By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA post-season kicked off on Dec. 19, with 34 games being played in a three week span. Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwords. The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Capital One Bowl, January 1st, 1:00 PM, Orlando, FL
No. 12 LSU (9-3) vs. No. 13 Penn State (10-2)
The Tigers were expected to be one of the few teams that could possibly knock the Gators from the top. They had their chance after winning their first five games, but even against an ineffective Tim Tebow, LSU suffered their first loss. They won two more in a row, but suffered some inconsistency issues at the end of the season, going 2-2 in their final four to finish 9-3.
LSU struggled offensively, no questions about it. They finished 108th out of a possible 120 teams in overall offense, averaging a mere 309.67 yards a game. The Tigers ranked in the bottom half of ever major offensive statistical category. Senior RB Charles Scott leads the ground game with 542 yards and four touchdowns, but he is questionable at best for the game. In fact, due to injuries, the top running back is converted QB Russell Shepard (277 yards, two touchdowns). Sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson managed well in his first full season as QB, throwing for 1,964 yards and 16 touchdowns. Senior WR Brandon LaFell is his top target, catching 52 balls for 705 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Defensively, LSU holds themselves up a bit better. They’re 28th in total defense (326.58 yards a game) and 12th in points allowed (16 points per game). The primary contributor is Junior LB Kelvin Sheppard, with 103 tackles (8.5 for loss), one sack, and an interception. Junior DE Drake Nevis’s four sacks are a big reason for LSU’s 29th ranked pass defense (192.42 yards a game). LSU gives up plenty of big plays, but they can shut down when necessary. With an inept offense, their defense’s ability to stand up will be key.
About Penn State
The Nittany Lions had a fine 2009 campaign. They stumbled twice, both in the Big Ten, but still managed to win 10 games this season. All 10 wins were by no less than 11 points a game.
Penn State uses the Spread HD formation, a key element that lead their offense to top 40 rankings. The Nittany Lions finished 36th in total offense (412.50 yards per game), and 41st in scoring offense (29.67 points per game). Senior QB Daryll Clark excels in this offense, throwing for 2,787 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season. He also contributed seven rushing touchdowns. Penn State relied heavily on the elusiveness of Junior RB Evan Royster, and he did not disappoint. Royster gained 1,104 yards on the ground, scoring six times.
For as good as the offense is, Penn State’s defense is what dreams are made of. They held opponents to a mere 11.83 points per game (fourth in NCAA FBS), and 277.08 total yards a game (eighth in NCAA FBS). If there was a weak spot, it came from the passing defense, which was 19th with opponents averaging 183.17 yards a game. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year senior DT Jared Odrick is a big reason Penn State is top 10 in sacks (eighth) and tackles for loss (sixth). Odrick led the team with 41 tackles (ten for loss) and six sacks. Senior LB Josh Hull led the team with 110 tackles (8.5 for loss), and contributed two sacks and two interceptions. The amazing abilities of Penn State’s defense makes it tough for opponents to gain ground on them.
LSU is 21-18-1 in bowl games. They are currently riding a four game winning streak in the postseason, as part of a 10-year appearance streak.
Penn State is 26-13-2 in their bowl history. This is their fifth straight bowl game, losing last year’s Rose Bowl to snap a three game winning streak.
The two teams met once, with Penn State beating LSU 16-9 in the 1974 Orange Bowl.
The biggest weakness for LSU is their injury history at running back. They could really use Scott back there, spelling him with Shepard and RB Trindon Holliday. While Jefferson has a number of weapons available in the receiving game, Penn State’s pass rush could force LSU to keep personnel in a protect zone. This would minimize the number of receivers, but give Jefferson more time to throw.
Expect Penn State to neutralize LSU’s blitzing attack with their speed. If Royster can get into the open, he is a threat to score six every time. Penn State gives up a lot of sacks, so if there is pressure, Clark will have single coverage on the outside. It will be important for the Penn State WRs to be on the same page with Clark for hot routes, in order to manipulate the pressure.
Penn State is more consistent, and better defensively. While their offense can be questionable at times, they will hold their own better than LSU. Penn State wins 26-14.