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!