December 29, 2010

Outback Bowl '11: Inside Penn State

Penn State had some low expectations coming into the 2010 season. And the Nittany Lions managed to meet every one of them, and some. The quarterback situation was scary, the offensive line even scarier. The defense had to replace three NFL linebackers and the defensive player of the year at tackle. The schedule wasn't kind, either, with the defending national champs, Rose Bowl champs, Orange Bowl champs, and some other teams that turned out to be much better than many predicted.

But with all the downs, came the many ups this season. Finding one too many very good quarterbacks. An improving offensive line. Some damn good receivers. Silas Redd. Michael Mauti. And a team capable of beating almost any opponent, if not for the gross inexperience on the side of blue and white.

Now Penn State returns to another post-season exhibition against the SEC. The last two times out between the Nittany Lions and the most powerful conference in college football resulted in victories for the slow-pokes from snowy Pennsylvania. We'll see if they can do it once again.

In this post, we'll take a quick look at the team overall, then have a game-by-game rundown.

2010 Penn State Overview

Many had assumed--wrongfully--that all Penn State had to do in 2010 was hand the ball off to Evan Royster and Stephfon Green. The rest would take care of itself, right? Hardly.

The offensive line, with four 2010 Capital One Bowl starters returning, was expected to be good enough to handle the run blocking, while keeping alive any of the four young quarterbacks until things settled down. But position shifts, inconsistency, and injury along the front line squashed any chance of the ground game carrying the offense early in the season.

In fact, at Alabama in week two, Penn State threw the ball way more than anyone had anticipated. True freshman quarterback Rob Bolden was given near-total responsibility for the offense, including much more of the blame than should have been heaped on his 18-year-old shoulders.

On defense, tackling that was once a staple of great Penn State defenses the last six years, was now a gross liability. Stopping opposing rushing attacks was not at all expected.

But even when the defense played well, the offense never gave it a chance to rest or even play with confidence. Penn State suffered from red zone failures through most of the season--until some really terrible defenses helped PSU get into the end zone later in the season. When the offense was fortunate enough to embark on long drives, touchdowns were hardly a given, never mind any points at all. Yet far too frequently, just as the defense would toughen against an opponent, the Nittany Lions offense would go three-and-out or turn the ball back to the other team. Not a good way to keep the defense confident and rested.

Penn State was still able to finish the season ranked 44th nationally in total defense--terrible for Penn State, but decent for most programs. But a big problem was the takeaways, or lack of takeaways. The Nittany Lions finished a very uncharacteristic 105th nationally in defensive turnovers. Even just one more turnover at one key point in each game may have turned this season into something a bit more impressive.

On offense, the bad red zone numbers may have been even worse, had it not been for a late-season discovery of touchdowns. Penn State still finished the season a terrible 80th nationally, tied with Baylor, for red zone scoring percentage. But you can't only blame the offense for the red zone issues. The defense was actually worse, giving up scores 94 percent of the time, 115th worst nationally. While the offensive red zone numbers improved somewhat for Penn State through the 12 games this season, the defense still had a great deal of trouble stopping opponents inside the 20.

We'll have more on Penn State this week, particularly in our Friday depth chart post.

2010 Schedule/Results

Here is a rundown of all 12 regular season contests. The descriptions of the games were taken from AP wire stories and

19/4#19 Penn StYoungstown(FCS)W, 44-14
After beating out two sophomores in a spirited preseason competition for the starting quarterback job, true freshman Rob Bolden rewarded his Hall of Fame coach's confidence Saturday with 239 yards passing and two touchdowns in No. 19 Penn State's 44-14 rout of FCS school Youngstown State. It was a promising debut for an 18-year-old making the first start in a season opener for a true freshman quarterback in Paterno's 45 years as head coach.

Bolden finished 20 of 29 passing with one interception - and that came after receiver Derek Moye slipped to the turf on his route. Brett Brackett caught both of Bolden's TD passes and finished with career highs of eight catches for 98 yards, while Chaz Powell had a 100-yard kickoff return for a score to open a decisive second half.

But Bolden settled in on offense, the defense settled down and Penn State overwhelmed the Penguins with too much talent. Seven Nittany Lions made their first career starts: linebacker Chris Colasanti, receiver Devon Smith, tight end Garry Gilliam, quarterback Rob Bolden, center Doug Klopacz, left tackle Quinn Barham and punter Anthony Fera.
29/11#1 Alabama#18 Penn StL, 24-3
Trent Richardson ran for 144 yards in place of injured Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Greg McElroy completed 16 of 24 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns for Alabama. A defense that replaced nine starters hasn't allowed a touchdown yet and hit Rob Bolden with some jarring blitzes, forcing the Nittany Lions into several turnovers to end promising drives. He was 13-of-29 passing for 144 yards.

McElroy passed Alabama downfield with four quick completions on its second drive. He found Kevin Norwood for a 36-yard score on the redshirt freshman's first career catch. Alabama ran the whole drive with an empty backfield, keeping the Nittany Lions off-balance. Tight end Preston Dial caught a 14-yard touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter and the Tide led 17-0 at halftime.

Bolden managed to move the Nittany Lions at times, but their best scoring chances ended with a pair of interceptions and a fumble. Robert Lester had one pick and also recovered a fumble in a second-quarter sequence where Penn State lost 89 yards--but not, it turned out, the ball. Lester recovered a fumble after a catch, raced 75 yards, then had the ball stripped by receiver Derek Moye. Tide cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick lost the ball at the 2 trying to scoop it up. Penn State regained possession, but couldn't do anything with it.

It was the first time Penn State was held without a touchdown since a 14-9 loss at Wisconsin in 2007. The shutout lasted until the final 10 minutes. But, in the second half, Penn State out-gained the Tide, 152-121, and had more first downs (10-6) and earned a slight edge in overall time of possession.
39/18#22 Penn StKent StateW, 24-0
Bolden ran for his first career touchdown and threw for another, tailback Evan Royster also ran for a score and Stephfon Green settled the shaky offense with tough second-half runs in the Nittany Lions 24-0 win.

Penn State permitted the Golden Flashes only 228 yards, including 58 rushing yards on 25 carries, and D'Anton Lynn and Derrick Thomas grabbed their first career interceptions. Kent State became the 18th team since the start of the 2008 season (29 games) to fail to rush for 100 yards against the staunch Nittany Lion defense.

After scoring on its first two drives for a 14-0 lead, Penn State's offense played uninspiring stretches. Bolden threw for 217 yards and a touchdown but had two interceptions, and Royster fumbled on the first play of the second half.

The Nittany Lions ran for 162 yards against the nation's No. 1 ranked rushing defense and quarterback Rob Bolden threw for one touchdown and ran for another. Bolden became the first Penn State true freshman quarterback with multiple 200-yard passing games in the program's 124-year history. He was 17 of 27 for 217 yards, earning his second 200-yard passing game of the season.
49/25#23 Penn StTempleW, 22-13
The Nittany Lions had little trouble moving the ball until they got inside the 40, but Wagner's right leg bailed them out. His 21-yarder with 1:38 left in the third quarter finally gave Penn State a 15-13 lead. Temple took a 13-6 lead in the first quarter on Bernard Pierce's two touchdown runs. He later left the game with an apparent right ankle injury, and the Owls offense stalled after halftime.

Freshman quarterback Rob Bolden was 18 of 28 for 223 yards, delivering his third 200-yard game in the initial four games. Bolden completed third down passes of 19 yards to Graham Zug and 27 yards to Justin Brown in leading Penn State on a 96-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Fans at Beaver Stadium breathed a collective sigh of relief after Michael Zordich's 1-yard touchdown run gave Penn State a nine-point lead late in the fourth.

Pierce, a sophomore touted by Temple as a Heisman Trophy candidate, scored his first TD with 9:06 left, 58 seconds after Evan Royster fumbled at his own 28, to give the Owls a 7-3 lead. After the second of Wagner's three first-half field goals cut Temple's lead to 7-6, Pierce scored again with 10 seconds left in the first quarter on nearly the exact same play into the same corner of the end zone. A botched hold on the extra-point attempt left the score 13-6.
510/2#17 Iowa#22 Penn StL, 24-3
Iowa didn't need a last-second field goal or a scrappy fourth-quarter rally to beat Penn State this time. Ricky Stanzi and the Hawkeyes defense swapped drama for dominance and dealing the Nittany Lions their worst-ever loss to Iowa. Stanzi threw for 227 yards and a touchdown and ran for a score. Adam Robinson added 95 yards rushing for the Hawkeyes, who held Penn State to 3-of-13 on third-down conversions and just 54 yards rushing.

Iowa raced out to a 17-0 lead late in the first half on Stanzi's 9-yard TD pass to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and his 1-yard plunge. The Hawkeyes stopped Rob Bolden on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the third quarter, and Shaun Prater returned an interception 33 yards for a TD with 1:27 left.

Michael Meyer hit a 20-yard field goal to put the Hawkeyes ahead 3-0. Stanzi threw an interception on Iowa's next series, but he redeemed himself with a TD pass to Johnson-Koulianos in the back of the end zone to give Iowa a 10-0 lead with a minute left in the first quarter. The Hawkeyes pushed their lead to 17-0 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Stanzi. Bolden then found Brett Brackett for a 49-yard reception to Iowa's 2-yard line with one play left in the first half, with Prater recovering for a touchdown-saving tackle. But Bolden was whistled for a deflating false start, and the Nittany Lions had to settle for Collin Wagner's 25-yard field goal.

Penn State, which was outgained 148-1 in a brutal first quarter, finally put together a solid drive to open up the second half. But red zone problems caught up with the Nittany Lions yet again. On fourth-and-goal at the 1, Bolden sprinted wide and was hit just inches shy of the goal line by Christian Ballard and Jeremiah Hunter.
610/9Penn StIllinoisL, 33-13
Illinois held the ball for 38:12 and shut out Penn State in the second half to register its first win in Beaver Stadium, 33-13. Derek Dimke added four field goals and the Illini overcame three fumbles on special teams by return man Jack Ramsey by pounding away at a short-handed defense. The bruising 6-foot Leshoure and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase softened the Nittany Lions on the run, and Scheelhaase took advantage of soft coverage over the middle with an 18-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to A.J. Jenkins.

On offense, Penn State's season-long troubles in the red zone continued after settling for field goals off two Ramsey punt-return fumbles inside the 30 in the first half. Illinois' rejuvenated defense held the Nittany Lions to season-lows of 235 yards and seven first downs in freshman quarterback Rob Bolden's choppiest game of his young career. They were lucky to be trailing just 20-13 at halftime following a first half in which they managed just three first downs.

The second half wasn't much better. Against a defense littered with inexperienced backups, Illinois coach Ron Zook went to a trick play when Scheelhaase pitched back to Ford, who found Wilson in the end zone from four yards out for a 27-13 lead.
710/23MinnesotaPenn StW, 33-21
After a rough homecoming loss two weeks ago to Illinois, Penn State got its sputtering offense going and built a healthy lead even after losing its freshman quarterback. Matt McGloin threw two touchdown passes to Derek Moye for Penn State in relief of injured starter Rob Bolden, and the Nittany Lions used struggling Minnesota to get their first Big Ten win, 33-21. Bolden threw six interceptions - and for only two scores - in the previous five games, but the freshman completed his first nine passes Saturday. He was 11 for 13 for 130 yards and a touchdown to Brett Brackett before getting hurt midway through the second quarter when he was tackled by Mike Rallis near the sideline. Bolden sat upright on the ground for a few minutes while being attended to before leaving the field. Penn State didn't immediately reveal the nature of his injury.

McGloin finished only 6 for 13 for 76 yards and an interception, but the sophomore's first career completion was a beauty. Right after Weber's end-zone heave to double-covered McKnight was intercepted by D'Anton Lynn and returned for 58 yards, McGloin zipped a 42-yard pass to Derek Moye for a touchdown that stretched the lead to 21-7. Freshman Silas Redd provided a boost in the second half, gaining 70 of his 71 yards in the second half, on eight carries. Redd ran for 20 and 26 yards on consecutive plays early in the fourth period.

Penn State's defense has been ravaged by injuries this season, but linebackers Mike Mauti, Bani Gbadyu and Gerald Hodges led a group of players that used last week's bye to get healthy enough to return. Promising sophomore defensive end Sean Stanley, who was held out the last two games and recently was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, was also in the mix.
810/30Penn StMichiganW, 41-31
Evan Royster had 99 yards and two scores in the first half alone against the Wolverines' porous defense - the worst unit in the Big Ten. An offensive line maligned all season for a choppy running game opened up holes for the senior tailback. Penn State found the perfect foe to perk up its so-so offense. Royster ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns, Matt McGloin threw for 250 yards and a score and the Nittany Lions staved off a second-half Michigan rally led by dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson for a 41-31 win.

Robinson was a virtual one-man gang, running for 191 yards and three scores on 27 carries, while throwing for 190 and a score. A bye the previous week helped the dual-threat star recover from right shoulder and left knee injuries. He sure looked like a handful after his 32-yard rushing touchdown with 4:01 left in the first tied the score at 7-7. Penn State's defense made enough plays to handcuff the Wolverines early, while the offense stomped all over the Michigan defense.

The Nittany Lions went old school on offense. Twenty-nine handoffs to Royster. Screens to tailbacks. Passes over the middle to the team's most reliable target, 6-foot-6 receiver Brett Brackett. And just the right number of shots downfield to keep the defense honest.
911/6Penn StNorthwesternW, 35-21
Backup quarterback Matt McGloin threw for four scores, the defense pitched a second-half shutout and the Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) rallied from a three-touchdown deficit Saturday night to defeat Northwestern 35-21 and get the 83-year-old Paterno career win No. 400. But the festivities looked like they would be put on hold after a dreary first half for the Nittany Lions, and dual-threat Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa did his best to play spoiler.

He sliced through the defense for 109 yards on 25 carries and touchdown runs of 6 and 4 yards in the first half. He was also 16 of 25 passing for 201 yards, including a throw caught with one hand by leaping tight end Drake Dunsmore in the back of the end zone for a 21-0 lead late in the half for Northwestern (6-3, 2-3). It turned out to be Northwestern's last big play, and Penn State dominated from there. After a so-so start, McGloin re-energized the team with a two-minute drill that ended with a 7-yard touchdown catch by Brett Brackett with 3 seconds left in the half to cut the deficit to 21-7.

Freshman Rob Bolden started for the first time since getting knocked out of the Minnesota game two weeks ago with a concussion, but was pulled after fumbling the ball away on a sack on his second series. Enter McGloin, the scrappy former walk-on who finished 18 of 29 passing for 225 yards. Paterno said afterward that Bolden wasn't hurt. McGloin threw two more touchdown passes in the third quarter against a shell-shocked Northwestern defense before freshman tailback Silas Redd put Penn State up for good with a 4-yard scoring run with 1:31 left in the quarter.

Northwestern had a last gasp when Persa drove the offense to the Penn State 9 with 8:13 left but he threw an incompletion into the end zone on fourth down. Linebacker Michael Mauti led a furious second-half defensive charge to contain the dual-threat quarterback.
1011/13#8 Ohio StPenn StL, 38-14
The game swung on one play.

With a 14-10 lead on second and 9 at the Nittany Lions 37 midway through the third quarter, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin fired a pass into the left flat meant for Michael Zordich. Torrence had slipped off coverage of another receiver, sliding inside and streaking in front of Zordich to tip the ball in the air. He tipped it once, juggled it off his shoulder and then finally collected it, racing for the touchdown and a 17-14 lead. Ohio State outscored the Lions 21-0 in the fourth quarter, reeling off the final 35 points. Pryor, who was 8 of 13 for 139 yards with one interception and two scores, also hit Jake Stoneburner with a late TD pass.

They took a 7-3 lead when McGloin engineered a 67-yard drive capped by his 23-yard TD pass to Justin Brown. McGloin, who finished 15 of 30 for 159 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, was leveled on the play, getting the pass off just in time to Brown, who was all alone at the goal line. Ohio State punted the ball away--as it did on its last four possessions in the half after the field goal--and Penn State motored 82 yards with McGloin hitting Derek Moye on a high 6-yard pass for the score. McGloin was 13 of 18 for 141 yards in the opening half.

Boos rained down on the Buckeyes as they left the field at the half. But everything changed on Torrence's return in the third quarter.
1111/20IndianaPenn StW, 48-10
*Game played at FedEx Field in Landover, MD

With the score tied in the third quarter, the tide turned. Andrew Daily stuffed the ball before it could leave the Indiana punter's foot, and James Van Fleet returned the block for a touchdown to give Penn State the lead for good in a 41-24 victory. Four players, including three starters, were late for their morning team bus, so the Penn State coach decreed they wouldn't play in the first half. Then Paterno's bus broke down on the way to the stadium, forcing him and about a dozen players to find room on another one. Then his Nittany Lions blew a 14-point lead against Indiana, a team that had lost 11 straight Big Ten games. And, by the way, his starting center was hurt.

Penn State led 14-0 early, but the Hoosiers rallied using the tandem of quarterbacks Ben Chappell and Edward Wright-Baker for the first time this season. It was 24-24 when Daily found himself with an amazingly clear path between him and Indiana punter Chris Hagerup.

Matt McGloin completed 22 of 31 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns in his third career start, the first 300-yard game by a Penn State quarterback this year as the Nittany Lions found the nation's capital to be a satisfactory home away from home. Evan Royster and Silas Redd each ran for scores, part of Penn State's 171-yard rushing day.

An interception by Drew Astorino led to a field goal to get the lead to 10, and Silas Redd's touchdown put the game away late in the fourth.
1211/27Penn St.#11 Michigan StL, 31-7
Edwin Baker ran for 118 yards and a touchdown, and Keshawn Martin's 35-yard reverse deep in Penn State territory set up another early score for Michigan State. Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns to B.J. Cunnigham, and the defense held off a fourth-quarter charge by penalty-prone Penn State. Penn State scored 19 fourth-quarter points, and fans had dreams of an unlikely comeback after Matt McGloin found Derek Moye for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 56 seconds left.

Michigan State recovered the ensuing onsides kick to finally seal the win. Penn State managed just a 34-yard field in the first half against a Spartans defense that gave up 85 yards and a touchdown to Evan Royster. McGloin finished 23 of 43 for 312 yards with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and an interception. Penalty flags sapped momentum, too, for the Nittany Lions, especially in a choppy first half that left them playing catch-up the rest of the way.

Stay tuned for our special bowl edition of 10 Minutes or Less, then Friday's LBU staff predictions and 11th Hour Depth Charting.

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