Penn State Scouting Report

Here is a scouting report of Penn State from Mike from over at He and I agreed to exchange scouting reports for each others sites for this weekends game so you can check out mine over on BSD later today.

This weekend Notre Dame and Penn State will meet for the nineteenth time in their storied histories. Last year the two teams met for the first time since 1992 and a more experienced Notre Dame squad rolled over the Nittany Lions by a score of 41-17. But anyone expecting a similar result this year better look again. Much has changed since Penn State played Notre Dame in South Bend last year, and this game should prove to be much more competitive.

Last year the Nittany Lions were led by Anthony Morelli in his second career start and the truth is he just wasn’t ready for a tough road game in South Bend. We all remember him desperately tossing the ball backwards right into the hands of Tom Zbikowski. And when we think of Anthony Morelli we think of those two pick sixes late in the game against Ohio State. But this is a different quarterback than that kid we remember from a year ago. In his last nine games, Morelli has only thrown three interceptions, and two of those were tipped balls that bounced off the hands of his receivers. While last year he would have broken down and tried to run away from the oncoming rush, now he casually steps aside to change the angle or he throws the ball away. He’s a smart quarterback. Much smarter than people give him credit for. But he still shows brief periods where he loses concentration. I saw a few plays against Tennessee and Florida International where he got impatient and forced a throw or two or took a sack he shouldn’t have.

Tony Hunt is gone and that is a tough hole to fill for Penn State. They will turn to Austin Scott, a fifth year senior that smashed all kinds of rushing records in high school but has yet to live up to the hype in college. He’ll see the bulk of the carries, but you can expect to see Rodney Kinlaw in the game as well. Kinlaw has more speed and Penn State likes to get him the ball outside in open space. He’s also a better receiver than Scott. Penn State will use a running back by committee approach along with redshirt freshman Evan Royster because so far nobody has proven to be as effective as Tony Hunt was.

One thing these running backs will enjoy is a much more experienced offensive line than Tony Hunt had a year ago. Last year Penn State was breaking in four new starters and there wasn’t a lot of depth behind them. This year they return four guys on the offensive line, though two of them have changed positions. They also have some underclassmen and junior college transfers pushing these guys for playing time so Penn State is feeling much better about their offensive line than they did a year ago. But still they showed problems opening up running lanes against Florida International. Paterno said the Panthers were stacking the line and doing some stunting they didn’t see on film. The running game got going eventually, but so far this line has not shown they can dominate a game.

Look for Penn State to run a balanced attack. They will try to establish the running game early, but if Notre Dame stacks the line Penn State is not afraid to throw the ball. Last year the play book was pretty much limited to Hunt left, Hunt right, Hunt up the middle, and seven yard sideline patterns to Deon Butler. Against Tennessee and Florida International we saw signs of the playbook opening up. They are attacking the middle of the field now and taking more chances downfield than a year ago.

No opponent tagged the Nittany Lion defense for 34 points the way Notre Dame did last year. But that was a young squad still learning how to play. There were three new starters on the defensive line, four new starters in the secondary, and their star linebacker was recovering from a knee injury that forced him to wear a large bulky knee brace.

The defensive line is missing Jim and Tim Shaw, Ed Johnson, and All-American Jay Alford from last year. This normally would be reason for concern, but Maurice Evans, Josh Gaines, Phil Taylor, Jared Odrick, and Chris Baker all saw significant playing time on a defensive line that ranked #7 in the country against the rush last season. Gaines and Evans will split time at the strong side defensive end position. Both are highly effective players. The weak side will be split between redshirt freshman Aaron Maybin and Jerome Hayes, a linebacker playing the standup defensive end position similar to what Tim Shaw did last year. Maybin and Hayes are extremely fast and bring an excellent pass rush around the corner. The part of the defensive line that concerns me is the defensive tackles. We’ve had some problems with injuries in the preseason. Abe Koroma was projected to start but he is out with a broken foot. Phil Taylor is playing with a banged up knee and his conditioning is not the best. Redshirt freshman Ollie Ogbu was thrust into the starting roll in week one and did a fantastic job though. Jared Odrick is the other starting tackle and he’s a solid player that gets good penetration. Against FIU he had a sack and blocked a field goal.

What is there that hasn’t been said about the Penn State linebackers? I don’t know where they keep finding these guys. Dan Connor is an All-American and probably a future first round draft pick. He plays in the middle. The strong side linebacker is junior Sean Lee who is most likely a future All-American. Last week he won Big Ten Player of the Week honors for his performance against FIU. In only two-and-a-half quarters of play he collected seven tackles, all solo, a sack, a forced fumble, and a broken up pass. Tyrell Sales replaces Paul Posluszny. He’s an experienced junior with good athleticism. But don’t be surprised to see Navorro Bowman on the field. The redshirt freshman is pushing him hard for playing time. He has more speed and against FIU he forced a fumble that he recovered himself and blocked a punt on special teams.

The secondary returns three guys who helped Penn State earn the #15 pass efficiency defense in the country last year. Justin King is still blanketing half the field and Anthony Scirrotto is still roaming deep despite his off-the-field issues. Tony Davis has moved from corner to safety where he’s probably better suited to play. This was done to make room for A.J. Wallace, a highly touted cornerback in his second year. But I think the coaches are a few games away from completely handing the job over to him. Lydell Sargeant got the start over him in week one. Sargeant is an experienced player, but lacks Wallace’s playmaking ability. Against FIU he got spun around a few times and looked lost other times. Cornerback may be a concern whether it’s Sargeant or Wallace.

Overall, expect a different style of defense from Penn State than you saw a year ago. Penn State was breaking in a new secondary then so they played a lot of zone and dropped the linebackers back into coverage to help out. The result was Brady Quinn having all day to pick the Lion defense apart. This year the coaches have much more confidence in their players. They play a lot of man-to-man in the secondary, and this will free up the linebackers to attack the run and blitz the passer. In the offseason, the Penn State coaches visited LSU to learn their various zone blitzing schemes. Don’t think it was just a coincidence that they picked LSU after the Tigers dismantled Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Getting out-played and out-coached left a bad taste in Penn State’s mouth. Joe Paterno probably won’t get another chance to play Notre Dame after Saturday, so he wants this game badly.

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