7-1 … who knew?

When I made my last post on Penn State’s football team, which was ages ago, the Nittany Lions were stumbling along and barley beating the likes of Temple. Fast forward to now and Penn State is actually a respectable 7-1 following a 34-24 victory over Northwestern, which is much better than its 2-6 record would indicate.

Finally, the Lions’ coaches decided to play one quarterback and stop the ridiculous shuffling of Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden that even Joe Paterno has no rhyme or reason. McGloin isn’t the sexiest choice at the position, doesn’t have a big arm, won’t wow with his running ability, but it’s no secret Penn State’s offense operates much better with him under center (or in the shotgun). Having a running back like Silas Redd certainly helps, but for the first time all season I was optimistic that Penn State could score any time it had the ball Saturday. Northwestern’s defense stinking had something to do with that, but I didn’t even feel that way when Indiana State was in town for the season opener.

The defense has been nothing short of fantastic with Devon Still emerging as one of the nation’s best players. From the time he was a true freshman, Still was in the good graces of Paterno. I can remember how upset Paterno was at media day in August 2007 after Still had torn his ACL and would miss his freshman season. A broken ankle nearly wiped out 2008, but Still managed to play a little toward the end of the year. He flashed potential playing behind Jared Odrick in 2009 and really broke out toward the end of last season. Having Jordan Hill next to Still this season has helped him shine, and that’s no dig at Ollie Ogbu, who was a good player but not up to Hill’s talents.

Gerald Hodges has really come on the past few weeks, trusting his ability and just playing instead of thinking so much. His interception on Northwestern’s first drive of the second half Saturday set up Redd’s 19-yard touchdown that put Penn State up by 10. Game over. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the way Nate Stupar has played in relief of oft-injured star Michael Mauti, but big boys Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan State await. Those teams will run right at Stupar and also try to confuse him with misdirection so his grade is still incomplete right now.

Anthony Fera has been a Godsend to the kicking game, which was an absolute disgrace the first few weeks of the season. Fera has yet to miss since taking over the kicking duties full-time and has shown a strong leg on kickoffs. The next step is to see how much range he has on field goals, which I believe stretches beyond 50 yards. He’s also done a good job punting, showing a better ability to kick in situations instead of just punting the ball as far as he could. His punt that Nick Sukay downed on the 1-yard line against Iowa is a perfect example.

So what does Penn State do in its final four games? A win this week would be big because it looks like star wideout Derrick Moye won’t return just yet from a broken bone in his foot. Justin Brown has really stepped his game up the past two weeks and the Nittany Lions coaches have finally figured out how to use Devon Smith. Getting the tight ends involved (which means actually throwing them a ball once or twice a game) would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath there. The offensive line has developed some good chemistry, although penalties like Matt Stankiewitch’s holding call on Stephfon Green’s touchdown catch Saturday, are still rearing their ugly heads at bad times. The defense has allowed some big plays in the passing game, but the pass rush has been better lately so quarterbacks shouldn’t have as much time to exploit the secondaries’ weaknesses.

The Fighting Illini have lost two straight after winning their first six, but it would be wrong to chalk them up as an easy victory. Penn State had major problems with Illinois’ physical play last year and you can be Ron Zook hasn’t forgotten that. I think the Nittany Lions eke out a victory though, with a defensive touchdown the difference.

In what could be recruiting event like the 2005 Ohio State game, a whiteout nighttime victory over Nebraska could really do big things for the program. Penn State has struggled lately in recruiting, losing offensive tackle J.J. Denman to Wisconsin, and really making little headway with other targets, but the Nebraska game could change that. I like the Nittany Lions to win that game because they’ll put Nebraska in enough uncomfortable down and distances that will make Taylor Martinez make a few mistakes.

I’ll reserve judgement on the final two games — at Ohio State and at Wisconsin — because those games are just too far away to make any kind of educated guess, but 9-1 isn’t out of the question. And that’s from someone who once thought winning six games might be a miracle.

This entry was posted in Penn State, Recruiting. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives