Penn State Football: Musings From the Upper Deck

2 of 2

Defense Has Been Good But It Has Holes

September 15, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Michael Mauti (42) celebrates with defensive end Brad Bars (31) after stopping the Navy Midshipmen on fourth down at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Navy 34-7. Mandatory Credit: Rob Christy-US PRESSWIRE

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I’m starting to miss some of Tom Bradley’s play-calling.   I don’t want to be condescending, but I get really nervous when the defense is on the field.  Perhaps its all of the 3rd down conversions that they allow teams to pickup or maybe I’m just waiting for our young secondary to give up a deep ball, but whatever it is, the execution of our defense is not like it has been in the past.  Yes, they are doing well, but I fear some of it has to do with the lack of good competition they have been facing.  The Big Ten, while most consider it a down this year, still has teams that can execute better than some of Penn State’s opponents thus far.

The most obvious reason for the defense’s change is the change in the coaching staff.  Under Coach Bradley and Coach Sandusky, the Penn State defense relied on the ability of the front four to generate a pass rush while the linebackers could be free to roam.  The secondary would be in zone coverage and allow underneath passes to be completed with regularity.  The idea is “bend but don’t break”.  Under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, the emphasis is still on the front four to generate a pass rush, but the linebackers now drop into coverage more often while the cornerbacks play man-to-man coverage with safety help over the top.

Man-to-man coverage can work as long as the cornerbacks are athletic and speedy enough to stay with the receivers.  The safeties have to be able to make plays in space and keep the opponent in front of them.

In game #1, the front four generated virtually no pass rush (0 sacks), so Tyler Tettleton had all day to pick apart the Lions secondary, and he did!  In game #2, the front four was able to get to Mike Rocco which forced some errant throws.  Unfortunately, the secondary allowed some big 3rd down conversions.  One 3rd down conversion in particular led to UVA’s game-winning touchdown.  Game #3 against Navy, the Lions were able to do a decent job against the triple-option, but Penn State still allowed a few deep passes to be completed.  Finally, against Temple, the Owls had some open receivers, QB Coyer just missed them.

What I’m getting at is this: Penn State must continue to get a push by their down lineman.  The linebackers, who have been playing well all season, need to continue to make open-field tackles, and the secondary must do a better job helping the defense get off the field in third down situations.

No Kicking Game

September 22, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions kicker Sam Ficken (97) kicks a field goal in the second half and is congratulated by teammate guard Eric Shrive (75) against the Temple Owls at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Temple 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Rob Christy-US PRESSWIRE

I feel like I rant about this every week, so I don’t want to spend more time elaborating on a point that we all know is a problem.  However, with no other kickers that have Ficken’s leg strength and Butterworth’s experience, Penn State is going to have to dance “with who brung ’em”.  Both of these kids are capable of doing their respective job, but it just hasn’t translated into on-field success.

We all know about Ficken’s struggles, highlighted, or should I say low-lighted, by his 1-5 day at Virginia with 1 extra point blocked, as well as his missed extra point and no-confidence vote two weeks ago against Navy.  Ficken did get a small measure of redemption last week as he kicked a 21-yard field goal.  Still, it remains to be said that anything longer than 30 yards, and the Penn State team just doesn’t know what its going to get from Sam.  Sure he can certainly kick the ball 50+ yards, but he has no accuracy.  I had heard that after the Virginia game Sam spent hours upon hours practicing his kicks.  That’s all fine and good, but if he doesn’t get with someone to fix his aim/accuracy, all the extra kicks in the world aren’t going to help!

Sam is the “Little Engine that Could,” but, at some point you just have to do it!  Let’s hope for the Nittany Lions sake, he is like fine wine…he gets better with age!

As for punter Alex Butterworth, he has punted 16 times for an average of 35.1 yards.  That average ranks him dead last (120th) in FBS in punting average.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that Penn State is not turning around the field position battle when he kicks.  To me, this is one of the most glaring problems staring at Penn State!  Based on that average, if Penn State punted from its goal line, the opposing team is already in good field goal range just by fair-catching the punt.  I don’t know if its leg strength or what, but something has to be done.  It looks like Coach O’Brien’s idea is to go for broke and go-for-it on the plus side of the field.  With the type of offense he has been able to put on the field, that might not be such a bad idea.

At some point though, these special teams players are going to have to come through for Penn State or Coach O’Brien is going to have to use some of his precious scholarships to go out and recruit some players that can do the job more adequately!

Bill O’Brien Is the Right Man for the Job!

September 15, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O

There were many people rumored to be in line to succeed coach Joe Paterno.  Names from the NFL and college alike.  Many people had even maligned acting-AD Dr. David Joyner and his search team for taking their time to find the right coach and fit for Penn State, but I want to stand up and applaud them for getting, what I think, is the right person for the job!  To be fair, I have never sat down with Coach O’Brien (but I would love to if he happens to read this!!!) nor any of the other candidates for this position, but I openly wonder if anyone else could have faced the adversity and tumult that surrounded this football program and the university at-large during its darkest hour, and have been a better representative.  He open, he’s honest, he’s tough, but he’s caring.

The football team may struggle for years to come, the NCAA has tried to make sure of that, but it was Coach O’Brien and his assembled staff along with some resolute players that were able to keep most of the team intact.  Coach O’Brien reminds me of young Bill Cowher, he’s willing to stick his neck (and his chin) out for his players and his team because he believes in them, and he believes in the course he has charted.

I don’t know what the future holds for Coach O’Brien here at Penn State, but I really hope that the Nittany Nation gets behind him and his staff because, in my opinion, he was and still is the right man to be leading Penn State football out of the darkness and into a very bright future!

Folow Corey Hunter on Twitter!