Game 4 preview: Penn State Nittany Lions, or what would it take for EMU to win?
Instead of the normal preview, today I wanted to unleash the fan in me and consider what an EMU win at Penn State might look like.
1. Sherrer plays and is 100%. Javonti Greene, Dominique White, and Ryan Brumfield are probably enough to beat some of the bottom-tier MAC schools like Akron, Kent State, and Buffalo (it feels so good to write that!) but it’s hard to imagine the Eagles winning against better teams without him. EMU’s depth chart for Penn State is dated September 17 — as I noted yesterday, it’s unchanged from the late-updated Michigan release — and of course, you always have to take the EMU depth chart releases with a grain of salt. So, despite him being left off (except, as noted last week, as the #2 kick returner), it’s possible that Sherrer will be raring and ready to go tomorrow.
2. EMU gets a good edge from special teams play. This one isn’t at all hard to imagine, and may even be likely. Certainly EMU’s special teams are an asset, not a liability, while apparently Penn State’s special teams play is “too comical to even describe”. Karutz, Welch, et al. certainly delivered against Michigan, and it’s not at all unrealistic to think they might do well again this weekend.
3. The atmosphere does not intimidate EMU’s players. This is also pretty reasonable. This team is no stranger to the big stadia of the Big (12) Ten, and the mere fact of being in the second-largest stadium in the country (hah! second-largest — a step down from last week!) should in and of itself be intimidating. Add in recent changes at Beaver Stadium (piped-in music, moving the students and long-time fans away from the action), and at least this shouldn’t be any worse than Michigan Stadium or the Horseshoe. At least.
4. Penn State’s offense continues to struggle. After putting up good numbers against an over-matched opponent in the first game, the Nittany Lions have struggled to score in their last two games. (Sound familiar?) According to reports, they used just 8 to 10 base plays against Temple last week, with only slight variations, and no pre-snap motion or other attempt to keep the defense guessing — the exact opposite of EMU’s offense last week, which seemed like someone was constantly in motion. Given the way the passing game has looked, EMU may struggle in shoot-outs this year, but a low-scoring game gives the Eagles a chance.
5. Speaking of scoring, EMU has to find a way to score. In the last two games, the Eagles have produced more than 600 yards of offense, and generally started drives with decent field position, but only has 17 points to show for it. That won’t get the job done.
6. Better passing. I’m not looking for a Brady/Henne performance. I just want the passing game to stop being a liability. Let’s start with at least a 3-2 touchdown to interception ratio, though 2-1 would be better, and at least 55% completions. No on-target dropped balls to wide-open receivers. Part of this is also on the playcalling and on Gillett for continuing to throw passes to players who have demonstrated an inability to catch them. Maybe one or two 10+ yard passes to keep the defense from collapsing on the line of scrimmage, and beyond that just throw some short routes to Hoskins.
If all of those things happen, I really believe the Eagles will have a shot at registering their first win ever against a Big (12) Ten opponent tomorrow.