The Penn State Q And A With Devon Edwards Of Black Shoe Diaries

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Once again we want to know more of the enemy this week, this time the Penn St. Nittany Lions. And once again, we can count on the SBNation community of the opposition.

Good Friday morning. Guess in all this Fire Bo hoopla, you probably forgot at times that we do have a Football game this weekend huh??

Your Nebraska Cornhuskers are on the way to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions, which we will all witness either in person or on Big Ten Network tomorrow afternoon.

To understand your opponent more, I reached out to Devon Edwards, Assistant Editor over at the SBNation Penn St. community Black Shoe Diaries. They are pretty good folks over there. How do I know? They already like Cobby more than the folks over at The Only Colors did.

I smell PPV options, my friends.

Anyhow, here's what I asked Devon and here's his answers. We thank him for his contributions.

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1. So, second year of these limitations on the program, along with the second year of Bill O’Brien at the helm. While he hasn’t seemed to have last year’s success, it seems the team is still doing well for having big time scholarship limits as well as zero post-season hopes. Can you give us the synopsis of the Nittany Lions season so far?

Yeah, if anything, O'Brien set himself up for failure by persevering so well through the sanctions last year. If you told anyone two summers ago that Penn State would go at least .500 during the first couple seasons of the sanctions, we'd all have signed up for that. Unfortunately, the 8-win season a year ago (that really should've been 9 or 10) spoiled us a bit. This has been a frustrating year, because we're breaking in a new QB (who will one day be very good) and a new defensive coordinator (who will one day hopefully not be this awful or more hopefully get fired), and because the team has really underacheived at times. There's been a lack of leadership, puzzling coaching decisions, and, to be fair, an incredible lack of depth in the defensive back 7 that leaves its weaknesses easily exploitable. It's a bit of a transition year, though we're not sure what we're transitioning to. Kind of a weird scenario.

2. Christian Hackenberg was a big win for BOB last recruiting cycle, and he’s been the starter all season. He’s had some stinkers (Ohio St, Minnesota) but he’s also had some great performances through the year. What’s he bring to the table for the PSU offense?

I get the sense that BOB's tried too hard to protect Hack this season--when he throws, it's been too often from the shotgun; the passes have too often gone to the sidelines, taking some of our best options, the tight ends, out of the play; he had, earlier, tried too hard to get Hack into a rhythm at the expense of establishing or sticking with a run game that's been successful. Now, Hack is a freshman who has as much of an issue with the mental side of things as the passing--we've seen him spiral downwards, especially late, at times this season. But for all his faults--oh, I forgot one, he's got no pocket presence--he's stopped making as many stupid decisions as he did earlier in the season, he's far more mobile than he gets any credit for being, he throws a beautiful ball, and he's got the clutch gene, making huge throws late in the Michigan and Illinois games to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

3. At Running Back, it seems that you have some capable players, but at the same time, turnovers have killed things (A very common theme in Lincoln too). Talk about the work between Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, and how they have performed through the year.

Zwinak started the first few games, then got the boot because of fumble issues (and general ineffectiveness), giving way to Bill Belton, who was a major upgrade until he started fumbling just as much, so O'Brien went back to Zwinak in the last few games who now looks better but also can't hold on to the ball and meanwhile there's freshman Akeel Lynch just hanging out on the bench, not fumbling, and wondering what he has to do to get a carry. As far as a scouting report, Zwinak's a converted fullback who succeeds by running through people and squeezing out an extra three yards on every touch; Belton's a converted wide receiver, and he's the smaller, more effective in the open field, dance-around-guys back.

4. At Wide Receiver, it’s Allen Robinson, and pretty much no one else. What has he done so well this year, and is there anyone else on the roster to step up if Robinson is shut down?

What has Allen Robinson done well this year? Everything. He's a guy who will beat you down the field, make an incredible leaping catch, then break a tackle and take it for the score. Penn State will run about 5 bubble screens to him every game, and even when he's alone on one side of the field against three defenders he manages to break it for a first down. He's the best receiver in the Big Ten and it's not really close. The rest of Penn State's corps is mediocre-to-bad; Brandon Felder has his moments but isn't fast enough to get separation and then drops balls when he does, Kyle Carter should be a matchup nightmare but has had an oddly silent season, and the other tight end Jesse James has been relegated into more of a possession-type role.

5. Defensively, Penn St has done well, but hasn’t really shocked anyone with a seemingly standout performance. Can you talk about what they do well and seem to struggle with?

I take issue with the first part, but that's okay. Penn State defends the inside run game very well--the defensive tackles are very stout, and the linebackers are fundamentally sound enough to get in position should a back slip to the next level. That's about it, though. The team is hideously bad once you get the ball to the edge--run screens and swing passes all day--or on defending passes to the tight ends, or on third downs--turns out when you have young/bad cornerbacks, it's generally not a good idea to blitz every third and long and leave them on islands. Who woulda thought? (Not John Butler). The D has a stunning inability to get off the field (seriously, Purdue had two long touchdown drives last week), but when it's able to generate any pass rush (see: Michigan game), a lot of the issues disappear. Funny how that tends to happen.

6. Senior Day at Beaver Stadium. We saw it was very emotional last year in the victory against Wisconsin. Would a win here be the ultimate sendoff for this Senior class that has stuck with PSU through thick and thin?

This year has been a whole lot less emotional than last year's, when the senior leaders who literally kept this team together--Matt McGloin, Mike Zordich, and Mike Mauti were on the phone with their teammates, making sure they didn't transfer--got to walk through the tunnel one last time. There are a few important names on the senior list this season, but not guys who meant so much to this program on and off the field as those guys. And unlike last year, where we just had so much fun being able to play football, this year hasn't had that same undercurrent of joy. It would be a nice win, but let's not compare it to last year

7. Talk about anyone you haven’t mentioned yet above, that Husker fans need to keep an eye on through the game.

CB Adrian Amos is the one competent starter in the Penn State secondary, though you won't need to keep an eye on him because your offense will spend so much time picking on the other defensive backs that he won't get tested too often. (His partner, Jordan Lucas, is really a safety playing cornerback--good tackler, good jumps on ball once they're in the air, but rarely within 5 yards of a receiver at the point of the catch.) NT DaQuan Jones is the anchor of the defensive line, a space eater who will demand double teams and swallow up ballcarriers if he doesn't draw one. (he's 4th on the team in tackles). And then there's Sam Ficken, who turned around from a truly horrible start a year ago to become one of the Big Ten's most consistent kickers.

8. Alright, prediction time. Tell us how you see the game transpiring, along with who will win this tussle.

Well, for some reason, we're 2 point favorites, and I never pick against Penn State, so I have to say we'll win. It'll definitely take the most complete performance of the season from the offense, because unlike Michigan, I think Nebraska won't be stupid enough to try running up the middle 30 times on the front 4. If Belton and Zwinak can avoid fumbling, I don't think they'll have too much trouble grinding drives out against a middling Nebraska rush D; keeping Ameer Abdullah off the field has to be the game plan. If Hack has fewer turnovers than Tommy Armstrong--which, to be fair, he really should--then it will probably be a shootout and come down to red zone execution. I'll say Penn State 31, Nebraska 27, though that's more heart than head.


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