On Saturday, Dec. 29 the Penn State Nittany Lions will roll into San Antonio to take on the Texas A&M Aggies in a battle of teams coming from opposite season finales.
After blowout losses at Oklahoma and Missouri, A&M finished the year with a 38-30 triumph against archrival Texas. On the other hand, Penn State looked to roll over Michigan State in their last game, only to see a 24-7 third quarter lead evaporate.
Both results show a major opportunity for Texas A&M's offense in the Alamo Bowl. That's because Aggie QB Stephen McGee had his best passing game of the year with a sterling 10.1 yard per attempt average during the victory. In Penn State's loss, their pass defense was torched by Spartan QB Brian Hoyer.
Although the Lions succeeded in silencing other pocket passers they faced, such as Wisconsin's Tyler Donavan and Purdue's Curtis Painter, the more McGee-like Kellen Lewis was a different story. The athletic Indiana quarterback threw for 318 yards and three TDs against the Lions.
When A&M has the ball, the big question will be whether or not State can put pressure on McGee. PSU's secondary has shown that they are not good enough to stay with receivers when the quarterback has time to pass. They've had problems against the Big Ten's premier receivers. Both Indiana's James Hardy and MSU's Devin Thomas had monster games against Penn State. Tight end Martellus Bennett, who leads the Aggies in receptions, will look to have a big day.
I know, I know—A&M's big thing is running the ball. That's what they like to do. However, if they want to win the Alamo Bowl, they'll get away from that a little bit to take advantage of PSU's weakness vs. the pass.
It's the same thing Indiana did with Kellen Lewis when they scored 31 points vs. Penn State back on Oct. 20. Usually Lewis throws the ball about three times more than he runs with it, but against the Lions, the Hoosiers had success by running Lewis only nine times and throwing it 48 times. McGee had success in a pass-heavy game vs. Texas. A similar gameplan versus Penn State would be appropriate.
A&M's passing game will be so important because I don't expect their running attack of McGee and running back Jorvorskie Lane to be very effective. Penn State's front seven, including star linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee, are a group of the best run-stoppers in the Big Ten.
When Penn State has the ball, we should see a heavy dose of runs and play-action passes. PSU senior running back Rodney Kinlaw has had a great year, gaining 5.3 yards per run with five 100-yard games. Freshman Evan Royster should also see some carries. He averages 6.1 yards per carry in a more limited role. Most of A&M's opponents have had success running the ball, so look for PSU to take advantage.
While PSU's running game has been a model of consistency in 2007, quarterback Anthony Morelli has been just the opposite. He had a nice three-game stretch vs. Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin when he kept his yards per attempt average in the high sevens, which is pretty good.
After that, Morelli has been mediocre or worse. In the season finale vs. MSU, he completed just 46 percent of his passes. Although Morelli has been a disappointment for Lions fans, he is still capable of making big plays off of play-action, especially when PSU's running game is effective.
Vegas is giving the Aggies five points in this one. I'd lay them, as I think the Lions will win by about a touchdown. Still, it all depends on how the Lions play the pass. Penn State's defensive ends Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines against A&M's O-line will be an important matchup, as will the PSU secondary against Bennett and WR Kerry Franks.
This game is hard to predict because of State's ability to play the pass really well one week (vs. Purdue and Wisconsin) and really poorly the next (vs. Indiana and MSU). Either way, State will be able to run the ball, so I'll take them minus five points.