In this most important rebound opportunity for the Nittany Lions, the challenge comes in a sullen place against a banged-up and seemingly dispirited opponent.
Welcome to half-filled Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue University!
It’s not that the Boilermakers don’t have talent, because they have enough. But what is there has been injured, which helped lead to one loss after another.
And the coaching? The fan support?
So now, the sanctioned, determined and maybe even pissed off Nittany Lions come to down to try and get juiced up for a recovery mission.
Let’s just say this scenario won’t be attracting much national interest Saturday afternoon.
But in terms of accomplishing tasks, things do seem more doable for the Nittany Lions.
Here are five keys to victory:
1. Start fast. You wouldn’t think would be a problem, considering Penn State’s 66-0 first-quarter blasting of opponents so far.
But the offense struggled mightily last week and it’s worth wondering if even a small crack of confidence, or even hesitation, could creep in, especially at the beginning.
Score quickly, and keep it coming early enough, and Purdue, already teetering on the edge of disinterest, could pack it in.
2. Set up the run with the pass. This is what we thought the plan would be last week against Ohio State. It didn’t quite materialize. But there’s every reason to use it, too, against the Boilermakers, especially if tackles Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston are healthy enough and ready.
No need to bang heads with immovable forces and give the Boilers confidence. Instead, attack where they are soft, and that is at linebacker and over the middle. Do it with wideout crosses and plenty of looks to the big tight ends.
Eventually, the Purdue front will tire, giving Zach Zwinak and Mike Zordich, and even speedy Bill Belton, plenty of running lanes inside.
3. Next man up. No doubts now that tight end Kyle Carter has the best combination of hands, size and athleticism on the team. Having said that, his possible absence due to a sore foot, should not become a factor.
The beauty of Bill O’Brien’s system is that he has plenty of other tight end mismatches in Jesse James, Matt Lehman and Gary Gilliam. They just need to step up as expected in the passing game.
4. Wideouts must keep improving. This should be a big day for Allen Robinson, Brandon Moseby-Felder, Alex Kenney — and whoever else lines up on the flanks.
Matt McGloin should have more time this week to deliver the football and the Purdue pass defense is vulnerable.
We love the way Moseby-Felder has developed into a big-play option. But we’d like to see more from the speedy Kenney and even more, too, from go-to guy Robinson.
ARob has progressed wonderfully but has still missed far too many big plays.
5. Defensive back lockdown. The cornerbacks and safeties have played admirably, even better than anticipated so far. Sophomore Adrian Amos is shaping into All-Big Ten material.
But only one interception as a unit all season? What should have been another by Stephen Obeng-Agyapong was dropped last week, altering the flow of the entire game.
Purdue QB Robert Marve is brittle but talented throwing. The timing is beckoning these guys to finally make a couple of highlight, game-changing plays.