Even if the Nittany Lion players refuse to admit it, next week's game at Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines and kick off the Big Ten Conference schedule is highlighted on their calendar and at the forefront of their minds. In the meantime, however, the team prepares to take on the Buffalo Bills, coming off an impressive win at Temple.
Allowing a mere negative four total rushing yards in the team's first two games, Penn State heads into their matchup with Buffalo with its defense at the forefront, not its overly scrutanized quarterback Anthony Morelli. Statistically ranked amongs the top defenses in the nation thus far in the season, Penn States daunting defense, specifically its linebacking core, will dominate Buffalo's lackluster offense. Mustering up just 235 total yards and 3 points against Rutgers two weeks ago, the Bulls will have a significanlty tougher time against this infinitely better Nittany Lion defense.
Contrary to preseason speculation, the Penn State defense is clicking on all levels. After losing Tamba Hali Ed Johnson and Jay Alford from the front four over the past two seasons, many critics speculated that the defensive line would struggle for the Lions. However, this has not been the case as the "big uglies" have been applying constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and piling up sacks "Linebacker U" as the position is nicknamed in Happy Valley, have lived up to expectations as a Penn State linebacker has received the honor of Defesnive Player of the Week each of the past two weeks. While the secondary has not truly been tested yet, they have yet to allow a passing touchdown. Look for the success to continue against the Buffalo Bills and a goose egg to appear on the scoreboard at game's end.
While the team boasts one of the top defenses in the nation, the offense has yet to truly shine on a consistant basis this season. Although the unit rolled against Florida International, scoring 59 points, the running attack was shut down until the second half. Similarly in the white-out game against Notre Dame, the Lions, specifically starter Austin Scott, struggled to move the ball at all on the ground in the first half. While the offensive line made adjustments at half time and propelled the runningback to successful performances in both games, there is still much to be left desired in the ground game.
Despite the running game's apparent first half struggles, they have received little media pressure. The passing game on the other hand, has received much criticism. Coming off an impressive week one performance against Florida International, in which he set a record for first half passing yards, quarterback Anthony Morelli struggled mightily against the Fighting Irish. He completed just 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards and an interception on the first drive of the game returned for a touchdown. He missed wide open receivers and simply overlooked others. He showed signs of greatness as he has in the past with a long completion to Chris Bell. However, his vast inconsistancy from game to game and drive to drive leaves questions if his possible ineffectiveness will hurt the Nittany Lions chances against Ohio State and Wisconsin later in the season. Morelli should have a strong showing in this game however as Buffalo's defense is nothing to be reckoned with.
This game appears to be a great mismatch in which Penn State will try to get its ground game going in the first half, a feat that it has been unable to do thus far in the season. As long as the Nittany Lion players come ready to play and not overconfident, this should be a blow out win for Penn State and continue the momentum gained from last week as the Paterno-led Lions head into Anne Arbor.