So, the Penn State season hasn't exactly been left for dead following a 24-14 season opener loss to Ohio at Beaver Stadium, but a game most were writing off as another loss even before the season began—a trip to Virginia here in Week 2—now looks more daunting than ever.
But it's not as if a historic beatdown is automatically in the offing. This is Virginia that Penn State's about to play, not, say, Virginia Tech. And for as good as the Cavaliers were last year (8-5, 5-3 in ACC play), there were some indicators that suggest Penn State could have a chance in this one.
Camp Randall it ain't: Virginia wasn't exactly a guaranteed loss for visitors in 2011; the Cavaliers went just 4-3 at home that year, including a 38-0 stomping at the hands of Virginia Tech when a Coastal Division title was on the line.
Moreover, the Carl Smith Center, Home of David A. Harrison III Field at Scott Stadium (which is the actual name of what the Cavs usually just call "Scott Stadium"), isn't the most formidable place the Nittany Lions will play; the capacity there is 61,500 fans, and the Cavaliers rarely sell the place out. It's usually not even close. This'll be roughly the equivalent of going to Purdue for Penn State.
More like trench bore-fare; am I right, guys: Virginia squashed the Richmond Spiders, 43-19, in its season opener this year, and the game wasn't really that close. Virginia scored the first 22 points of the game and controlled both sides of the ball until garbage time, so yeah, this was a no-doubter.
Still, there were some warning signs. Virginia's top three tailbacks—Kevin Parks, Perry Jones and Khalek Shepherd—combined for 38 rushes (good!), four touchdowns (good!) and 153 yards (not so good!) in the win.
Richmond is not a quality opponent even by FCS standards; the Spiders went 3-8 last year, including a winless conference slate in the CAA. Your top tailbacks should be able to combine for more than four yards per carry against competition like that. And Penn State can right the ship on its front lines by stonewalling this rushing attack.
Every Day Should Be Derek Day: As the 2011 season drew to a close, if you had asked Penn State fans what their reaction would be to a backfield platoon of special teams mainstay Derek Day and true freshman Akeel Lynch, you probably would have been met with tears, anger and accusations that you had done something terrible to Silas Redd.
And yet here we are, and Day and Lynch are pretty much by default the only two options at tailback for PSU, with Bill Belton expected to miss the game with a sprained ankle.
That said, Derek Day runs hard, and that'll be crucial against a Virginia defense that held Richmond to 67 yards rushing on 19 carries—the official stats were 21 rushes and 28 yards, but that factors in two disasters at the snap, including a safety on a punt play that began at the Richmond 26. Yep, 78 feet of fail on one play. If the PSU line can open a seam or two, expect Day to be the one to take advantage.
Yes, but still no: All that said, Penn State's not being given a serious chance by those whose occupations and livelihood it is to project these things. According to VegasInsider.com, the Cavaliers are still favored by 10 points and that line hasn't changed much over the week. Yes, gambling and projection are not the same thing...but they're not exactly dissimilar, either.
So what do you think? Can Penn State even keep this one close? Tell us. We're here to listen.