By: Thomas Frank Carr
Coming off a frustrating loss to Minnesota, the Penn State Football team needs a bounce back win badly. They’ve had a rough stretch of games against veteran quarterbacks and good teams. Head Coach Bill O’Brien said that while his team played well, they didn’t play well enough to win,
“In our four losses, the four teams that we’ve played have a 30-8 record. When you play a schedule like that, you don’t have a lot of margin for error, whether it’s coaching or playing.”
Thankfully, the Nittany Lions have a favorable matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers this Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Despite their 1-8 record Head Coach Bill O’Brien says that the team is not going to take their next opponent for granted.
“We don’t have any problem focusing on Purdue. We respect Purdue. I think Coach Hazell is an excellent football coach. It’s just his first year there. Our guys are very focused on this game. With our guys it’s never a matter of focusing on who the opponent is.”
Fans won’t have a similar sentiment on Saturday when the two teams take the field. Purdue has yet to win a Big 10 game and has been outscored this season by 228 points. Their offense is anemic, scoring less than 12 points a game. They also don’t fare very well on the ground, something that bodes well for a struggling Penn State defense.
In many ways this is a matchup of similar teams who have had frustrating seasons. Both Penn State and Purdue are sporting true freshman under center. Purdue quarterback Danny Etling has seen action in five games this year and has started since Purdue played Nebraska on October 12th. On the season, Etling has 819 yards and four touchdowns. The downside is that he only completed 48% of his passes. Statistics like that really throw into sharp relief the success that Penn State quarterback has had this year. Christian Hackenberg is completing nearly 60% of his passes for 2,187 yards and 13 touchdowns. Obviously it’s hard to compare the numbers of the two freshmen because Hackenberg has been the starter since the start of the season and has vastly superior weapons on offense, but it does well to put things into perspective.
It’s not just at quarterback that both teams are young either. Half of Purdue’s roster consists of freshmen. Their last four games were against teams that were 33-3, much like Penn State’s losses this year. Six starters for Penn State have either freshman or sophomore eligibility. Due to NCAA restrictions, they’ve had to play more freshman then they would like to.
“When you’re a true freshman it’s hard. You’ve got to get your classes straight, you’ve got a lot of things going on, and it’s hard to always focus on improving on the field. I think you’ll see a lot of improvement in the offseason with those guys,” O’Brien said.
In a lot of ways that is what the 2013 season has amounted to for Penn State. It’s a year of growth. The same can be said for Purdue.
While coach O’Brien is correct in saying that his team does not have a large margin of error, it certainly seems that they will on Saturday. That being said, Penn State has to take better care of the football and not turn the ball over. They have 16 fumbles on the season and have lost all but four of them. If Penn State can take care of the football and run the ball like they have the past two weeks, they should cruise to victory.
*Injury Update: Ben Klein is officially out for the season with a torn pectoral. He will require surgery.
Make sure to tune into ESPN Radio 1450 for comprehensive coverage of Saturdays match between Penn State and Purdue.
8 a.m. Re-air of Penn State Football show
9 a.m. Penn State Tailgate 2013
Noon: Live broadcast of Penn State versus Purdue
Tailgate 2013 to follow the conclusion of the game.