As the Massachusetts Minutemen head down to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions this Saturday and try to continue the MAC dominance over the B1G, we chatted with Devon Edwards from fellow SB Nation site Black Shoe Diaries.
Hustle Belt: We know Beaver Stadium is already one of the toughest places to play in the country and with this being the first home game since the NCAA sanctions have been lifted do you expect that the crowd will be even louder and more intimidating than usual?
Devon Edwards: I'd expect a more-excited-then-the-last-few-years crowd if we were playing a Big Ten foe, or a ranked team, but coming off the win over Rutgers in primetime, against a team that hasn't been very good, to say the least, there doesn't seem to be very much anticipation about this one. I mean, we'll still have close to 100,000 fans in attendance, but there's been a frantic effort to sell last-minute tickets, which doesn't seem to bode well. Weird as it is to say, the sanction elimination seems to kind of have been internalized already--people are more amped up about the last-minute comeback in Piscataway than in the fact that we'll get to play in the Outback Bowl.
HB: How has the culture and philosophy of the team changed under James Franklin after he took over for the departed Bill O'Brien?
DE: I have nothing but admiration for what Bill O'Brien did for this program in his two years here, but it's simply night and day. BOB was an NFL coach who saw this as a stepping stone, and Franklin is reveling in the particularly "college" elements of the game. He's having fun with the media, trying to get his mug out there as much as possible, and has really brought a youthful energy as opposed to the professional atmosphere there was under O'Brien--and, to an extent, Paterno before him. The players seem to be having more fun, too--though there's a lot more uncertainty on offense as opposed to the excellent schemes that O'Brien could draw up in his sleep.
HB: What have been the key factors to the Nittany Lion's strong 3-0 start?
DE: The record's unblemished, but Penn State's start has been uneven to say the least. The offensive line has been a position of serious concern--Penn State hasn't yet been able to establish the run, and Christian Hackenberg was running for his life throughout the entire first half last week. That said, it's been Hack's development into one of the best pocket passers in the country that's been instrumental to Penn State's undefeated record thusfar, in orchestrating two game-winning drives in three games. Defensively, the key has been the rapid maturation of a front seven, anchored by all-conference-thus-far shoo-in Anthony Zettel at defensive tackle. Zettel has been a monster through three games, after moving from DE during the offseason.
HB: If there is any chance of UMass pulling the upset what do they need to do/exploit?
DE: Loath as i am to say it, less I jinx the whole thing, if Christian Hackenberg gets hurt, we're pretty screwed. Nobody else on the roster has thrown a pass--and like I said, the run game has been nonexistent. Other than that, Rutgers stuck around and even led late by bringing lots of pressure on Hack and winning in the special teams--and getting a few big plays on offense to counteract the fact that they couldn't sustain many drives. Also, by targeting Trevor Williams--Penn State's #2 CB had a pair of interceptions last week, but has been much more vulnerable than Jordan Lucas across the field and the front 7. That said, if UMass hangs in there until the second half, it will be because they kept the Penn State offense in check. Your best hope is a low-scoring game with lots and lots of punts.
HB: Are you guys scared at all of Austin Whipple, who played at Penn State last year and has since transferred to play for his father at UMass, and what insight he could potentially give the Minutemen about Penn State and some of his former teammates?
DE: I was wondering what that guy was up to! Anyway, I'd be a lot more concerned if O'Brien were still the head coach. Franklin and OC John Donovan have brought an entirely new offensive scheme to Penn State, from the blocking to the route trees. Maybe he can tip the UMass D off to some of the tendencies of the specific players, but I don't think Penn State has much to worry about.