May 16, 2011

Penn State's Biggest Trouble Spots for 2011, Part 2

2010 Penn State vs Northwestern-66
Silas Redd
It's that time of the year when college football offers NOTHING of substance to talk about. That's why God invented bloggers like us. This may be the ump-teenth time you've read a breakdown of what Penn State will or won't do, where it could fail or succeed. But it's still fun. Why? Because no one seems to have the same take on where the chips may fall this, umm, fall.

As mentioned last week, there are four big sections in the off-season: post-bowl (Jan-Feb), pre-spring (Feb-Mar), pre-summer (May-June), and pre-season (Aug). Usually during these inter periods it's a good time to gauge the depth chart situation. 

Today, we'll wrap up this two-parter by looking at the backup running back spot, quarterbacks (ugh!), and as one of our followers on Twitter suggested (which I'll modify a bit), the weather and schedule. I'm absolutely sure we'll have a schedule-related post in the coming weeks. But just one quick glance as the murderers row Penn State must face in 2011 will tell you that schedule could end up being the deciding factor in whether or not Penn State is playing in a top-tier bowl game.


The Second-String Running Back

2010 Penn State vs Illinois-30
Stephfon Green
There hasn't been a picture this clear at running back since Evan Royster took over in place of Rodney Kinlaw after the 2007 season. Silas Redd is no doubt The Guy at the tail of the "I" this year. But what about the guy who's likely to get a bunch of carries in 2011, but won't be getting the first one of each game? Most assume senior Stephfon Green will get the majority of snaps not already going to Redd. But should we assume that? What about Brandon Beachum? He's a bull of a back who could likely start for more than half the FBS teams out there. And don't forget about sophomore Curtis Dukes, who's even bigger than Beachum, reminding some of a back more suited to play at Wisconsin than Penn State.

Green is the senior, giving him the obvious leg up by Paterno's precedent. But Green has never been able to show much of that game-breaker ability we've been hearing about for the last four seasons. Yes, he's very fast, but what else have we seen? It could be said that the coaches haven't been able to utilize his talent as much as they should, mainly in the form of calling runs up the middle instead of, say, screens or tosses that give Green open field from the get-go. But after a while, it starts to become just as much the player's fault as anyone else's. Four years is a long time. Now it's Green's time to prove he deserves equal or near-equal carries as the starter.

Beachum is a player I've liked for a while. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to establish himself as a frequent ball carrier. The ACL tear against Northwestern in 2010 really set him back in this race. But there is definitely a chance he could thrive in a "thunder" role, to complement Redd's "lightening." Yeah, yeah, roll your eyes at that old cliche. It's very appropriate for that potential tandem, one that could offer Penn State a dynamic ground attack this year. And if Beachum isn't able to return to pre-injury form, the power back role could very well go to Dukes, who checks in somewhere around 240 pounds. We got to know Dukes in pre-season last year, when he knocked out Stephon Morris on a run during fall camp. Let's hope he can knock out some opposing defensive backs this fall.


2010 Penn State vs Michigan State-23
Matt McGloin
Why didn't I start with the quarterbacks today? Because it's frankly no more important to find a cohesive offensive line, dynamic running game, and a defense that can make the big stop, than it is important to find a starting quarterback. But that doesn't mean it's not worth covering. After all, quarterbacks get as much attention as they do for a good reason: they make it all "go."

From what Joe Paterno and his staff have been saying since spring practice, it is likely down to Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden. Some have their sure-thing picks for who will get the nod, but I won't jinx the outcome by making a prediction in this post.

Matt McGloin is the more recent default starter. The problem with this option is that the last time anyone saw McGloin face an actual opponent, he was throwing five interceptions and two pick-6's to waiting Gator jaws. McGloin looked great against Minnesota, Michigan, half of Northwestern, the other half at Ohio State, and facing Indiana. But four of those five defenses were among the worst in the nation, while the fifth (Ohio State) clamped down after halftime to stifle the offense. While there is hope that McGloin has improved his decision making since last season, he is going to be a fourth-year junior this fall. If he can't overtake a true sophomore by fall camp, it's unlikely we'll ever again see Mac as the starter.

Yet there's a catch. Rob Bolden was a day or two away from bolting the program in a father-induced hissy fit this past winter. Bolden seems to have settled down quickly, embracing Penn State as a school like he hadn't before. But until the public gets to see more of Bolden on the field and in the interview chair (Man, will it be nice to hear him actually get a chance to speak this fall, or what?), the last memory for many will be of him wanting out of Happy Valley. Bolden has easily surpassed all the other quarterbacks on the team, in terms of physical tools and mechanics of a signal caller. The coaches even pointed out that he's been much more assertive in the huddle, and began to embrace the leadership role this team lacked at quarterback all of last season.

Throw in Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome, and you've got yourself a log-jam at quarterback like never before at Penn State. Newsome, for what it's worth, has said he doesn't want to leave Penn State. However, he also doesn't want to switch positions. Jones hasn't been able to get on Joe Paterno's good side in terms of classroom performance, which is a death sentence for anyone trying to earn a starting job for JoePa.


If you think this is a dumb thing to consider a "trouble spot," then you don't know Big Ten football. Winter can get rough above the Mason-Dixon Line, particularly before Thanksgiving, when temperatures are frequently hovering around freezing, but not cold enough to snow. What we get is a lovely combination of being wet and freezing at the same time! Talk about a great recruiting pitch!

For Penn State, it gets real as early as late October, when a trip to Evanston likely means one of the following: cold and windy; cold, windy and raining; or cold, windy and sleeting. Illinois luckily comes to Beaver Stadium the week after, but it was quite cold last year during the final days of October in Happy Valley. Again, and you'll hear this a few more times, throw in some rain and it'll be a sloshing-good time.

Once the temperatures fall low enough in November, at least the snow will start to fall and things dry out a bit. But just as the temperatures cool, the opposition heats up like nothing Penn State has seen in years. A home date against likely top-10 Nebraska, followed by consecutive trips to Columbus then Madison to round out the year, will cause more than a few headaches for Joe Paterno & Co. You hate to blame things like the weather in a game like football. But let's face it, with uncertainty at positions like quarterback and offensive line, a wet ball means bad snaps and a rock-hard cold ball means inaccurate throws. Not exactly a winning formula against some of the most powerful teams in college football.

2010 Penn State vs Michigan State-57
Big Ten football in November... No time to get a tan.

Wrapping Up...

That's it. We touched on six areas that could be Penn State's biggest trouble spots for 2011. Of all the positions covered today, I'd say the schedule ends up being my biggest concern. Quarterbacks? Pfft! That'll get worked out, as will the back ups at running back. No one knows how the likes of Nebraska, Ohio State or Wisconsin will turn out by the time Penn State must face them on the field. A few could stink. Another could be self-destructing before the season even starts. Teams like Northwestern and Illinois have proven to be lethal when overlooked. The schedule can't be changed. But that's not a bad thing. Penn State knows exactly what's at stake this year, with a clear, albeit treacherous, path to the end game. Maybe even a championship.

I'll finish up the same way I closed out the first post last week:

This isn't all as bad as it seems. But these are all things that could be flash points for problems to emerge this season for Penn State. Whether any of it actually happens, we'll have to wait another three and a half months to find out.

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1 comment:

  1. I see Stephfon Green utilized as a third-down back with one of the big backs getting the "breather" roll of spelling Redd. I hope the coaches are done trying to make Green into a inside runner and use him on screens/draws/and passing downs out of the backfield where his speed can be utilized.