Run and Shoot: PSU-A&M: Alamo Bowl Preview

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PSU-A&M: Alamo Bowl Preview

SAN ANTONIO, TX -- The 2007 Valero Alamo Bowl brings us an interesting cross-sectional matchup that's full of contrasts. Penn State (8-4) makes a long trip to San Antonio to take on Texas A&M (7-5), which made the 170-mile drive from College Station to play before a partisan crowd that will be an Alamo Bowl record.

Penn State lost three Big 10 road games by a TD or less, including a heartbreaker at Michigan State in their conference finale. The Nittany Lions also enjoy the most coaching stability in the nation, as legendary Joe Paterno has been calling the shots at Penn State since 1966. Tonight will be Paterno's 500th game as the Nittany Lions' head coach. Yep, 500. Wow.

Not-so-legendary Gary Darnell leads the Aggies into the game as interim head coach. A&M had a disappointing season (at least for the first 11 games), as they really weren't even competitive in losses to Miami, Texas Tech, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The Aggies do come into the game with some hitch in their giddy-up, as they shocked hated Texas in their last game. Even that win, however, was not enough to save head coach Dennis Franchione's job, and he resigned later that day. Houston Texans' offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was hired to replace Franchione, but Sherman won't arrive in College Station until the end of the NFL season, so Darnell will move from Aggie defensive coordinator to head coach for this game.


Penn State Nittany Lions

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Not surprisingly, Penn State is led by its defense. The Nittany Lion defenders rank 8th in the nation in scoring defense (17.6), 6th in rushing defense (87.9 per game), 2nd in sacks (3.75 per game), and ninth in total defense (306.6). Despite those lofty rankings, however, the D has been inconsistent, allowing under 200 total yards to three opponents (Florida International, Notre Dame, and Iowa), but getting touched for over 400 twice, including 425 by Michigan State.

Dan Conner is Linebacker U's 2007 valedictorian. The two-time All-American won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player and has totaled 136 tackles in 12 games. Junior Sean Lee is the salutatorian, racking up 124 stops. That's only third time since 1969 that Penn State has had two defenders hit the century mark in tackles. The Nits' other terror is sophomore DE Maurice Evans, whose 12.5 sacks rank 5th in the nation.

The Penn State offense is balanced (2249 yards rushing, 2539 passing), with RB Rodney Kinlaw (1186 yards) most likely to play a starring role tonight. Two-year starting QB Anthony Morelli has no 300-yard games this season, but he'll be facing an A&M pass defense that ranked 104th in the nation, allowing over 264 yards per game.


Texas A&M Aggies

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The Aggies lack star power, as only OL Cody Wallace was named to the All-Big XII first team. QB Stephen McGee, however, is the unquestioned leader of the team. McGee is a wonderful kid from small-town Texas, and seems so perfect with a microphone in front of him that you'd swear he's a fictional character dreamed up by the writers of "Friday Night Lights." He plays with a ridiculous amount of fire and guts and usually has the ball in his hands. McGee has thrown the ball 333 times for 2147 yards, and has carried it a team-leading 173 times for a team-leading 986 gross yards. The Ags are somewhat similar to the Michigan State team that upset Penn State in the Lions' last game. Like the Spartans, the Aggies' meal ticket is their running game and they alternate big (Jorvorskie Lane) and fast (Mike Goodson) at tailback. The 270-pound Lane is tied for the top spot on A&M's career TD list. The blazing fast Goodson suffered a sophomore slump, rushing for only 646 yards after putting up 847 last season on fewer carries.

LB Mark Dodge, a 26-year-old military vet, leads the Aggie D with 108 tackles. Dodge was actually inside the Pentagon on 9/11 when it was hit by the plane.


A&M key

It's a fun matchup of strengths -- the Aggies love to run, averaging 216 yards per game, but Penn State has a run-squashing defense, allowing 216 only once this season. Pass defense is Penn State's weak point, but the Aggies don't pass well, except... Facing a porous Texas pass defense on Thanksgiving, A&M came out chunking the ball like they haven't all year and threw for 362 yards (eclipsing their season high by 115) in a 38-30 shocker. With an interim coach calling the shots, the Aggies have nothing to lose, so don't be surprised if the Aggies air it out again.

Regardless, the Aggies must get off quickly, because Penn State has started slow all season. First quarter scoring has been a draw for PSU, 72-72, but in the second quarter the Nits have blasted their opposition 114-21.


Penn State motivation

Texas A&M is an outstanding university with many strong academic programs, an excellent faculty and a ton of research output. It's also a unique place with more traditions and fan support than possibly any other school in the country. Yet the student leaders of A&M way-too-frequently do something stupid to bring unfavorable attention to the school. Just in the last couple of years we've seen a member of Parson's Cavalry throwing manure on the visiting band, the corp squeezing their jewels on TV, and, well... the "casket" comment at the combined pep rally organized by Alamo Bowl officials tops them all.

To their credit, both the A&M president and the athletic director immediately apologized (as did many Aggie fans), and that Yell Leader was sent home and potentially faces more discipline from the school. And as we expected, classy Joe Paterno only made a joke out of it: "It's some young guy up there and he's trying to be funny and maybe he's accurate. I don't know."

Still, in a relatively meaningless bowl game, you look for something to light a fire, and that comment about their beloved coach may have ignited Happy Valley's version of Bonfire in the PSU locker room.

If it did, look out. The last time these teams met was in the 1999 Alamo Bowl, and the Nittany Lions dominated the Aggies 24-0. If Penn State takes that classless comment to heart, this one could be even uglier, and it could be the 12th Man that ends up in a casket.

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