Wednesday, July 26, 2006
A SOMEWHAT OBLIGATORY ASSESSMENT OF: PENN STATE
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wherein SMQ turns over the subjects of his final week of non-binding previews to the will of torch-toting, pitchfork-wielding mobs of popular demand and an uncensored comments section.
- - - - -
In '05, a nation turned its lonely eyes to stunning Penn State - now, on with the regularly scheduled program
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 30-27 (19-21 Big Ten) - 2005: 11-1 (7-1 Big Ten, Champs), Won Orange Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 9 (5 Offense, 4 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Initial thoughts veer from OMG NO MICHAEL ROBINSON to OMG NO OL, but we'll return to the attrition in a moment.
What's really changed around here is the suddenly terrifying OMG SPEED on offense, born of an influx of high-fallutin' freshmen that overhauled a stodgy, no-threat attack into a 21st Century ICBM overnight. Alpha recruit Derrick Williams got most of the early highlights before an injury against Michigan, and probably will again very, very soon, but it was redshirt Deon Butler - 9 TDs, 18 yards per on 37 grabs - who brought home more bacon. There's also Jordan Norwood (32 catches) and Chris Gamble-like Justin King, self-procalimed 40-yard champion, who averaged 12.6 and scored twice on 28 offensive touches before moving over and assuming his role as cornerback of death. Or, you know, making 11 tackles. But this year: death corner.
WHAT'S THE SAME: A) Half the coaching staff has been on recruiting trips to a velociraptor's den (2.13 40, **** VHT!!!), and B) the linebackers have only seemed like flesh-eating beasts out of the Gobi Desert of the late Cretaceous to Big Ten offenses the last two years. Assuming Ohio State's torch for veteran Caucasian linebacking ferocity, Paul Posluszny, Dan "Special Ed" Connor and Tim "Don't Call Me Jim" Shaw have led the iron fist responsible for holding opponents to 2.5 yards per carry last year - and that includes holding Ohio State (Smith-Pittman) to 2.3, Wisconsin (Calhoun) to -0.3 and Florida State (Washington/Booker) to 1.0. Bemoan the loss of Tamba Hali, Matt Rice and Scott Paxson if you must, and their absence is going to affect the pass rush, without a doubt, but this trio is not the type to require heavy, all-conference-caliber shielding to do its job.
AND THE ATTRITION?: It was helpful, of course, that the relative success of all the shiny new fasties at receiver was heavily subsidized by a less-lauded but more consistent, no-nonsense running game that finished second in the league. The status of that part of the show, however, is in major flux: four experienced offensive linemen are gone, and with them all-purpose terror Robinson, who turned a journeyman role into a fourth-place Heisman finish and effectively takes along one major component of the offense (the shotgun spread, read option looks installed almost entirely to take advantage of Robinson's running ability, of which more statuesque Anthony Morelli will likely see very little). Not that Tony Hunt can't and didn't have plenty of success from conventional power and one-back sets, but the availability of space in front of him is far less assured than in '05. The only real positive here, unless Morelli and the new lineman just unexpectedly rock, is that the new QB is better suited to get the receivers going on a more consistent basis than the old one.
- - - - -
I know you want to toughen up the newbie and all, but practicing in a parking lot? That's extreme, Paterno. That's old school. That's why you're The Man.
TAMBA HALI'S LOST AND GONE FOREVER: It would be wrong to suggest, as SMQ nearly does above, that the D-line and secondary, seven new starters between them, are not mammoth concerns. The defensive line trio mentioned earlier and every member of the secondary - most notably underrated Alan Zemaitis, Chris Harrell and Calvin Lowry - have bid adieu, leaving a new starter who transferred from Rice and, in the secondary's case, three new starters who were recruited at other positions. For all the passes the linebackers themselves broke up last year (13 as a group), it will do them little good if there's no pass rush and/or the many blazing receivers PSU is set to face are not adequately covered. His hype and freshman experience suggest King ought to be all right, but there's nothing yet - other than the fact they play for a traditionally very competent program - to recommend the others.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Morelli and Norwood completely freaked out during the Spring game, with the former completing 13 of 16 with a score and Norwood hauling in 8 for 154. Derrick Williams had 58 yards on three catches. This would be excellent if it came against PSU's starters; yet, as the Lions seemed to have gone Team Starters vs. Team Backups on both sides of the ball, fans ought instead be wondering: how'd he also throw two picks, both to new D'Brickashaw Onyenegecha Award Watch List addition Knowledge Timmons? The defense did its job and the Blue was victorious, 17-0.
REASON FOR HOPE: OMG Speed, love the linebackers.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Both lines are seriously depleted, which can mean disaster is nigh. Very little margin for error, as usual, in the Big Ten.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, LITERARY, POLITICAL OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Frank Sinatra. The definition of the old school standard bearer who's watched the times pass him by, and everything that's cool about those glories days, but not immune from gradually fading into disrepair amidst endless farewell and comeback tours, either.
- - - - -
Fighting vainly the old ennui
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING...: Reversion to the mean: seven wins, much-maligned December bowl. Was '05 just the last spectacular hurrah for an experienced, determined and previously underachieving group of seniors? Whither the line play? The Big Ten is a bitch that can string up the king and leave him shirtless on the side of the road, and each of PSU's last two winning years has been followed by the fairly horrendous performance that's characterized this program this decade. It hasn't achieved back-to-back winning seasons since 1998-99. That will almost certainly change, but not in an overwhelming way. Anything resembling a BCS repeat seems basically out of the question.
- - - - - -
PREVIOUS SOMEWHAT OBLIGTORY ASSESSMENTS:
July 25: Texas
REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii...June 8: Virginia...June 10: Rice...June 11: Boise State...June 14: Tulane...June 18: Oregon...June 21: Colorado...June 24: South Florida...June 26: Fresno State...June 30: Minnesota...July 2: UAB...July 7: Virginia Tech...July 9: Michigan
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
- - - - -
Otherwise, a fair analysis.
I'm not sold on him yet, but I hop to be Sept. 9.
As far as the OLine goes I think that they will struggle early but after OSU they will be fine. Unlike years past where the Oline struggled, PSU now has a balanced attacked. In 03 and 04 PSU had no receivers (and a QB with a suspect arm) so teams would stack the box on them, dare them to pass, and blitz relentlessly.
Morelli will be a good QB and might have the best arm I have ever seen. He has made throws that I have only seen in person at a NFL game. What I dont understand is that Ohio State loses their entire LB group and Secondary and is thought to be one of the top 3 teams in the country. Yet PSU is the same way (losing Secondary and DLine) and by some "experts" isn't even ranked in the top 20.