2012 Penn State Preview - The Reboot
Penn State LB Glenn Carson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Penn State Nittany Lions
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The trick is to keep breathing. Penn State didn't get the death penalty, so while there are still a ton of problems to deal with, the football team is still going to play.
Head coach: Bill O'Brien
Ten Best Penn State Players
1. LB Gerald Hodges, Sr.
2. LB Michael Mauti, Sr.
3. LB Glenn Carson, Jr.
4. DT Jordan Hill, Sr.
5. DE Sean Stanley, Sr.
6. DT DaQuan Jones, Jr.
7. OT Adam Gress, Jr.
8. DE Pete Massaro, Sr.
9. OG John Urschel, Sr.
10. C/G Matt Stankiewitch, Sr.
Sep. 1 Ohio
Sep. 8 at Virginia
Sep. 15 Navy
Sep. 22 Temple
Sep. 29 at Illinois
Oct. 6 Northwestern
Oct. 13 OPEN DATE
Oct. 20 at Iowa
Oct. 27 Ohio State
Nov. 3 at Purdue
Nov. 10 at Nebraska
Nov. 17 Indiana
Nov. 24 Wisconsin
Emotions will always run high on all sides when it comes to Joe Paterno and his legacy, and there's no way to quickly bounce back from the stain of one of the most horrific scandals in the history of collegiate athletics, so the only way to go forward is to try starting from scratch and to not let football be anything more than simply football.
After last year, when "We Are ... Penn State" represented a rallying cry of defiance and pride to one side, and a combination of shameful ignorance and complicity to the other, now Penn State football has to be just about a sport. It doesn't have to be an identity.
Of course, that's not exactly easy considering what the football program and the Paterno name still mean to Penn State University and the region. But as the layers of the controversy keep getting peeled back and as more is uncovered about how deep the nightmare went and how ugly this all was, the idea of trying to create a winning football team again under a new head coach is painfully trivial.
Fortunately, Bill O'Brien appears to be the right guy to walk the tightrope needed to follow in the footsteps of one the most successful coaches in the history of sports.
O'Brien has to be able to pander to the crowd that will never, ever see Paterno as anything short of a saint, or to the extreme, a martyr. At the same time O'Brien has to make the program his while doing what he thinks is needed to win football games, even at the expense of a backlash. "That's not how JoePa would've done it" can't enter into the equation.
For now, Penn State simply needs a football coach. It doesn't need a father figure and it doesn't need a living legend. It doesn't need an icon, it doesn't need a coach with an identity, and it doesn't need anyone who does anything more than run out of a tunnel on Saturday afternoons in an attempt to win a game.
O'Brien is just anonymous enough, just un-Penn State enough, and just green enough to be the right fit in an impossible situation. He doesn't represent anything that happened last fall, and while he'll have to answer question after question about being the guy to replace The Guy, while also dealing with all of the outside distractions, for him, having the tunnel vision to get his team ready to play is his only job description.
But that's not going to be easy.
As old school as Paterno was, his teams didn't always play like it. The forward pass wasn't a vague concept, and the defenses were always aggressive and attacking, so it's not like O'Brien has to pull the program out of the Stone Age. However, offensively, he's going to try turning Penn State into New England.
It could eventually happen with the right quarterback and a few nice recruiting classes, but for now it's going to be hard to go from 0-to-60 for a passing game that finished 112th in the nation in efficiency and lost top receiver Derek Moye and Justin Brown. The same quarterback play – with Matt McGloin leading the way with Rob Bolden off to LSU - that stunk two years ago stunk worse last year and are now being asked to not stink. The alternative is turning the high-octane scheme over to Paul Jones, who has yet to do anything other than light up the practice field.
The O line needs to be rebuilt, the receivers are average, and the running back situation is way thin after star Silas Redd bolted for USC, but there are enough good starters to build around if the quarterback play is better. The problem for O'Brien's offense, though, is that it really might be a good idea to go conservative this season and let the defense take care of the rest.
If Michael Mauti can stay healthy, the linebacking corps could be the best in college football and will certainly be among the best in the Big Ten. The defensive line will be terrific despite the loss of Devon Still and Jack Crawford, and any problems in the secondary will be masked by a schedule without a slew of top-shelf passers.
There might be recruiting issues for a while and the circus surrounding the Jerry Sandusky trial will be on the front page for the near future, but football-wise, Penn State should be okay for now. For now, okay is good enough.
What to watch for on offense: Desperation at running back. The offense was going to be Silas Redd, Silas Redd and more Silas Redd. Despite so many losses from a line that was a rock last year and led the Big Ten in pass protection, it's going to be fine with a little bit of time. Adam Gress appears ready to step up and left tackle and Donovan Smith should be the truth over the next few years on the right side. The passing game isn't going to suddenly blow up, so with Redd gone that O line has to blast away for someone to carry the mail at least 20 times a game. Until a steady quarterback emerges – if a steady quarterback emerges – the opportunities will be there.
What to watch for on defense: Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof will revolve everything around his phenomenal group of linebackers that will be all over the field and should swarm for tackle after tackle. The secondary won't be awful once the coaching staff decides on the right combination, and the line will be great in the middle and dangerous on the end if Pete Massaro can stay healthy, but the linebacking corps will clean up any messes.
The team will be far better if … the passing game isn't abysmal. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the quarterbacks are struggling and the passing game isn't great. It's a bit of a broken record over the last few years, but the quarterbacks are struggling and the passing game isn't great. While O'Brien and the coaching staff are doing what they can to simplify things, basically, the quarterback got a D+ in algebra and now they're being asked to master calculus. Last season the Nittany Lions threw a mere ten touchdown passes with four coming in the win over Eastern Michigan and two coming in the victory over Northwestern. That means there were just four touchdown passes in the other 11 games with seven games without a scoring pass. Until the Nittany Lions can prove they can hit a downfield pass, everyone will load up to stop the running game.
The schedule: Under any normal circumstances for Penn State, the schedule would be more than manageable enough for a huge season. The Ohio State and Wisconsin games are at home, the non-conference slate isn't too bad, and there's a well-timed week off in the middle of the year to let everyone catch their breath. Of course, these aren't normal circumstances in Happy Valley and there's not going to be a lot of time to tune up.
Ohio might be the best team in the MAC East and could start the Penn State season off with a thud. Going to Virginia is going to be a problem, and this could finally be the year that Temple – who should've won last year's game – breaks the epic losing streak.
Missing Michigan and Michigan State from the Legends is a break, but going to Iowa and Nebraska as part of a rough run of three road games in four weeks could be a backbreaker. It might take wins over both Indiana and Wisconsin to close out the regular season to finish with a winning season.
Best offensive player: Junior OG Adam Gress. Offense is going to be a big, big problem with Silas Redd gone. Gress took the job by the horns this offseason. A 6-6, 306-pound guard, he beefed up over the last few years but showed enough quickness and athleticism to handle himself on the outside, likely at right tackle.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Gerald Hodges. That could quickly change if Michael Mauti can stay in one piece, but even if he's back to form and lasts for an entire season Hodges could be the star of a loaded linebacking corps. The 6-2, 233-pound senior led the team with 106 tackles and also made his way into the backfield on a regular basis with 4.5 sacks with ten tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. The former safety is a guided missile of a playmaker who'll be on the short list for All-Big Ten and All-America honors.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Matt McGloin. The receiving corps is going to struggle without Justin Brown as a No. 1 target, and the running game is going to be mediocre without Silas Redd to count on. McGloin or Paul Jones have to suddenly be phenomenal just to get the offense going a wee bit, but that's asking a lot. The defense will have to keep things close and the O will have to do just enough to get by. It all starts with the quarterbacks.
The season will be a success if … the Nittany Lions win eight games. There are way too many distractions and way too many obstacles to finish on top of the Leaders, but the schedule is just light enough and the team is just strong enough to be in the hunt. Considering Ohio and Temple are solid, the home game against Indiana might be the only true layup on the lot and everyone still gets up for Penn State, but going 7-5 in the regular season is more than doable. That might seem like a disappointment, but it all has to be put in the context of just trying to put one foot in front of the other.
Key game: Sept. 1 vs. Ohio. It was one thing to not have Joe Paterno running out of the tunnel and it was another for him to not be the Penn State head football coach anymore, but on September 1st he's not going to be up in the press box and he's not going to be at home watching with his family. After a season with so many emotions and so many crazy and insane moments, the first home game after Paterno's death
- and with all the emotions running so high - will be something completely different. O'Brien will be given a free pass this season as he tries to rebuild the program, but he can't lose this game.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Penn State 31 for 213 yards – Opponents 14 for 116 yards
- Penn State was outscored in every quarter but the 2nd, outscoring its opponents 81 to 74.
- Fumbles: Penn State 31 (lost 13) – Opponents 16 (lost 12)
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