Lions Season on the Brink After Pounding by Illini at Home

The Nittany Lion 2010 Season is officially on the brink of disaster after Saturday’s punishing defeat at the hands of Illinois in front of the almost 108,000 who had other ideas on what was otherwise a beautiful Saturday Homecoming afternoon in Happy Valley. Saturday’s 33-13 pounding by the Illini left Nittany Lion Nation in shock and asking many questions about the remainder of the 2010 Season.

Although the Lions have several key injuries and other serious problems even where healthy, no one could have predicted that the Fighting Illini, who had not won in Happy Valley since PSU joined the Big 10, would completely dominate both the Offensive and Defensive Lines of Penn State for an entire game. Key injuries to Jack Crawford (foot) Gerald Hodges (knee) and Michael Mauti (ankle) already and game injuries Saturday to Eric Latimore (wrist), Pete Massaro (quadricep), Nicky Sukay (chest) and Andrew Daily (stinger) no doubt have complicated things for an already thin and relatively young Defense. However, that doesn’t make up for continued uninspired, dismal play of Devon Still, Jordan Hill and Kevion Latham along the front D Line, mediocre play from LB’s Chris Colasanti and Nate Stupar and poor play from DB’s Stephon Morris, D’Anton Lynne and Malcom Willis who appeared afraid to hit on more than one play Saturday. Back-ups James Terry and Freshman Daquan Jones demonstrated why they are back-ups as each were slow to the ball and caught standing around or turned around on a number of plays, particularly in the 2nd Half – we couldn’t remember a time in recent PSU history where we witnessed such poor line play from both starters AND back-ups; their play was downright appalling and one more consistent with that of an average Big East or perhaps even MAC team rather than a perennial so-called power such as Penn State.  Is this the best Larry Johnson can recruit? Better yet, if this is the talent he has, is he not capable of coaching up the talent at all? 

The Lion Defense yielded 282 Rushing Yards making Jr. RB Mikel LeShoure and Redshirt So. QB Nate Scheelhaase appear unstoppable most of the day.  Poor tackling and poor pursuit to the ball seemed to be the order of the day for the struggling Lion Defense.

The same inept play continues along the O Line as well which is totally inexcusable for both Bill Kenney, Offensive Line Coach and the starters along the O front.  Kenney should be on the hotseat after what we have observed last year and so far this year, yet it is likely he is not as Joe Paterno remains loyal to a fault to his coaching staff.  His O Line’s performance makes it difficult to evaluate Fr. QB Robert Bolden’s play week in and week out when he continues to be pressured, hit and mamed repeatedly by 300 pound D Lineman beating Penn State O Linemen who consistently wave the red handkerchief like matadors at a bull fight.  The Lions managed only seven first downs against the Illini, the second fewest in Paterno’s 45 years along with only 65 rushing yards and a total of 235 yards of total offense, a season low.   The performance was so poor on Saturday that the Lions managed only FG’s of 28 and 22 yards after recovering fumbled punts on the Illini 23- and 9-yard lines. 

With a bye week ahead, the Lions have much soul searching to do.  Senior leadership has and continues to elude this team the entire season.  It is obvious that neither Evan Royster (who appears to regret returning for his Senior year) nor Stefan Wisniewski (perhaps overrated as a Preseason All American Guard) have demonstrated any leadership capability as evidenced by the fact that neither were selected as team captain for the 2010 campaign and neither appear outspoken to date amidst a disastrous season in the making.  Finally, it’s time to take a very hard look at Joe Paterno and his tenured staff, a group beginning with Johnson, Kenney, the lifeless enigma Galen Hall and continuing with son Jay Paterno who appears to bear no responsibility for the team’s huge failures to date, believing rather the O Line and Running game are the culprits while assuming he gets a pass since he has been dealt the hand of young, inexperienced although poised and talented, Fr. QB in Bolden. Tim Curley bears responsibilty too as the Athletic Director (in title only), allowing an atmosphere of mediocrity to permeate the program while allowing Joe Paterno to continue to control every aspect of the football program thereby allowing the game, business and pageantry of college football to pass this University (and Nittany nation) by, at least for the 2010 season.

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Lion Lines Lackluster in Loss to Hawkeyes

When we previewed the Iowa Hawkeyes, we indicated that the Nittany Lions would have to win the war in the trenches if they were to escape Iowa City with a victory.  However, once again, both the Lion Offensive and Defensive lines were dominated by Iowa.  This is particularly disappointing on the Defensive Line where it appeared the Lions matched up significantly better with the rebuilt Hawkeye Offensive Line. 

What is more disturbing however is the trend that has unfolded over their five games of the 2010 Season.  That is,  neither the Offensive or Defensive Lines have dominated any one opponent thus far this year.  In fact, other than Ollie Ogbu, no lineman on either side of the ball has had consistent, solid play at their position.  Even Stefan Wisniewski has made mistakes at times including Saturday night when he blew a block assignment which resulted in a big hit on Freshman QB Robert Bolden.  Speaking of Bolden, he continues to show his talent and poise despite being hit and chased out of the pocket repeatedly.  Most disappointing Offensively is that with the exception of Chimo Okoli (who replaced injured Lou Eliades at RT), the entire Offensive Line logged significant playing time in 2009 yet has not come close to playing together as a strong unit in 2010.  Yet, media outlets and Penn State homers continue to speak of this group’s youth – not one linemen is a Freshman or Sophmore along that side of the ball.  The loss of two TE’s Andrew Szczerba (before the season) and Freshman Gary Gilliam (Saturday with a torn ACL) has not helped the struggling O Line whatsoever. 

Along the D Line, Jack Crawford, Devon Still and Eric Latimore have been huge disappointments. Both Crawford and Latimore were starters in 2009 (with Still logging big minutes) and have not shown signifcant progress in 2010. In fact, Latimore’s play has been lacking enough to allow Pete Massaro to log more minutes over the past three weeks where he has shown more quickness off the ball.  Devon Still still appears to lack the motivation and every down capability that concerned coaches last year and culminated Saturday with Joe Paterno demanding he be pulled and replaced by Fr Daquan Jones for a spell then others as well to send Still a signal that his continued poor play will not be tolerated. 

Problems exist too at LB where Khairi Fortt and Grayshirt Freshman Glenn Carson saw the field more than any game yet this season.  At Cornerback, Stephon Morris was targeted by Ricky Stanzi and the Iowa Offensive Staff after the Hawkeyes spotted an obvious mismatch with Morris, 5’8″ attempting to cover much taller, top Wide Receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos unsuccessfully – which raises yet another question – why does the PSU Staff continue to recruit smurf-like Corners when most Big Ten teams and national powerhouses line their rosters with 6’2″ to 6’4″ Wide Receivers?  The Lion Coaching Staff has done this for years and the Lions continue to pay the price as a result. 

The Lion performance Saturday night raises many questions for the balance of the season, not the least of which is when will we see marked improvement along both the Defensive and Offensive lines.  With an improved Illinois team visiting Happy Valley this week, a road trip to Columbus in November and a return trip home versus Michigan State to wrap up the 2010 capmpaign, the Lion Coaching Staff must find quick solutions in order to salvage a  difficult and dissappointing season thus far.

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Week 5 Preview – The Iowa Hawkeyes

 

After a very sub-par redzone performance on Saturday vs. Temple, the Lions will likely have another tough week in the trenches against the always dangerous Iowa Hawkeyes.  The defensive line is stacked with a bevy of monsters with all-american defensive end Adrian Clayborne, who has struggled this year with only 15 total tackles and has yet to record a sack this year and Broderick Binns at the other end of the line. The defensive tackles include 6’5″ 297 beast Christian Ballard and 6’4″ 270 pound Karl Klug also includes sack leader Mike Daniels who leads the team with 3. Three of which are seniors while Binns is still a very talented junior. The Hawkeye linebackers will show a duo of seniors in Jeremiha Hunter and Jeff Tarpinian (tackle leader with 32) ; the third linebacker is a junior Tyler Nielsen. Those three will be all over the field and will show different looks at times against a struggling Nittany Lion offense. The corners have proven a little immature at times and are the youngest part of their defense with Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde but they shined at times too. Hyde a sophomore and Prater junior are still learning and will soon be two good DB’s.  More experienced players in that secondary include Tyler Sash coming off of back to back interception-leading seasons and Brett Greenwood. Sash, a superstar in the making is still a junior so we’ll be dealing with him again next year; he is a ballhawk and wherever you look on the field, Sash always seems to be there and Greenwood is just as stellar. This defense has also recorded 5 interceptions from Greenwood, Hyde, Prater, Nielsen, and Binns. After Lou Eliades season  ending injury, the Lion O-Line better step up. And thank goodness Evan Royster showed up against the Owls on Saturday setting a career high in yards because he’d better be ready for these beasts on Iowa’s defensive line and so must freshman Robert Bolden as he will face more pressure than he has yet in his young career.

On to the Hawkeye offense, as Ricky Stanzi leads this team as the starting quarterback. speaking of Stanzi in four games has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards, 9 touchdowns, and just 1 interception. To me, he’s the most underrated quarterback in the country. Leading the team in rushing is sophomore Adam Robinson with 397 yards and behind him is Jewel Hampton with 117 yards. Hampton lost his starting job to a torn ACL after being hyped up to have a big year after superstar Shonn Greene graduated. Two starting receivers are Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, number 15 and Marvin McNutt, number 7. Koulianos has 270 yards on 17 receptions this year. DJK only needs 131 yards and 14 catches to become the Hawkeyes all-time leader in catches and receiving yards. On the other hand McNutt emerged to be a deep threat last year averaging 19.8 yards per catch which is the 4th highest in Iowa history. The starting fullback is Brett Morse and is important to the team as a Iowa fullback typically is to their offense. For the tight ends 6’3″ 248 pound senior Allen Reisner and 6’5″ 247 pound junior Brad Herman. in the middle of the offensive line that isn’t as good as last year’s but is still stellar is coach Kirk Ferentz son James Ferentz at center. At one side of the line at tackle is 6-6, 300, Sophomore Kiley Reiff and at the other anchor is 6-5, 295, Junior. The gaurds on this offense are Julian Vandervelde a senior listed at 6’3 300 pounds and freshman Nolan MacMillan who the Lions will need to take advantage of and send double blitzes at. MacMillan will most likely be attempting to block senior Ollie Ogbu, the defense’s best lineman so far this year.

Opening the Big Ten season with Iowa will be a huge, early conference test. This game will be won in the trenches, an area where the Nittany Lions must show tremendous improvement if they are to escape Iowa City alive.

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Feeling Blue in the Red Zone

 After mustering only a single touchdown and five (5) field goals by Big Ten Special Teamer of the Week Colin Wagner against a mediocre Temple defense, one is left wondering what is going on in the red zone. Is it the play calling? Is it Robert Bolden pressing too hard when the Lions get inside the 20 yard line? Only the coaches and players know for sure.

In the red zone, the Nittany Lions are 11-15 (73%) which appears good on the surface.  There have been a few turnovers down deep with at least two coming against No.1 Alabama. Only 6 of those 11 scores (or 6 of 15 chances overall) resulted in touchdowns. To have a successful season in the incredibly tough Big Ten Conference, that touchdown tally MUST increase rapidly.

Against Temple on Saturday, multiple times the Lions had long drives that did not result in touchdowns. Luckily Wagner is a solid kicker who can covert most of those drives into points. 3 field goals against Temple were under 35 yards meaning that the Lions could not score touchdowns when they got close to the endzone. The lone touchdown came on a short 1 yard run by backup fullback Mike Zordich. The Nittany Lions struggled against Alabama as well but that could be expected as Bama has one of the top defenses in the country.

Bolden, especially against Kent State and Temple, overthrew receivers as he experienced strong pressure and was trying to convert touchdown passes. He has done this numerous times, but that is one of the flaws of starting a true freshman at the most scrutinized position in all of sports. Seeing Bolden’s high number of passes makes you wonder why the coaches do not have a more balanced attack when in the red zone. Against Temple, Evan Royster had 26 carries for 185 yards but no scores. Don’t you think that Royster could get in from say 20 yards out with those kind of numbers averaging 7.2 yards a carry in the game? The playing calling at times has been questionable this year (likely in an effort to protect Bolden perhaps a bit too much) so it would be hard to place all of the blame on Rob Bolden.

We will have to wait and see what happens this week against an experienced and talented Iowa team. Will those field goals turn in to touchdowns or will we be forced to settle for field goals against an outstanding Iowa defense. The Penn State / Iowa game airs at 8 o’clock PM under the lights in hostile Iowa City on ESPN! Be sure to cheer on the Lions and hopefully they can pull out a tough and impressive win in front of a national audience.

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ESPN’s Todd McShay: “If PSU could pick 2 players not to play vs. Alabama, they would be Ingram and Dareus”

Today at Alabama’s weekly press conference, head coach Nick Saban said that it was unlikely that Mark Ingram will play this saturday at home against Penn State (7:00 ESPN). Although you don’t like to hear of anyone having an injury, Mark Ingram’s lingering knee injury is great news for the Lions and their fans.

With the injury of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and the suspension of National Championship Defensive MVP Marcell Dareus, Alabama will be without arguably their 2 best players. Some people would argue that it is still not enough for a monumental upset of a team that has won 25 regular season games in a row, but the arguement could be made that we now have a chance this weekend in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban said it himself in today’s news conference: ” This is a good overall, all around team that doesn’t give you much and that we’re certainly going to have to bring our A-game to be able to do a good job against them.”

Granted, Alabama probably has the best backup running back in the country in Trent Richardson. He is a fast and powerful sophomore that would start at 95% of the programs around the country. And the defense, while it doesn’t return many starters, may be better than last years’ national championship team.

Everyone knows that it is still a long shot to beat the Tide, there is a better chance with the loss of two key players. It will be interesting to watch and hopefully we will somehow pull out with a win (JoePa’s 396th)  on 9/11 in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

ESPN and college football’s premiere pregame show College Gameday will be there and so will the Saturday Night Football Crew in Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, and Erin Andrews! Be sure to watch on ESPN at 7:00!

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Bolden Leads Lions to Victory after Slow Start

  Rob Bolden’s 1st TD pass to SR. captain Brett Brackett!

The Nittany Lion opener versus the Youngstown State Penguins on Saturday was the tale of two halfs.  After a very gutsy first half performance by the Penguins  in which the Penguins took a 1st Quarter 7-3 lead over the Lions, Penn State returned to the field after halftime in high gear and looking like a nationally ranked team preparing for a major road battle next Saturday at Alabama, the top ranked team in the nation. 

The biggest question coming into Saturday’s game centered around how well true Freshman Robert Bolden would perform in his first college start and in front of more than 101,000 in Beaver Stadium.  Those close to the program indicated as late as Friday afternoon that although Bolden would start, no one was sure how long he would remain in the game before a substitution would take place at QB.  Bolden  looked poised and accurate from the start, completing crisp, sharp passes, including 20  and 22 yard pinpoint TD passes to Brett Brackett in the 2nd and 3rd Quarters respectively.  Bolden threw 1 interception in the 1st Half however the INT came only after Derek Moye slipped in the flat allowing YSU LB David Rach to make an easy pick but with no return yards and causing no damage.  The young Freshman from St. Mary’s in Orchard Lake, MI completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and the two TD’s to Brackett who had his best performance as a Nittany Lion.  After focusing on his primary receivers early, most, including Jay Paterno, were impressed with Bolden’s ability to look off primary receivers when covered and find secondary receivers, including Brackett, on his first TD strike (fullback was primary receiver but covered on the play).  Just as importantly, Bolden was able to get rid of the ball at times when he felt pressure without throwing INT’s, something even Daryll Clark struggled with against extreme pressure last year; his incomplete pass to Graham Zug was evidence of this as he threw the ball away in order to avoid a sack and allow Colin Wagner to make his 3rd FG of the 1st Half with no time remaining.  Bolden’s performance Saturday also confirmed reports that he would much rather remain in the pocket and allow pass plays to develop rather than become impatient and look to run, something Terrelle Pryor did often his first 1 1/2 years at Ohio State. 

While Bolden’s performance against YSU was quite impressive by most everyone’s account, both the Offensive and Defensive lines were less impressive, particularly in the 1st Half as neither line dominated FCS Division Youngstown State.  Devon Still, Jack Crawford and Eric Lattimore who were expected to have breakout seasons this year, each had slow starts against the Penguins – the three of them combined for only four (4) tackles all day!  The bright spot along the Defensive line was Ollie Ogbu who played inspired Defense all afternoon at the NG position compiling six tackles, a tackle for loss and a batted down pass. 

In addition to Ogbu along the Defensive Line, the Linebacker play was as good as we predicted this Summer.  Sr. Middle Linebacker Chris Colasanti and first year starter, proved he deserved a starting role as he had a team high 13 tackles and shared a tackle for loss in his first start.  The adjective most used by players and coaches to describe Colasanti after Saturday was “solid.”  Expect very solid play out of Colasanti the remainder of the 2010 campaign.  In addition, Bani Gbadyu (8 tackles), Nate Stupar (3 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack) and Michael Mauti (5 tackles), all looked impressive throughout the game.   Michael Mauti, back from major ACL surgery, was extremely impressive logging much of his time in the 2nd Half; his reaction time and explosiveness to the ball demonstrated he will see increased playing time immediately and soon become a major force on the Defense this Fall. 

The Offensive Line was lackluster throughout much of the 1st half but showed signs of improvement in the 2nd Half, opening holes at times but only creating enough space for Evan Royster to log just 40 yards on 11 carries.  It was far from a dominating performance for this group of Offensive Linemen lead by Stefen Wisniewski, easily the best of the starting five up front.  Coach Bill Kenney will have plenty to work on in preparation for the Crimson Tide this Saturday. 

Finally, Special Teams got off to a great start Saturday with three 1st half FG’s by Wagner (including a 48 yarder), a 100 yard TD Return by Chaz Powell to open the 2nd half and a long Punt Return (although called back) by Devon Smith.  Justin Brown demonstrated sure hands on two punt returns and looks capable of breaking one big sometime this season.  Punt and kick returns were two areas of greatest concern coming out of last season, along with punting; with only 1 punt for 45 yards, it remains to be seen yet if Anthony Fera is the answer or whether work remains to be done in the punting game. 

In sum, after a slow 1st Half start, the Lions managed to put together a solid opening day performance, a 44-14 victory, and demonstrated that Robert Bolden deserved the opportunity to start after only three months on Campus.  Both the O and D Lines were disappointing but not a disaster, rather they have much work to do the upcoming week and SHOULD  improve.  The Linebackers are better than solid and WILL improve each week and become the leaders of this Defense.   Special teams are improved already over 2010 but have bigger tests on the horizon.  The Lions will have a very early opportunity to prove to the nation how talented (and hopefully grown up) this young team is in just one week as they gear up for perhaps their toughest test in ’10 against the country’s top ranked program in Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide next Saturday at 7:00 PM live on ESPN!

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True Freshman Bolden Gets Nod as Penn State’s Starting Quarterback

Check out this article on our True Freshman QB in the Philadelphia Inquirer!

http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/colleges/20100902_True_freshman_Bolden_gets_nod_as_Penn_State_s_starting_quarterback.html

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