2008 Big Ten Football Season Preview: Penn State
Aug. 28, 2008
Penn State has been preparing for the 2008 season with high hopes as the Nittany Lions return 16 starters from a 9-4 Alamo Bowl-winning team from 2007. Eight starters are back on each side of the ball, and perhaps the most significant returnee of all is head coach Joe Paterno. Back for his 43rd season at Penn State, Paterno seems to have his hands on another team that could end the season with 10 or more wins.
Following four non-conference games to open the season, which includes a road trip to Syracuse, the Nittany Lions will quickly learn where they stand among the conference contenders. Penn State hosts 2008 Rose Bowl participant Illinois in the conference opener on Sept. 27 and then hits the road to Purdue and Wisconsin. PSU then welcomes Michigan on Oct. 18 and spends the next week battling Ohio State in Columbus before a much needed bye week on Nov. 1.
OFFENSE: Penn State is one of the conference teams entering the 2008 campaign that has a question mark next to the starting quarterback position. Gone is the graduated Anthony Morelli, who threw for 5,275 yards and 31 touchdowns in his career. Senior Daryll Clark saw some snaps under center in the Alamo Bowl last year and will get the nod for the season opener against Coastal Carolina. Look for sophomore Pat Devlin to battle Clark throughout the season for the starting nod. Regardless of who is QB1 on a given Saturday, Penn State has veteran wide receivers in juniors Derrick Williams and Deon Butler and senior Jordan Norwood. All three receivers have recorded 40 or more receptions in each of the past two seasons. Butler posted 47 catches for a team-high 633 yards and four touchdown catches last year and is second all-time at PSU with 132 receptions. Williams enters with 1,258 career receiving yards and Norwood hauled in a team-leading five touchdown passes in 2007. Junior tight end Mickey Shuler returns to his starting role as do linemen Gerald Cadogan (LT), Rich Ohrnberger (LG), A.Q. Shipley (C) and Dennis Landolt (RT). Shipley, a 2007 first-team All-Big Ten selection, will also help sophomore right guard Stefen Wisniewski get acquainted to the line. Sophomore Evan Royster, who posted 6.3 yards per carry and five touchdowns last year, returns to the backfield and will be expected to fill the void left by Rodney Kinlaw and his 1,329 yards and 10 scores from last year.
DEFENSE: Penn State return five significant starters on the defense that will anchor their respective positions. Two of the four linemen return, one of the three linebackers is back, and two of the four players in the secondary started last year. Junior defensive end Maurice Evans was a monster last year, racking up 12.5 sacks on the year from the left side. Opposite of Evans will be senior Josh Gaines at right end. Those two will be looked upon to help sophomores Abe Koroma (LT) and Ollie Ogbu (RT). Senior Tyrell Sales is now the dean of "Linebacker U" and will be expected to uphold the tradition of Nittany Lion linebackers. Dan Connor graduated last year as the Chuck Bednarik award winner as the nation's best defensive player and senior leader Sean Lee injured his knee in spring practice and is out for the year. Sales will be mentoring sophomore Bani Gbadyu and junior Josh Hull. Senior Anthony Scirrotto will help lead the secondary at free safety after posting 65 tackles and three interceptions last season. Senior strong safety Mark Rubin also returns. Seniors Tony Davis and Lydell Sargeant are listed as the starting cornerbacks. Justin King has moved on to the NFL, but expect junior A.J. Wallace, who had starting experience last year, to challenge Davis and Sargeant.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior kicker Kevin Kelly and junior punter Jeremy Boone both return to their starting roles from last year. Boone averaged a conference-best 43 yards per punt and placed his kicks inside the 20-yard line 42 percent of the time. Kelly was 20-of-26 in field goals in 2007. He ranked third in the league for most field goals made but his 76.9 percentage was sixth-best and will need to improve this season. A.J. Wallace and Derrick Williams, both of whom scored on returns last year, will be fielding kicks and punts, respectively.
MISCELLANEOUS: Three of Penn State's four losses in 2007 came by a touchdown or less. The other loss was a 37-17 setback to top-ranked Ohio State. * For the first time in a long time, look for the Nittany Lions' defense to be centered on the defensive line. With an inexperience linebacking group this year, the D-line will need to be tough up front. * PSU ranked seventh in the nation last year in scoring defense (17.5 ppg) and rush defense (93.8 ypg).