Alamo Bowl Preview: Penn State vs. Texas A&M

Valero Alamo Bowl
Dec. 29, 5 p.m. PST
Penn State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
San Antonio, Texas
Payout: $2,225,000
Spread: Penn State – 5.5

Quarterback play is often the difference in college football. Even when two hard nosed defensive teams with run-based offenses get together, it’s often the quarterback that makes or breaks the game. This game should be no different.

Penn State’s Anthony Morelli never lived up to the billing but a lot of that has had to do with coaching. He has three versatile weapons in wide receivers Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood but the coaching staff has yet to figure out how to make the most out of their talents. Better hurry up, the three are seniors next year. Had Morelli been in a different offense there’s a chance he would be a Heisman contender but we’ll never know. His arm might go down as one of the biggest wastes of talent in school history.

Teammates feed off of Aggie QB Stephen McGee’s penchant for running the ball and tough demeanor. Again, coaching may have kept him from developing as a passer. Though a lack of capable receivers may have played a role in that, McGee doesn’t throw the ball nearly as much as he should. He has a much better arm than he gets credit for and tight end Martellus Bennett is a superb athlete. If the two can build on their chemistry for next season this has the chance to be one of the best offenses in the Big 12, if not the nation.

The quarterbacks are going to be the focal point of this game. McGee’s ability to run the ball puts the onus on PSU linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee to keep him contained. It’s not an easy task with a backfield that includes speedster Mike Goodson and 270 lb running back Jorvorskie Lane. Connor and Lee will have to be prepared for the misdirection they’re going to see from this offense. They can’t afford to get caught looking in the backfield to find the ball or they’ll get walled off and hit for a big play. McGee’s arm can’t be overlooked here but Penn State’s secondary is athletic enough to play man-coverage the whole game. McGee won’t have much luck going through the air unless the safeties are biting on run-action. That won’t happen if the PSU front seven can stop the run, something they’ve done well all year.

If Morelli can help sustain drives it will give the PSU linebackers enough time to rest and ensure they won’t be worn down by the rugged style the Aggies employ. Morelli is going to have to do more than sustain drives to win this game though. Getting the ball to Derrick Williams is critical in a game like this. His playmaking ability gives them a chance to score on every drive. Using him in the backfield and in more creative ways than simple reverse plays will keep the A&M defense off balance. Show them something they haven’t seen before. There isn’t much talent on the Aggie defense and they won’t be able to shut down Penn State, especially if they have to bring extra defenders into the box to stop running back Rodney Kinlaw, who’s stepped up in the absence of Austin Scott to the tune of 1,186 yards and 10 TD’s.

The coaching situation at Texas A&M has the team on uneven footing. Head coach Dennis Franchione has stepped down and the school has since hired Mike Sherman but he won’t take over until after the bowl game. Interim coach will be defensive coordinator Gary Darnell. This won’t have a major affect on the game but it can’t help the Aggies’ chances of winning.

Penn State’s advantage in talent level gives them the slight edge in this game though if it weren’t for the circumstances regarding the A&M coaching staff this game would have a chance to be a good one. The Nittany Lions should have been outclassing opponents all season long, they’ll make up for it here with a strong showing in the Alamo Bowl.

Prediction:
Penn State 26 – Texas A&M 18

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