, led by QB Sam McGee at 71.5 ypg. Jorvorskie Lane is the bruiser-back at 268 lbs, while Mike Goodson’s speed and agility makes him the big play threat. Defensively, though, A&M gives up 4 ypc and 151 ypg rushing, and the pass defense allows a QB rating of 141.8.

Keys to Victory:
1. Spread the ball equally with the option. Penn State is too good defensively (2.5 ypc rush, #6 rushing defense at 87.9 ypg) for the Aggies to get predictable. A&M has a lot of variety in their running game and they use a traditional option of shotgun formation with two backs.

2. Set up the pass – to Goodson - with the McGee/Lane running. If you watched the Texas game, you saw Goodson clearly being their best receiver, regardless of what ypg receiving statistics may say. He is a big play threat off of the kind of passes that McGee can actually complete, and indeed he leads the team in TD receptions with 4.

3. Stack the line, force Morelli to beat you. Penn State also really likes to run the ball... I think, even if Morelli has some early success, he’s not the kind of QB who is going to score a lot of points on his own or win big games on his own. In my opinion, he was one of the most overrated QBs this preseason, and not much this season has proven me wrong (127 rating, 18 TD 9 INT). Penn State’s rushing average is 214 in wins, 134 in losses... go ahead, put 8 or 9 in the box.