Bill O’Brien hopes to fare better in his second game at the helm of Nittany Lions when Penn State travels to Virginia to battle the Cavaliers on Saturday at noon.
The Lions (0-1) blew an 11-point lead last Saturday to Ohio in O’Brien’s debut as coach. Despite the loss, the Lions are prepared to move on with a tough road battle against an ACC foe. The Cavaliers (1-0) took down the Richmond Spiders in their opener, 49-13.
While the Lions played to much tougher competition than the Cavaliers in week one, the Lions know that a visit to Charlottesville could easily end in an 0-2 start for O’Brien’s Lions. As O’Brien pointed out in his weekly press conference, the Lions did do some good things against Ohio, despite the loss. For instance, quarterback Matt McGloin looked sharp as did the rest of the team while carrying a 14-point first half. The problem was that the Lions forgot to show up for the remaining 30 minutes and got burned. If the Lions can put together 60 minutes of football, they’ll have a great chance to pull the road upset.
As O’Brien starts his rebuilding process in Happy Valley, Virginia coach Mike London is already into year two of his. London took over the program following a disastrous 4-8 2010 campaign in Al Groh’s final season. In just his first year, he led the Cavaliers to an 8-4 regular season record and a Chick-Fil-A Bowl appearance. The Hoos also beat a couple ranked teams in 2011 under London.
Fast forward to 2012, where London’s Cavaliers hope to be a contender in the ACC’s Coastal Division along with favorites No. 15 Va. Tech and Georgia Tech. The Hoos are led by senior quarterback Michael Rocco, who threw for 311 yards and a touchdown against Richmond in the opener. Also joining Rocco as a senior playmaker on offense is tailback Perry Jones. Jones, who ran for 52 yards and a score in the opener, had more than 1,400 total yards and 10 touchdowns last season. The diminutive tailback will challenge the Lions’ rush defense that surrendered 175 yards to Ohio last week.
For O’Brien’s Lions, bouncing back against the Cavaliers is essential to avoid an 0-2 start for the first time since 2001. To do so, the Lions will need 60 minutes of Penn State intensity, which they only provided about 30 minutes of in their opening loss to Ohio. The Bobcats managed a remarkable 11 for 12 on third down conversions in the second half to upset the Lions at home. Penn State also needs to do a better job on the ground on offense. Tailbacks Bill Belton and Derek Day managed just 4.2 yards per carry behind a line that just wasn’t opening enough holes. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin needs to play with more consistency over the course of the game as well. McGloin was masterful executing O’Brien’s offense in the first half, but like many other Lions faded as the day went on. One bright spot was sophomore receiver Allen Robinson, who hauled in nine catches for 97 yards. While it was a small sampling size, the Cavaliers stuffed 21 Richmond rushing attempts for just 28 yards on the day. If Penn State wants to pull the upset (they’re 10 point dogs) they’ll need to establish the run and make things easier for McGloin and the passing game.
Players to watch:
Michael Rocco, QB, Virginia. – Rocco must have enjoyed watching Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton carve up Penn State’s secondary in the film room this week. If the Lions can’t generate more pass rush against a stout Cavaliers offensive line, Rocco could be in for a huge day.
Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State. – McGloin played great in the first half against Ohio (two touchdowns), but then went silent as the Lions blew their lead. He’ll need to put together two halves against a solid Virginia defense in a game that could produce a shootout.
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State. – In his first game back from season-ending knee surgery a year ago, Mauti only had 14 tackles. While he wasn’t the problem against Ohio, the senior needs to lead by example and show the Lions’ young secondary how to get stops at the college level. Forcing a turnover wouldn’t hurt either, look for No. 42 in white to be all over the place on Saturday.
Penn State’s secondary vs. Virginia QB Michael Rocco. – If Penn State couldn’t stop Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton, they should have even less fun trying to stop Rocco and Co. The good news for the Lions is that Rocco won’t take off and break contain like Tettleton did, so there’s that. Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof has to generate a solid pass rush to pressure Rocco and more importantly stop the Cavaliers rushing attack before it gets started. If they can do that, the Lions will make this one a game.
Prediction: Virginia 24 Penn State 17