Penn State: At a glance:
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Stadium: Beaver Stadium (size: 107,282)
Expected Attendance: about 109,000.
Undergraduate population: 44,512.
First season: 1887
Number of Big Ten Titles: 3
All-time record: 800-349-32
All-time bowl record: 26-13-2.
Most awesome alum: undoubtedly Jonathan Frakes, better known as William T. Riker and "#1" on the new Star Trek series.
Most awesome Penn State fan site: Red, er, Black Shoe Diaries of course.
And here comes the Big Ten buzzsaw.
Much has changed since the last time these two teams played in 2006, a referee-assisted 28-27 overtime victory for the Nittany Lions at Metrodump. The Gophers have a new coach, a new stadium, and have switched offensive philosophies twice. For Penn State...errr......Joe Pa...errr....Darryl Cla......good linebac......okay, so much has changed for Minnesota since 2006.
This year Indiana and Michigan drop off the Gophers' schedule. It looks pretty bad, however, when one realizes that Penn State (11-2 in 2008) and Michigan State (9-4 in 2008) rotate on to the schedule. The Gophers get the "good" fortune to play their seventh game in 2009, and their second conference road game, in the pale fury of University Park, PA against the Fighting Paternos.
Why good? Well, Minnesota should be 5-1 or 4-2 going into the game (um, right?). If so, perhaps a repeat of the stirring victory over then #2 Penn State in 1999 could be in the offing. Whether that happens depends a lot upon injuries, morale, and players. Speaking of players, we're going to fly solo and analyze the Nittany Lions, starting with....
More after the jump.....
Penn State on Offense - You may have heard of Darryl Clark. Heck, your grandparents may have seen him play in the ‘40s. Clark returns as a fifth-year senior, but is six years' removed from high school, so he's closer to legally renting a car than he is to gaining the right to vote. In 2008, he completed almost 60% of his passes, throwing 19 TDs against only 6 INTs. He also ran for 10 TDs. His backup, Paul Devlin, transferred to Joe Flacco U., so true freshman (as well as Michigan and Virginia de-commit) Kevin Newsome backs him up. Seeing how Newsome struggled in the Lions' spring game, Penn State is an injury away from quarterbacking incompetence.
Penn State's five top rushing threats return, highlighted by Evan Royster and Stephon Green. Royster gained 1236 yards at 6.47 ypc, and Green gained 578 yards at 5.50 ypc. This will be the obvious focal point for the Gophers' defense, because.....
.....Penn State's three senior receivers (Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams) all graduated, taking a majority of the receptions with them. Top returning wideouts include Graham Zug, Brett Brackett, and James "DUI" McDonald. This part of the offense will likely be functional but non-threatening at the time of the Gopher game. The wideouts' inexperience should allow Traye Simmons to help the run defense, hopefully neutralizing Royster and Green.
The Lions also lose three all Big Ten offensive linemen, though they have Stefen Wisniewski moving to center and Dennis Landolt at right tackle. New 6'5", 313-pound left tackle (and gloriously named) DeOn'tae Pannell will have to step in and perform at a high level to ensure the rushing game does not stall.
Bottom Line - Penn State's Offense: The offense will likely take a step back from its production in 2008. If Clark, Royster, and/or Wisniewski spend any significant period of time out injured, the offense will have significant production issues. Minnesota's large defensive line and mobile linebackers should be able to at least hang with the rushing attack, and the defensive backfield should handle the Lions' inexperienced wideouts. Due to Tramaine Brock's departure, however, we can count on at least one video replay with Ryan Collado trailing a wideout into the end zone.
Penn State on Defense: Linebacker U., right? Shane Conlan, Paul Pozlusny, Leapin' LaVar Arrington. Lately, Penn State has also churned out a number of solid defensive linemen, including 2009 draftees Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans.
Well, wait a moment. Evans wasn't drafted, which begs a couple of questions. Was the NFL correct in determining Evans made a mistake in coming out early? Did Evans consider himself too good for college? What is left in State College? Well, Jared Odrick for one. Odrick had 41 tackles last year, 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Also, Jack Crawford is new to the sport, being British and all (check that name), but he is highly regarded in Pennsylvania (as well as Portsmouth, for that matter) and will be expected to contribute. Ollie Ogbu and Abe Koroma are also returning linemen.
As for linebackers, well, if you follow a police blotter, you may have read some stuff about Navorro Bowman this off-season (all the action should serve Bowman well: he's a Crime, Law and Justice major, which I presume is University-Speak for "Wants to Be a Cop or District Attorney if he tears his knee up"). It seems JoePa is satisfied Bowman is ready to play football instead of smoking spliffs or beating up coeds. This is too bad for Duane Bennett, et al, as Bowman had 106 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, and 4 INT's last year.
Also returning after a year out due to injury is LB Sean Lee. He was all Big Ten in 2007 before tearing his ACL, and will undoubtedly be a tough block for the Gophers' O-line.
Wide receivers are the big question mark on offense. On defense, it's the defensive backfield. All starters have moved on, leaving CBs AJ Wallace and (really?) Knowledge Timmons and Ss Drew Astorino and Cedric Jeffries, as well as a cavalcade of 2009 signees, to take their place. This is where Gophers Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch should be picking on the defense, if he is the offensive genius Coach Brewster has made him out to be.
Bottom line - Penn State's Defense: The defense will step back this year from their dominating 2008 performance. Odrick, Bowman and Lee form about 40 % of a solid front seven. However, the defensive secondary is untested and has little experience. The Gophers should abandon any pretense of balance in their offensive attack in this game, spread five wideouts, get Pittman, Stoudermire, Brandon, McKnight, Kuznia, Decker, and Carpenter in space against the untested secondary, and pick them apart.
Penn State on Special Teams: 4-year starter Kevin Kelly departs, with either (Michigan de-commit) Anthony Fera or Colin Wagner assuming the kicking duties for Penn State's all-time leading scorer. Jeremy Boone, a senior returns as punter with a 43.03 ypk average from 2008.
One additional point bears mentioning regarding PSU's special teams. The youngest and most inexperienced areas of Penn State's team are their wideouts and defensive backfield. Kickoff return teams normally field some reserve players from these units. As the starters for Penn State are younger, the backups are even younger. Troy Stoudermire should be able to exploit these players' inexperience and youth and have some big returns at Beaver Stadium.
Bottom Line: What to Expect
Minnesota is Penn State's Homecoming opponent. We are sandwiched between a home game against Eastern Illinois (heh?) and a road game against Michigan. We could be the beneficiary of a team which wasn't really tested the prior week. Also, if the Wolverines improve, Minnesota could be the beneficiary of a team looking ahead to a 3-game stretch including Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State.
As for the Gophers, this is the start of what looks to be a bad stretch of games, including a road game at Ohio State, home games against Michigan State and Illinois, an off week against South Dakota State, and then the battle for the Pig. This is the best chance to beat one of those scheduled "rough games." Penn State has little experience at wideout, even less in the defensive backfield, and is exploitable in special teams. If the Gophers spread the field and pick on Penn State's defense, the Gophers could walk out of Pennsylvania with a victory.
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