The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: One of the premier matchups on the 2010 college football docket takes place in Tuscaloosa this weekend, as the top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide square off against the 18th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions.
Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions made light work of FCS foe Youngstown State in the season-opener last weekend in Happy Valley, disposing of the Penguins in a 44-14 rout. Paterno, who is all-time winningest coach in FBS history, is closing in on 400 career victories, as his record stands now at 395-129-3, in this his 45th year at the helm at PSU.
Nick Saban's resume isn't quite as long as Paterno's but is still impressive nonetheless, at 120-50-1. Saban has two national titles under his belt, including leading the Crimson Tide to a perfect season and national championship in 2009. The Tide opened the year without the services of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, but that did little to stop Alabama in a 48-3 whipping of San Jose State.
These two powerhouses are meeting for the first time in 20 years. Alabama leads 8-5 overall, but the Nittany Lions won the last meeting, a 9-0 shutout in Tuscaloosa in 1990.
It was certainly a day to remember for Penn State fans, as freshman QB Rob Bolden delivered a record-setting performance against the Penguins, completing 20-of-29 passes, for 239 yards and two TDs. It was the best passing day for a Nittany Lion true freshman starter in school history. Bolden was also the first true freshman to begin a season under center for PSU since 1992 (Wally Richardson). Senior WR Brett Brackett was clearly Bolden's go-to-guy in the opener, as the 6-3 senior hauled in eight balls, for 98 yards and both scores. The passing attack certainly took top billing, as All-American candidate Evan Royster, managed a mere 40 yards rushing on 11 carries. Usually a potent rushing team, Penn State amassed just 132 yards against YSU. That number would be a welcome sight this week against a stout Alabama defense.
The Penn State defense must replace several standouts from last year's squad, but looked strong in the season-opener just the same, showing equal disdain for the run (75 yards) and the pass (189 yards). Senior linebacker Chris Colasanti led the defense with 13 tackles in the game. Fellow senior LB Bani Gbadyu was a distant second with eight stops. A veteran-laden LB corps is completed with senior Nate Stupar, who finished with just three tackles, but that included the lone sack in the game for Penn State.
Paterno is clearly impressed with what Alabama brings to field each and every week.
They've got great speed, got wonderful skill people and they have a quarterback (Greg McElroy), I don't know if he's ever lost a college game. They play with enthusiasm. I know they are breaking in a new kicker but other than that they are fairly experienced. I know they've lost some people but they've got some people who've played. May not have been starters and they're extremely well coached. Nick's done a heck of a job with them. They come at you all day. They have talent, they're well coached and they love to play and I think that combination's tough."
Alabama's Heisman winner was not in uniform against San Jose State, but that didn't stop the Crimson Tide from moving the football at will against the Spartans. In fact, the team churned out a whopping 591 total yards, amassing 30 first downs and posting 48 points. The ground game without Ingram, still found its way to 257 yards on 6.3 yards per carry. Redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy got a chance to shine and made the most of it, taking 13 carries for 111 yards and two TDs. Sophomore Trent Richardson also scored twice and averaged 6.6 yards on his 10 carries. Junior Demetrius Goode (6.0 ypc) got in the act as well. Ingram is listed as questionable this week (knee), but the backfield is obviously full of talented runners that can assuage the loss if necessary and Richardson in particular is someone Saban knows he can count on.
"Trent has always been one of the guys that is on the leadership counsel around here. It really doesn't have anything to do with being a starter. I think he is that kind of person. He has a lot of competitive character. He makes a lot of good choices and decisions about what he does. He sets a good example for other people. He's caring, he will engage and inspire with his example. He has always been a leader on our team, especially this year, regardless of whether he starts or not."
The ground game wasn't the only area that Alabama found success at last week, as QB Greg McElroy led a passing attack that went for 334 yards. McElroy completed 13-of-16 passes, for 218 yards, giving way to A.J. McCarron (9- of-14, 116 yards) when the game got out of hand. Standout WRs Julio Jones (six receptions, 93 yards, one TD) and Marquis Maze (three receptions, 68 yards, one TD) were heard from as well.
Alabama's defense was without one of its leaders as well, as end Marcell Dareus sat out the opener due to suspension. He will also miss this contest, but is eligible to return on the 18th against Duke. His absence was not costly against SJSU, as the Tide picked up right where they left off last season, with dominant play on the defensive side of the ball. The Spartans managed a mere three points and failed to do much on the ground (89 yards) or through the air (86 yards). Freshman LB C.J. Mosely led all defenders with seven stops in the opener. He also had a team-high three PBUs. Fellow LB Chris Jordan was a close second with six stops, followed by CB DeQuan Menzie's five tackles.
At full strength, this defense will once again be nasty, as players like Dareus, LB Dont'a Hightower and strong safety Mark Barron all have All- American potential.
Saban understands the task at hand with Penn State.
"This is going to be a great matchup of two really prestigious programs. One thing when you play Joe Paterno-coached teams, which we've had some experience doing, they do a great job of executing, they don't give you much, they really kind of win on effort, toughness, execution and discipline. I don't think this team is any different. They were very impressive last week in beating Youngstown State. They have established systems on offense, defense and special teams that their players really understand and do a good job of executing."
Still, sending a freshman QB into the pressure-cooker that is Tuscaloosa is a gutsy call, one that Joe Pa isn't about to second-guess, despite the unknown.
"If I knew the answer...well, we're going to do it. I don't know how we're going to handle it. I hope we go down there and we realize it's one of those opportunities. You only get so many in a college career. Most of these kids will not be pro players. They'll go down and enjoy it, understand you're playing against one of the best college teams we've ever played against. But just go out and do what you can do. Do it as well as you can do and try to learn, and I think we will learn from it. I think the point you start with is the fact that it's going to be a big hostile crowd. Again, that's part of it. That's why you come to places like Penn State because you have opportunities to play in games like this. That doesn't mean a miracle's going to happen. We come home and we'll be better having played the game and we'll go on from there."
The Nittany Lions better find a way to get Royster going, or Bolden may not be able to escape this contest in one piece. Look for Alabama to simply wear down Penn State on both sides of the football, en route to a double-digit victory.