On just the second week of the season, Penn State is going to try to get the lion in its den. They’re going to bring a true freshman quarterback, Rob Bolden, into one of the loudest stadiums in college football and hope he can keep it together well enough to give his team a fighting chance. That’s about all Penn State fans can hope for when the Nittany Lions square off against the Crimson Tide Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
However, the Nittany Lions are not without weapons. One weapon who absolutely must get going early is All-American running back Evan Royster. He had a disappointing performance last week against Youngstown State, managing only 40 yards on 11 carries. Both the offensive line and Royster are going to have to play at a much higher level to break through against a much tougher Alabama defense.
Bolden, however, set a record last week for the best performance by a Penn State true freshman in the history of the program, throwing for 239 yards on 20-of-29 passing. But last week’s environment was far more favorable for concentration than the mad house that he’s going to face this weekend. No doubt, Joe Paterno knows this and will have the kid as ready as he can be, but there’s no way to completely simulate that kind of chaos. Penn State needs to get Royster going to take some pressure off Bolden, or he’s going to be in for a long Alabama evening.
Alabama is facing a few problems of its own, with Heisman winner running back Mark Ingram out with a knee injury and defensive end Marcell Dareus sidelined with a suspension. Nonetheless, they managed to thoroughly annihilate San Jose State without either of those two contributing, so they look to be in pretty good shape come Saturday. Without Ingram, they still ran for 257 yards split between three backs, with the most going to red shirt freshman Eddie Lacy at 111 yards for two touchdowns. In the air, they were unstoppable, putting up 334 yards between the starter McElroy, who threw for 218 of them and A.J. McCarron, who threw for 116 and had a fine showing himself. All the while, their defense let up three points, giving up 89 yards on the ground and a paltry 86 through the air. They’re going to be facing a Joe Paterno offense Saturday, though, and they don’t generally make many mistakes.
The question then becomes: can a young Penn State squad step up and play up to Alabama’s level? And if so, for how long? For some teams, you might ask whether they will underestimate the competition, but not with a Nick Saban squad. Look for Alabama to take care of business, but it might get a little interesting along the way.
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