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Giger's five keys to today's game: O-line, fatigue could doom PSU
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Five things to look for as No. 18 Penn State tries to give Joe Paterno one of the biggest regular-season wins of his career at No. 1 Alabama.
SUBHD: No. 1: Hold the line
Penn State's offensive line struggled opening up running lanes against Youngstown State. If the Nittany Lions are to have any chance, the guys up front will need to come up huge.
It's fascinating how many people have been criticizing running back Evan Royster after last week's 40-yard effort against YSU. He's not the issue.
Every defense PSU faces will load up to stop Royster and the running game until freshman quarterback Rob Bolden proves himself. Unless the offensive line improves drastically, don't count on Royster or anybody else doing much against 'Bama's smothering defense.
Penn State and Alabama were supposed to play this two-year series earlier in the decade, but the Crimson Tide asked to put it on hold.
"I was involved with it," Joe Paterno said of the switch. "The athletic director, Mal Moore, called, and they had just lost 15 or 16 players in some kind of academic -- not academic, but some kind of NCAA violation. And he said, 'You know, our program's down. Can we postpone the series for a couple years so we can get our feet back where we think we should be?' And I said, 'Well, it's OK with me.'"
PSU athletic director Tim Curley was on board with it, too, "So we ended up with this home and home with them now," Paterno said.
PSU (1-0) at Alabama (1-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Line: Alabama by 12
Updated injury/status report: PSU TE Andrew Szczerba (back) is doubtful; keep eye on LG rotation between DeOn'tae Pannell and Johnnie Troutman; Alabama RB Mark Ingram (knee) is doubtful; DE Marcel Dareus (suspended) is out
SUBHD: No. 2: Conservatism
Does anyone really expect Paterno to come on the road against the defending national champs with a freshman quarterback in his second game and first road contest to take a lot of chances on offense?
There's 44 years of tradition that suggests otherwise.
Lots of handoffs and lots of short dumpoff throws, that's what we can expect to see from Penn State's offense.
Oh, and a lot of three-and-outs.
SUBHD: No. 3: Fatigue factor
If the Lions' offense fizzles, the defense will be on the field all day.
This is a good PSU defense that will continue to improve as the linebackers get more experience. But look for the players to wear down having to carry an enormous load as the Crimson Tide pile up 35-plus minutes in time of possession.
Kickoff temperature is expected to be about 90, so the heat issue could hasten the defenders' fatigue. There's also a chance for thunderstorms.
SUBHD: No. 4: No Ingram
Heisman winner Mark Ingram is not expected to play, but Alabama still has a terrific backup tailback in Trent Richardson. The Tide's running game should not lose much.
SUBHD: No. 5: Learning experience
Forget about moral victories. A program like Penn State has no use for those.
But there is the reality of playing well, figuring things out and learning a lot about yourself in games like this. Even if the Lions lose -- and even if it's big -- every player on the team will be better off for this game.
Bolden, in particular, will make more strides experiencing everything he will experience tonight than in 20 games playing a Youngstown State or Kent State.
Prediction: Alabama 37, Penn State 13
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.