Blue White Roundtable: Alabama Week Edition
September 7, 2011 – | 1 Comment

Once again, it’s Adam Collyer over at BlackShoeDiaries providing the questions, and we, your humble bloggers, providing the answers. Mine are below, and you can venture off to the remote areas of the blogosphere that …

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What We Learned:

Submitted by on April 25, 20108 Comments

There’s always danger in overanalyzing the Blue/White Game.  It’s just one of 15 practices–and yes, above all else it is merely a practice, albeit one in front of tens of thousands of fans and a national TV audience.  But there’s also something to be said for these players, many of whom are coming in with something to prove.  Others still, freshmen and youngsters alike, are desperately trying to make a good first impression among the fanbase.  Ask any of them, and they’ll tell you: the Blue/White Game means something.  So while the scrimmage isn’t an end-all be-all analysis of how the team will perform come September, it does give us a first look at our beloved Lions.

The Quarterbacks: Coming into the game, this was, obviously, the most closely scrutinized position.  With Kevin Newsome the most experienced passer on the roster, with all of 11 pass attempts under his belt, many posited that redshirt freshman walk-on Matt McGloin could earn the starting job with a strong spring. Though he drew much praise from observers of Penn State’s other practices, he struggled mightily on the field at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.  McGloin completed just 10 of 23 attempts for 110 yards, to go along with 2 interceptions.  He did show off a very strong arm, completing a number of passes outside the numbers, but was erratic, and showed miserable touch on the deep ball.  As expected for someone with so little experience, he struggled making his reads, and on each of the interceptions, tried to force the ball into an impossibly small window.  One would think that this eliminates McGloin from the running to be the starter next fall, barring injury.

That’s not to say that Newsome was much better. At 5-12 for just 50 yards, Newsome impressed few with his passing skills.  Though his legs were on display, as Newsome scrambled to buy time, he struggled to place the ball where it needed to be, especially on timing routes, and also failed to hook up with his receivers on deep passes, consistently overthrowing receivers despite putting plenty of air underneath his throws.  Newsome also has a strange throwing motion, almost like a pitcher who throws at three-quarters, which elongates the motion and will lead to some knock-downs at the line.  His game was focused on not making mistakes, and he did a good job identifying the open receiver, even if he couldn’t always put the ball where it needed to be.  He only made one really bad throw, trying to force one along the sideline while scrambling that was dropped by, I believe, Mike Yancich.  He didn’t impress, but at least he wasn’t cringe-inducingly bad, like McGloin was.  His legs are perhaps his best asset, and he didn’t get a chance to use them in a scrimmage like this.  Penn State wasn’t going to be rolling out Newsome and exposing him to a big hit in a practice.  We don’t know what we’ll get from Newsome until we actually see him in action, but once he starts, he’ll be more of a game-manager than anything else, and Penn State will be a very run-heavy team.

Surprisingly, it was Paul Jones, playing with the third team, who easily looked the best of Penn State’s three quarterbacks, though, granted, it was against the bottom-of-the-barrel defense; mainly walk-ons and freshmen.  Still, it’s difficult to discount that he threw two touchdown passes–the only two touchdowns of the day–, one coming on a marvelously executed fade with Shawney Kersey at the end of the first half and the other a strike to Kersey in the back of the end zone, with a beautiful diving catch on the other end.  Jones completed 5 of 8 passes for 67 yards, though two of the incompletions were drops, both in the end zone, by Devon Smith and Justin Brown.  I’ve been on the P.J. bandwagon for a long time, now, and though he certainly won’t be under center against Alabama, I honestly think he’s the best option for Penn State moving forward.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s starting come midseason.

The Offensive Line: This was another area of concern, with the graduation of both tackles, Dennis Landolt and Ako Poti and some jumbling up of the unit, with Stefen Wisniewski moving back to center and Quinn Barham manning the left tackle spot.  Though it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions, I will say that the unit looked a lot more cohesive than last year’s crew did at this point last year, but certainly has a ways to go.  Since each QB was “sacked” the moment he was touched by a defensive player, the 5 total “sacks” isn’t a terrible number.  The run game was unspectacular, but it was also without Evan Royster.  In all honesty, there wasn’t much I saw from the offensive line, either good or bad.  It will obviously need to improve significantly over last year’s unit, which struggled so mightily in the losses to Iowa and Ohio State.

The Linebackers: Oh, boy, did the linebackers look good in this one.  I know, it’s always useless to worry about Penn State’s linebackers, even amid uncertainty, you just know someone will step up.  This time, it was Nate Stupar, who not only made 7 tackles (6 solo, and one for a loss), but jumped in front of a Matt McGloin pass for an interception.  With so many players cycling in, it was difficult for any others to really stand out, but Bani Gbadyu looked good, ranging all over the place, and making one bone-crushing hit on Garry Gilliam.  Not to draw conclusions from this game, but I feel as though they solidified their grasp on two starting spots.  Chris Colasanti played decently (3 tackles, all solo), but I think it may be his spot in the middle that Mike Mauti assumes once fully healthy.

Special Teams: Not to re-use an old joke (and not a particularly funny one, at that), but the special teams are very, well, special.  With Anthony Fera sidelined for his underage citation, Temple transfer walk-on Russell Tye and, um, Graham Zug split punting duty, and neither was especially good, though Tye clearly holds the edge over the starting wide receiver. You’ll probably remember Danny White, who both played quarterback and punted for the Dallas Cowboys back in the 70s and 80s, but I’m not sure if a team has ever gone with a WR/punter.  Either way, Penn State won’t be the first, as Zug wasn’t particularly good.  Collin Wagner nailed a 46 yard field goal, so that’s a plus.  David Soldner hit one-of-two, connecting on a 38 yarder.

There wasn’t much to grade the other positions on.  The secondary was solid, but played very basic sets, and let the quarterbacks make mistakes rather than force the issue.  The defensive line did a very good job getting penetration, and Eric Latimore looked quicker off the edge than he did a year ago, and the same goes for Kevion Latham.  The freshmen, save for Paul Jones, didn’t play much at all, though Silas Redd looked real good on a couple runs, though he ended up with 4 rushes for just 10 yards.

In the end, there wasn’t much we learned from this game.  Neither quarterback deemed “in the competition” stood out, though Newsome managed to suck less than McGloin did.  I hope Paul Jones gets his shot, but knowing Joe Paterno, the odds are stacked against him.  It’s become almost cliche to say that the defense is ahead of the offense, but the case is certainly true for Penn State.  Unless one of the quarterbacks steps up, this could be a long year for Penn State.  8-4 may well be an optimistic prediction.

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