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2008 Opponent Preview: Penn State

Penn State Offense:
QBs
After a couple of underachieving years as the starter, Anthony Morelli has graduated from Penn State, and Jay Paterno is looking for a new player to prevent from improving. Daryll Clark (notable to Michigan fans mostly for being the second QB knocked out by the 2006 Wolverine defense) and Pat Devlin, a true sophomore who had the trademark wasted redshirt year last year (one attempt) will battle for the starting position. Behind them is Paul Cianciolo (the only Nittany Lions QB not to be pwned by Alan Branch in '06), who will serve in a backup capacity. Clark will probably start, as he is the most experienced and mobile signal-caller for the new "Spread HD" offense.

Statistics:
Penn State Quarterbacks Passing 2007
Name
Comp
Att
%
Yds
TD
Int
Yds/Att
Anthony Morelli
234
402
58.21
2651
19
10
6.59
Daryll Clark
6
9
66.67
31
0
0
3.44
Pat Devlin
0
1
0.00
0
0
0
0.00
Penn State Quarterbacks Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Anthony Morelli
48
-13
0
-0.20
Daryll Clark
12
78
2
6.50

Analysis:
Clark has a little experience, and is quite mobile. However, it is easy to question whether he is half the leader that Michael Robinson was the last time Penn State went to a spread offense, in 2005 (answer: no). Devlin is a little-experienced but guru-approved backup who will get the experience to take over when Clark leaves. Quarterback will probably be a liability for the Nittany Lions, but that isn't too different from Morelli's days as a starter.

RBs
Rodney Kinlaw and Austin Scott (who missed much of last aseason after being accused and later acquitted of sexual assault) are both gone, and last year's second-leading rusher, redshirt sophomore Evan Royster, will be the new starter. Taking carries from him will be redshirt freshman Stephfon Green, who was very impressive in the Penn State spring game. Royster is a between-the-tackles traditional Penn State running back, whereas Green is a speedy guy who will try to get to the corner. Other running backs will be Brandon Beachum and Brent Carter.

Statistics:
Penn State Running Backs Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Rodney Kinlaw
243
1329
10
5.47
Evan Royster
82
513
5
6.26
Austin Scott
69
302
6
4.38
Matt Hahn (FB)
15
82
1
5.47
Brent Carter
11
43
0
3.91
Dan Lawlor (FB)
9
37
1
4.11
Nick Pinchek
8
36
0
4.50
Larry Federoff
2
2
0
1.00
Penn State Running Backs Receiving 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Rodney Kinlaw
21
128
0
6.10
Matt Hahn
9
47
1
5.22
Evan Royster
3
18
0
6.00
Austin Scott
2
12
0
6.00
Dan Lawlor (FB)
1
9
0
9.00

Analysis:
A bit of thunder-and-lightning should be a good complement to Penn State's "spread" offense, as long as they can execute it well. Kinlaw doesn't have starting experience, but he is not without some significant playing time in his career. While Green was impressive in the spring game, it remains to be seen whether he can do it in a real game. There isn't a ton of depth behind the two, despite the fact that lots of different guys got carries last year. and they will have to avoid injuries for the Nittany Lions to have effective running from the tailbacks.

Receivers:
The vaunted trio of Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood, and Deon Butler has reached maturation, and 2005's freshman phenoms are in their last year at Penn State. Derrick Williams seems to be a bit of a Steve Breaston-type, with a great first year, then declining production each of the next two. Perhaps he can become an important roleplayer as a senior, much like Breaston did. Norwood is a local boy who earned a scholarship and has gone on to be a successful wideout himself. Deon Butler is the most consistent of the three, and should be the leading receiver for Penn State again this year. Behind the starters, there is almost nobody with either name recognition or playing time. At tight end, Andrew Quarless is perpetually suspended, and it is unclear at this point wwhether he will even be on the team come fall. If the junior is off the team, junior Mickey Shuler will take over the starting role.

Statistics:
Penn State Receivers 2007
Name
Rec
Yds
TD
Yds/Rec
Deon Butler
47
633
4
13.47
Derrick Williams
55
529
3
9.62
Jordan Norwood
40
484
5
12.1
Terrell Golden
30
335
3
11.17
Andrew Quarless (TE)
14
205
2
14.64
Chris Bell
7
143
0
20.43
Mickey Shuler (TE)
7
91
1
13.00
Graham Zug
1
8
0
8.00
Penn State Receivers Rushing 2007
Name
Att
Yds
TD
Yds/Att
Derrick Williams
16
101
1
6.31
Jordan Norwood
4
23
0
5.75
Deon Butler
1
-11
0
-11.00

Analysis:
Can the Penn State receivers match the production of their freshman season? They may need to exceed it with a less proven running game in 2008. If Williams can accept a role, and allow the other two seniors to be "the guy," I think Penn State's success at receiver is dependent only on the ability of the quarterback to get them the ball. One potential problem is a lack of size. Terrell Golden and Chris Bell were the only receivers standing greater than 6 feet, and both are no longer with the team. The Nittany Lions like to get the ball to their playmakers in the backfield as well, and opportunities may increase with a move to Spread HD.

Line:
Penn State returns its entire offensive line, and there is enough talent in the trenches to still have a position controversy of sorts. Senior left tackle Gerald Cadogan was honorable mention all-conference last year. Redshirt senior left guard Rich Ohrenberger started every single game, while getting second-team all-conference honors. Center AQ Shipley returns for his senior season after a junior campaign in which he was named 1st-team all-conference. At right guard, redshirt senior Matt Lucian, who started most of the season last year, will battle true sophomore Stefen Wisniewski for the starting position. At right tackle, redshirt junior Dennis Landolt started each game last year.

Analysis:
The left 3/5 of the offensive line returns with all-conference honors of some sort from 2007, while the remaining two linemen will be returning starters (or a true sophomore who beats out a returning starter). The line is very strong, particularly on the left side. I would expect the Nittany Lions to be able to create holes in the running game, as well as protect the quarterback from being sacked, especially on account of Daryl Clark being able to make plays with his feet.

Offensive Analysis:
Strengths: Line, WR.
Weaknesses: QB, RB.
The spread seems to be a good offensive fit for Penn State to make the most out of its talent, though they'd better not put too much pressure on Daryll Clark. I don't think they'll put up big numbers, but they should be able to do what it takes to win most of the time. Since the defense may be strong enough to get some wins on its own, look for a performance similar to 2005. The only concern I have is the lack of a true leader, unless one of the WRs can step up.

Penn State Defense:

Defensive Line:
Junior Maurice Evans was 1st-team all-conference last year, and returns at one of the defensive end spots. On the other side is senior Josh Gaines, who started every game last year. Backing up the defensive ends are highly-regarded redshirt freshman Devon Still and moderately-less-regarded sophomore Aaron Maybin. At defensive tackle, troubled Chris Baker is off the team for a variety of transgressions. Junior Phillip Taylor was suspended for the spring, and junior Jared Odrick missed much of last season with injury. Those two are expected to start, with Ollie Ogbu the first off the bench as a sophomore.

Statistics:
Penn State Defensive Line 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sacks
Maurice Evans
54
21.5
12.5
Josh Gaines
40
5
2.5
Chris Baker
37
8
4.5
Phillip Taylor
20
6.5
3
Ollie Obgu
18
10
1
Jared Odrick
16
4
2
Aaron Maybin
12
4.5
4
Abe Koroma
7
.5
0
Tom Golarz
2
0
0
Chris Rogers
1
0
0

Analysis:
The turmoil along the front four (Baker's removal from the team, Taylor's spring suspension) could mean this unit lacks a bit of cohesion early in the year. Evans will be a pass-rush specialist, with the other three more of run-stuffers. This is an experienced defensive line that should be able to produce, especially by their 8th game. They didn't lose much from last year, and should excel in '08.

Linebackers:
Dan Connor is off to the NFL, while Sean Lee will spend all year in the training room. This means that Penn State must replace linebackers at two positions, while senior Tyrell Sales will return as the starter at one OLB spot. The other two positions will likely be filled by Bani Gbadyu, a sophomore who got playing time in every game last year, with true sophomore Chris Colasanti, who got little playing time in 2007, filling in at the all-important middle position. Jerome Hayes, Andrew Dailey, and Navorro Bowman are the primary backups.

Statistics:
Penn State Linebackers 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Sack
Int
Dan Connor
145
15
6.5
1
Sean Lee
138
10.5
3.5
1
Tyrell Sales
50
5.5
3
2
Josh Hull
18
.5
0
0
Jerome Hayes
17
3
0
0
Navorro Bowman
16
2.5
1
0
Dontey Brown
6
.5
0
0
Bani Gbadyu
6
1
0
0
Chris Colasanti
3
0
0
0

Analysis:
It's hard to imagine linebacker being a point of weakness at Penn State, but with the two top tacklers from last year's team (and the entire conference) gone, this may be the case. Colasanti will have to step up big time to preserve the tradition of LB U, and Gbadyu should fill his outside spot well. With the Lee injury, depth should be a concern, but PSU stockpiles linebackers very well.

Defensive Backs:
Corner Justin King left early for the NFL, but he is the only key defensive back to be leaving the Nittany Lions. Senior safeties Anthony Scirotto and Tony Davis return, as does corner Lydell Sargent. Junior A.J. Wallace was the primary nickel last year, and he will be the only starter who isn't a senior. The nickel will be assumed by junior Knowledge Timmons, also the first corner off the bench. Devin Fentress is the other backup at corner. The safeties are backed up by senior Mark Rubin (who got several starts last year) and redshirt freshman Nick Sukay.

Statistics:
Penn State Defensive Backs 2007
Name
Tackle
TFL
Int
Lydell Sargent
70
1.5
2
Anthony Scirotto
65
1
3
Justin King
49
0
2
AJ Wallace
33
0
1
Mark Rubin
32
1
0
Tony Davis
29
0
1
Jason Ganter
9
0
0
Knowledge Timmons
5
0
0
Brendan Perretta
5
0
0
Willie Harriott
4
0
0
Devin Fentress
3
0
0

Analysis:
King was a first-team all-conference performer, but Penn State fans largely believe that he underachieved in his junior year. The other three starters return, and Penn State should have some pretty good cohesion in the back. Scirotto was a pretty good playmaker last year, intercepting balls when he wasn't busy rounding up a posse to regulate on somebody's apartment party. The Nittany Lions look for him to continue this, and they should be successful this season. My one worry from last year was that a corner, not a safety, was the leading tackler in the secondary, but it can be partially explained by the fact that different free safeties started.

Defensive Analysis:
The secondary is very strong and the defensive line has a great playmaker in Maurice Evans. This definitely appears to be a Penn State team that should be able to stop teams from passing on them. With a bit of uncertainty along the defensive line, however, and the lack of the Big Ten's top two tacklers from 2007, the vulnerabilities will definitely be in the run game. The Penn State OLBs are pretty quick, which should slow down the zone-read option game, but the MLB is completely green, so the inside run game may be able to have some success.

Special Teams:

Kevin Kelly returns for his senior campaign as the Nittany Lions' kicker. Junior Jeremy Boone punted for Penn state last year, and despite uninspiring results, should return for 2008.

Statistics:
Penn State Kicking 2007
Name
FGM
Att
%
Long
XPM
Att
%
Kevin Kelly
20
26
76.92
53
44
45
97.78
Penn State Punting 2007
Name
Punts
Yds
Avg
Jeremy Boone
59
2538
43.02

Analysis:
The kicking game will be a strong point for Penn State. In returns, AJ Wallace and Derrick Williams make up one of the most formidable units in the country.

Overall Analysis:
It's easy to see why Penn State is projected near the top of the Big Ten. They return several players from one of the best recruiting classes in their recent history. However, there is also a lot of uncertainty for the Nittany Lions. The quarterback is relatively inexperienced, as are their running backs. The offensive line and receiving corps will have to help them out a lot. On defense, the linebackers appear to be the weak point - very odd in State College. If a few things break Penn State's way, they can challenge for the BCS.

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“2008 Opponent Preview: Penn State”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    Tim,

    I appreciate the write-up. I am a Penn State fan (I ran into this by accident). There are a few corrections, although I am not arguing with your basic theme.

    1. Losing Morelli is addition through subtraction. Either Clark or Devlin (or both) has to be better than Morelli.

    2. Kinlaw has graduated. You may have meant to say Royster in your RB notes, but said Kinlaw.

    3. I think you are wrong about the DL. Turmoil is minimal, and more a carryover from 2007 than anything recent. Baker and Taylor will be back, but without them the DL is absolutely loaded.

    4. Boone was much more than uninspiring. He was very, very good last year, although he seemed to fade some as the season went on.