LINCOLN — Penn State coach James Franklin calls the practices “Silent Fridays,” a walk-through workout in which the only voices that can be heard are those of PSU coaches. Players don’t say a word as they prepare for every situation they might see in a game.
Judging by online reports, few fans or media knew this before HBO aired one of its “24/7” segments as the Nittany Lions prepared for Purdue.
“On Friday, I want to make sure everybody is completely locked in,” Franklin said on the program. “No talking. Echoing the situation so we’re all on the same page. We come out and do every situation that may come off in the game. Confidence is built off of — probably the most important ingredient is preparation.”
One can’t argue with PSU’s preparation. The Nittany Lions have dominated all but one opponent and allowed 37 points this season. They average five sacks per game, 47 points per game and 7.22 yards per play. Pretty good for a program that has lost many of its best players from the excellent 2016 and 2017 teams.
Early-season returns can be misleading, of course. In 2016, Penn State had two losses in September. It then went to overtime with a better-than-you-think Minnesota team and the usual chatterers were chattering about Franklin’s job security. But the Nittany Lions rattled off nine straight wins and the Big Ten title. Last year, PSU started 4-0, then lost four of its last nine.
In 2019, Penn State (5-0, 2-0) scheduled softly in nonconference — yeah, Pittsburgh is 4-2 but it beat Delaware by three — and drew Maryland and Purdue to start Big Ten play. Anything less than 5-0 would have been a disappointment.
Here comes the meat of the slate: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota in a row. The Gophers could be undefeated when the Nittany Lions come to town Nov. 9.
Penn State and Iowa have played some classics — the Hawkeyes dealt the 2008 Penn State team its only regular-season loss — but the Nittany Lions are on a five-game winning streak in the series, including the 21-19, final-play thriller in 2017. Saturday’s tilt won’t have quite that drama, but it’ll be close. Penn State is a three-point favorite. It’ll also be low scoring.
By game’s end, I predict Kinnick Stadium isn’t quiet. Not at all.
No. 17 Iowa 21, No. 10 Penn State 17
Other Big Ten picks
Michigan State (4-2, 2-1) at No. 8 Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0)
2:30 p.m, BTN
This line surprises me. MSU has a better defense than Northwestern. A better offense, too. And Wisconsin is still the same Wisconsin team it was a few weeks ago. The Badgers have terrific metrics, thanks to awful nonconference opponents, but this game is close.
Line: Wisconsin by 10½
My pick: Wisconsin 21, Michigan State 17
Nebraska (4-2, 2-1) at Minnesota (5-0, 2-0)
6:30 p.m., FS1
Line: Minnesota by 7½
I’d put the Gophers on par with Colorado in terms of depth and extent of talent. Maybe Colorado had a little more. The Nebraska team that went to CU, though, was healthier than the team headed to Minneapolis.
My pick: Minnesota 28, Nebraska 21
No. 16 Michigan (4-1, 2-1) at Illinois (2-3, 0-2)
11 a.m., ABC
Michigan won’t show a lick of mercy. Nope. Jim Harbaugh gets a few games like this each year where he can and will drop 50.
Line: Michigan by 23
My pick: Michigan, 51 Illinois 10
Rutgers (1-4, 0-3) at Indiana (3-2, 0-2)
11 a.m., BTN
The Scarlet Knights’ best offensive player, Raheem Blackshear, is choosing to redshirt the rest of this season after playing in the first four games. Rutgers’ interim coach — who will not be the next head coach — is allowing him to work with the scout team. What a lesson for his teammates.
Line: Indiana by 27½
My pick: Indiana 45, Rutgers 9
Maryland (3-2, 1-1) at Purdue (1-4, 0-2)
11 a.m., BTN
The Boilermakers can’t afford another loss or the bowl chances go pretty much bye-bye. After he was sacked 10 times by Penn State’s defense — I mean, good Lord — Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer may want to go bye-bye.
Line: Maryland by 3½
My pick: Purdue 27, Maryland 23
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