December 31, 2009

Capital One Bowl: LSU vs. Penn State

MORE: Bowl schedule/results

Friday's Capital One Bowl matches teams left wondering about what might have been.

Penn State is 10-2 and LSU is 9-3, and both of Penn State's losses and two of LSU's losses came to teams that are playing in BCS games.

The flipside? Each of the Nittany Lions' two losses were by at least 11 points, and both were at home. Both of LSU's losses to teams in BCS games came by at least nine points, with one at home.

Thus, both teams are looking for some sort of redemption in the postseason.

In an effort to make sure his team was ready, Penn State coach Joe Paterno took his team to Florida on Dec. 20 and the players went through almost a week of two-a-day drills before they tapered off a few days before the game. Paterno said he wanted to make sure his team was familiar with LSU.

"LSU does a lot of things different than the people we've played and they do it faster, and we have to adjust to that," he said.

The good news for Penn State is that recent Capital One Bowls have bucked the trend of poor postseason performances by Big Ten teams. Georgia's victory over Michigan State in last season's game ended a four-game winning streak by Big Ten teams in the bowl.

LSU's last appearance in the Capital One Bowl came after the 2004 season, in Nick Saban's final game as Tigers coach. Iowa quarterback Drew Tate hit Warren Holloway on a 56-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game to give the Hawkeyes a 30-25 victory.


LSU rush offense vs. Penn State rush defense: The Tigers struggled to run consistently all season and are down to fourth-string RB Stevan Ridley, who has 33 carries this season. Perhaps LSU coaches will decide to use Russell Shepard in the "Wildcat" formation; Shepard is a game-breaker but has just 45 carries this season. Thanks to an active group of linebackers, Penn State is 10th nationally in rush defense. Even with a healthy complement of running backs, LSU would be hard-pressed to run on Penn State - which has allowed just five rushing TDs.
Edge: Penn State


LSU (9-3)
vs. Penn State (10-2)

WHEN: 1 p.m., Friday.
WHERE: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler will do play-by-play, with Todd Blackledge as the analyst).
THE LINE: Penn State by 2.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: LSU 3-3, Penn State 4-2.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: LSU 34th, Penn State 41st.
BCS RANKINGS: LSU 12th, Penn State 13th.
OFFICIALS: A crew from the Pac-10.
COACHES: LSU - Les Miles (5-2 in bowls); Penn State - Joe Paterno (23-11-1 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: As usual, this matches two of the best teams not in BCS games. This annual Big Ten-SEC showdown usually produces one of the best bowl games each season, and this one should be no different. Since this became a Big Ten-SEC game in 1993, 10 of the games have been decided by 10 or fewer points and only twice has the final margin been at least 20 points.
KEY STATS: LSU is 108th in the nation in total offense, averaging 309.7 yards per game. Penn State is No. 8 in total defense, allowing 277.1 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: There will be numerous top-flight linebackers on the field. For LSU, that means Kelvin Sheppard, Perry Riley, Harry Coleman and Jacob Cutrera, each with at least 74 tackles; for Penn State, it's Navorro Bowman, Josh Hull and Sean Lee, all with at least 80 tackles. Penn State All-American DT Jared Odrick could make some big plays because LSU's interior offensive line has not played all that well this season.
LSU pass offense vs. Penn State pass defense: Sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson has been so-so in his first full season as the starter. He has 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions. One thing in LSU's favor is that it has a good group of receivers. Brandon LaFell is a big-timer, and Terrance Toliver is a good No. 2 guy. TE Richard Dickson also is a weapon. As a group, LSU's wide receivers are criminally underutilized. Though Jefferson has good mobility, LSU has had all sorts of trouble protecting him. Jefferson tends to hold onto the ball too long and takes a lot of unnecessary sacks. The Nittany Lions have allowed just nine TD passes, but six of those came in the final three regular-season games. The Nittany Lions haven't seen a receiving corps as good as LSU's, but a strong pass rush is going to bother Jefferson.
Edge: Even

Penn State rush offense vs. LSU rush defense: Evan Royster has run for 1,104 yards but just six TDs, and he managed just 105 yards in the Nittany Lions' two losses. QB Daryll Clark has some running ability, and he leads the Nittany Lions with seven rushing TDs. LSU's run defense has been OK; the Tigers' defensive tackles haven't lived up to billing, and some opponents have been able to run up the middle on the Tigers. Still, this active and productive group of linebackers are going to make things difficult for Royster.
Edge: LSU

Penn State pass offense vs. LSU pass defense: Statistically, Clark has had a good season throwing the ball - 2,787 yards, 23 touchdowns, 10 picks. But he was a combined 24-of-60 in the two losses, with one touchdown and four interceptions. And those were the only teams he faced in the top 48 in the nation in pass-efficiency defense. LSU is No. 18 in that category. Penn State TE Andrew Quarless is a guy to watch. LSU sophomore CB Patrick Peterson is a rising star, and FS Chad Jones covers a lot of ground and lays the wood as a tackler. The pass rush has been disappointing, though DE Rahim Alem - Jones' brother - has to be accounted for on every pass play.
Edge: LSU

LSU special teams vs. Penn State special teams: LSU K Josh Jasper has a strong leg and is 6-for-8 from beyond 40 yards. P Derek Helton is a good directional punter and had just one touchback in his 42 attempts this season. RB Trindon Holliday is a great punt returner and a solid kick returner. LSU's coverage teams have been excellent. Penn State has been mediocre on special teams. K Collin Wagner is just 11-of-18, including only 4-for-10 from beyond 30 yards. In addition, he has missed his past three attempts. The return units, especially on punts, have been disappointing; the coverage units haven't been good, either. P Jeremy Boone (43.5 yards per kick) has been a bright spot.
Edge: LSU

LSU coaching staff vs. Penn State coaching staff: Les Miles is 4-0 in bowls as LSU's coach, and the wins have been dominant - a 37-point rout of Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl, a 27-point victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl following the 2006 season, a 14-point win over Ohio State in the BCS title game after the '07 season and a 35-point demolition of Georgia Tech in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl. But there's no question his team underachieved on offense this season, and the pressure is on coordinator Gary Crowton. John Chavis is an able hand at defensive coordinator. Penn State coach Joe Paterno has enjoyed great success in the postseason, but his team, too, underachieved on offense this season. Coordinators Galen Hall (offense) and Tom Bradley (defense) are established and among the best in the business.
Edge: Penn State

X-factor: Both teams aspired for more this season, and each had a tendency to play not to lose rather than to win in the regular season. Will that carry over into this bowl game? Let's see if either coaching staff rolls the dice, so to speak, in this one. One other aspect is special teams; LSU looks to have a huge advantage in that department. Watch Holliday on punt returns; he is a game-breaker, and Penn State's punt coverage has been awful (116th in the nation at 14.7 yards per return).

LSU will win if: If the Tigers can mount any kind of rushing attack, their chances for a victory improve greatly. LSU's defense should hold its own, but it's hard to see LSU prevailing in this game if Jefferson has to win it with his arm.

Penn State will win if: The Nittany Lions' rushing attack was shut down in their two losses, and it easily could happen again against LSU. Royster is the key guy; if he can get to 100 yards, Penn State will win.

Olin Buchanan: LSU 27, Penn State 20
Tom Dienhart: Penn State 27, LSU 24
David Fox: Penn State 28, LSU 14
Mike Huguenin: LSU 17, Penn State 13
Steve Megargee: LSU 20, Penn State 10

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for He can be reached at

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