Even the best teams have vulnerabilities.
Though this Penn State team is the top-seed for a reason and doesn’t seem to have many weaknesses headed into the Final Four, one of them will be staring them right in the face right this Saturday when they take the field at Lincoln Financial Field: an elite face-off specialists.
It’s the biggest reason the Nittany Lions have a single blemish on their otherwise perfect season.
Defenses haven’t found a way to stop the Nittany Lions’ offense. The only time Penn State has come out on the losing end so far this season was an early 14-13 regular season decision against the Yale team they will face this weekend.
In 17 games, frankly, no one has held this offense to a low goal total. About 15 times teams have gotten totally shredded and two times only partially so.
They’ve smashed program and NCAA records and are on an historic pace in many statistics. Unless proven otherwise this Memorial Day Weekend, the 2019 Penn State offense will be put away into the lacrosse world’s collective memories as an unstoppable juggernaut. A group that on its worst game to date, the previously noted 13-goal outing against the Yale, would have outpaced nearly every Division I offense in the country's averages comfortably so.
Now, for lacrosse newbies it’s important to realize they were “held” to 13 goals that weekend not because the Bulldogs defense was outstanding. Rather it was because the Yale face-off unit, led by Tewaaraton award finalist TD Ierlan, operates on another level from everyone else. Ierlan's control at the dot kept the elite players on the Penn State offense from seeing much of the ball, as Ierlan won 25-of-31 face-offs.
This isn’t to say the Nittany Lions are bad at that aspect of the game, they aren’t. Gerard Arceri and the Penn State face-off unit are very good, winning 60 percent of face-offs this spring. But Yale’s unit, sheesh, they’re just on another planet. Led by Ierlan they’ve won 75 percent of face-offs. If Yale is going to win this game and knock the Nittany Lions out of the tournament it is going to start with the Bulldogs absolutely dominating there and winning extra possessions left and right.
Frankly, if Arceri can get a foothold in this game like many feel like he will, it’s really hard to see Penn State not advancing to the National Championship Game. Even if Arceri can’t, coach Jeff Tambroni and his staff with give Jake Glatz a look during this game as well as throwing some long poles out there just to rough Ierlan up if Glatz can’t come away with any.
For Yale, if Penn State plays their games in the offensive and defensive ends but just has way less possessions because of face-off dominance, they have a real shot and this game is a coin toss. If Penn State can get some wins and maybe win a few extra possessions by forcing Yale turnovers with a really good riding game, that’ll just give Grant Ament, Mac O’Keefe and co. more opportunities to go to work and do what they do.
The path to victory for the Bulldogs really narrows down if they come out with the same defense they’ve shown the last few weeks and don't have a massive possession advantage. Offenses not nearly at the same production level as Penn State have taken them apart, so it’d really be a surprise if that didn’t happen again this weekend.
It should be quite the showdown in Philly with a spot in the national championship game on the line.
- Date: Saturday, May 25
- Time: 2:30 p.m. EDT
- TV: ESPN2
- Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia