Aug. 29, 2010
By Larry Watts
If head coach Joe Paterno and his Penn State squad hope to put together their third straight 11-win season in 2010, they'll have to do it by going green.
With the graduation of two-year starter Daryll Clark, a two-time first team All-Big Ten selection who passed for nearly 5,600 yards and 43 touchdowns in his final two seasons, the Nittany Lions find themselves with virtually no experience at quarterback. Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin, who have combined to throw 13 passes on the collegiate stage, did little to distinguish themselves in the spring.
Then there's 6-foot-4, 195-pound freshman Robert Bolden who has quickly raised eyebrows during the early portion of fall camp. All the winner of this derby has to do is take the field against defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 11.
But even with losing four players, including all three linebackers, to the NFL draft, the Nittany Lions can always be counted on to play defense with the best of the teams nationally. And Penn State will have to with the likes of Alabama, Iowa (Oct. 2) and Ohio State (Nov. 13) all on the road this fall.
OFFENSE: The quarterback picture may be unclear, but there is always the comfort of knowing what fifth-year senor Evan Royster can do when he has the ball in his hands. Royster (6-1, 213), a first-team all-Big Ten selection, passed up the NFL to continue his assault on Curt Warner's all-time rushing record at Penn State. Royster, who has a career average of 6.1 yards per carry and the seventh Nittany Lion to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard season, needs 481 yards to break Warner's mark of 3,398 yards. The Nittany Lions are 12-0 when Royster rushes for over 100 yards in a game. Junior Stephfon Green (319 yards) is a reliable backup to Royster, but the Lions' depth took a hit when junior Brandon Beachum tore his ACL in fall camp. The top two targets, 6-5 junior Derek Moye and 6-3 senior Graham Zug, return for the rookie quarterback. Moye caught 48 balls for 785 yards (16.4 average) and six touchdowns in 2009 while Zug had 46 receptions for 600 yards and seven TDs. Senior Brett Beckett was listed as the third receiver coming into camp. Sophomore Curtis Drake fell out of the battle when he broke his leg so sophomores Justin Brown and Devon Smith along with redshirt freshman Shawney Kersey should be in the mix. Junior Andrew Szczerba (6-6, 260) gets first crack at tight end. Thee starters return to a reshuffled offensive line. First-team All-Big Ten center Stefen Wisniewski (6-3, 297), a senior, returns to right guard, where he started all of 2008. Senior Lou Eliades (6-4, 310) shifts from right guard to right tackle while junior DeOn'tae Pannell (6-5, 300) moves from left tackle to left guard. The moves open the door for senior Doug Klopacz (6-3, 284), who tore his ACL in 2008, and junior Quinnn Barham (6-3, 290) at center and left tackle, respectively.
DEFENSE: The biggest challenge for the defense may be filling the void left by defensive tackle Jared Odrick, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year and a first-round selection in the NFL draft. That challenge is being taken by junior Devon Still (6-5, 294), who came back from injuries to post 5.5 tackles for loss last season. Starters Ollie Ogbu (6-1, 285), a senior, and Jack Crawford (6-5, 256) a junior, are veterans at tackle and end, respectively. Crawford had 14.5 TFLs in 2009. The other end will be junior Eric Latimore (6-6, 270). Replacing all three players at Linebacker U seems like a tall task, but this year's group is hardly short on experience. Senior Chris Colasanti was a special teams standout who made 18 tackles last year and will move into the middle. He will be surrounded by senior Bani Gbadyu (37 tackles) and junior Nate Stupar (31 tackles). Redshirt sophomore Michael Mauti, who missed last year with a torn ACL after playing in every game as a true freshman in 2008, will also see a lot of playing time. Three starters return to the secondary, but they seem to be taking more hits than they have been dishing out in fall camp. Starting strong safety Drew Astorino, a junior who had shoulder surgery in January, has been dealing with shoulder issues in camp. Junior D'Anton Lynn, a returning starter at cornerback, has been sidelined with a lower leg injury. Junior free safety Nick Sukay, who had a team-high 11 pass breakups in 2009, is the other returning starter. Sophomore Stephon Morris moves in at the other corner. Junior Chaz Powell, who was the team's fourth-leading receiver last year, has been moved over to corner while redshirt freshman Derrick Thomas should also push for playing time.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Collin Wagner returns as the Nittany Lions' placekicker, where he converted 15 of 22 attempts last year. Wagner nailed four field goals, including a game-winning 21-yarder with 57 seconds remaining, during a muddy 19-17 victory over LSU in the Capital One Bowl last January. The punting duties will most likely fall into the hands of sophomore walk-on Russell Nye, who has never kicked in a college game. Zug, Astorino, Royster and Brown shared the punt return duties last season. Powell and Smith, a prep speedster in Maryland, both fielded kickoffs.
MISCELLANEOUS: Already the winningest coach in Division I-A history, Joe Paterno heads into his 45th season at Penn State needing only six victories to reach the 400-victory plateau. The Nittany Lions have posted 51 victories, including four bowl triumphs, during the past five seasons. Not seeing a big rivalry game on the home schedule for 2010, Penn State officials have decided to wait until Alabama comes to State College for a night game on Sept. 10, 2011 to hold the next White House Game, where all the Penn State fans wear white. Starting with Youngstown State on Sept. 4, there are seven home games on the docket for 2010, but the Lions will also be playing Indiana at FedEx Field (home of the Washington Redskins) in Landover, Md. on Nov. 20.