Grading The Penn State Offense Against Illinois

Saturday was a microcosm of the season.  This team didn't block, tackle, run, catch (Zug for one), but more importantly, come back when down by more than 7points against a quality opponent.  Will the team be down forever?  No of course not, but Penn State could struggle the rest of the season and Joe Paterno could potentially fall short of obtaining his 400th victory (not that he even cares about that right now).

Illinois had their way with Penn State.  It's as simple as that.

Quarterback

I think it is about time people stop using the "poise" word when describing the play of Robert Bolden.  It doesn't matter that he is 18 years old, or only joined the team in the summer, Rob Bolden was determined to be the best option at QB for Penn State and he still is.  For those of you still stuck in the Pat Devlin camp, even he would have had trouble succeeding this season, especially with this offensive line.

Bolden had an awful day.  He experienced the complete negative QB spectrum on Saturday.  Under throws and overthrows with INTs and sacks in between.  The Illini defense should be given credit for the outstanding defensive game plan.  Bolden's receivers were blanketed all game long. Bolden finished the day 8-21 for 142 yards 1 TD and 1 INT.  The INT was returned for a TD (it was like the Illini LB knew where he was going to throw the ball) and put the game out of reach.  The TD?  Well that was a slightly under thrown 80 yard bomb to Derek Moye.  Take out that one pass, and Bolden finished the day 7-20 for 62 yards.  Those are horrid numbers.  But again, you can't place all the blame on Rob Bolden.  It starts with the predictable play calling.  You can't expect someone to succeed when you run the ball for a total of 4 or 5 yards on first and second down and consistently put your offense in third and long.  The Penn State coaches were out coached by Ron Zook on Saturday.  Chew on that for a minute.

We've talked about this most of the year, but the offensive line was again the weakest link on the field.  On Bolden's final play of the game, neither Doug Klopacz (the weakest of the weak) or Penn State's "best" lineman, Stefen Wisniewski blocked a single person and proceeded to argue with each other as Bolden picked himself up off the turf. The coaches continue to not put Bolden in a position to get comfortable and succeed.  He is at his best in the shotgun.  When your down more than two scores, put the kid in the gun and let him see the field and pick his spots.  The boo birds came down hard on Bolden and company, especially when they weren't able to score a TD when the started with the ball on the Illinois 9 yard line.  That has more to do with the play selection

You want to know the reason Rob Bolden was named the starting QB?  Put in Kevin Newsome, blitz him and he will pull the ball down and try to run.  Newsome sees the field about as well as Kevin Kolb of the Philadelphia Eagles who earned the nickname in Philly "King Checkdown." In his current form, Newsome is not equipped to be a major college QB.

Final Grade: D

Running Backs

The day started out great for Evan Royster, a nice 8 yard run.  After that, only 30 more yards.  You can't even blame it all on Evan anymore.  He runs the plays called and tries to find holes the linemen should be opening up.  We sound like a broken record every week.  This will be the week the line comes together and we have a great rushing game.  This is the day Royster will break the record and be the Royster of old.  It's never ending.   We were expected to lose to Alabama and Iowa.  What we didn't expect was for the offense to be this bad and to lose the homecoming game against Illinois.

Silas Redd ran for 13 yards on 4 carries, most of which came on the quick pitch play he had success with against Iowa.  Stephfon Green, who early in the season looked like the best back on the team, finished with 9 yards on 3 carries.  Bolden had a nice run on 4th and 1 to pick up a first down but that was it for him on the ground. 65 yards of total rushing offense, not something to smile about.

The struggles continue and the team will have two weeks to figure things out.

Final Grade: D-

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Well considering our starting QB completed 8 of his 21 passes (Newsome only completed 2), there isn't much to say about this group this week.  Derek Moye continues to be the best of the bunch finishing with 3 catches for 106 yards and that 80 yard TD.  Brett Brackett continues to make plays for Bolden and had 46 yards on 4 catches.  Graham Zug caught something other than the flu in October (1 catch for 15 yards, with 1 drop) and Devon Smith was a complete non-factor with his 1 catch for 3 yards.  Nothing to report on the TE Kevin Haplea.  Brett Brackett will continue to play the hybrid WR/TE the rest of the season.

The wide receivers could not get open on Saturday and credit has to be given to the Illini defense for that.  Not only did they stop the run but they were able to blanket our receivers and completely shut down on already meager offense.  A lot had to do with the play calling (putting the offense in negative situations all game) and some had to do with the continued horrible play of the o-line.  With no running threat to worry about, the Illini were able to focus on shutting down our receivers and with the exception of the Moye TD, they did just that.

Final Grade: C+

Offensive Line

I don't know what else to say about these guys that hasn't already been said.  Maybe it's finally time to have the line coached by one man instead of two.  They are the weakest link on the Penn State team.  They can't run block or get any sort of push and continually get pushed back three or four yards.  Joe wants to pound the football up the middle, but this line can't move the defensive line far enough to do so.  Zero, one, two, or three yard runs up the middle on back to back plays isn't going to help your offensive or your young QB.  Klopacz must have some dirt on the coaching staff or his backups are just that bad because there are no other explanations why this kid is still in the starting lineup and don't say because he is a 5th year senior and has earned it.  Yes he earned the opportunity to start the season opener.  He earned the opportunity to compete and keep his position.  But he has done nothing on the field that shows he deserves to keep it, unless you considered make mental mistakes to allow Bolden to get his head taken off.  This is the state of our offensive line.

We all assumed Penn State recruited the offensive line well in the past couple of years, mainly because the kids we brought in had a lot of stars next to their names.  Well maybe we didn't do as well as we thought. 

Final Grade: F

Offensive Coaching

The Spread HD has returned to analog for the 2010 season.  They might even want to think about investing in the Spread 3D.  The play calling on Saturday was unacceptable (which is obvious due to the 7 first downs the offense was able to manage).  By week 6, the coaches should know what they have.  If doesn't take a genius to realize that this team does not possess the offensive line (at least the one that is currently starting) to run an up the middle, smash mouth power running game.  They just can't.  The line doesn't get the type of push necessary to have success with that style of running which has worked for Paterno teams the past 40 years.  When Penn State did have some success on the ground, it was to the outside.  But instead of continuing to call plays to the edge, the coaches insisted on calling dives up the middle. 

The biggest display of our coaches inability to put the team in a position to succeed: the 1st and Goal from the 9 yard line series after the second fumbled punt of the day.  Back to back runs for a gain of 5 and an incomplete pass (according to JayPa it was an Evan Royster mistake that caused that play).  Penn State was in the red zone twice on Saturday and came away with Colin Wagner field goals each time. 

Four, 3 and Outs, 65 yards of rushing offense, no redzone TDs in 2 attempts, 170 yards passing, and predictable play calling all doomed the offense on Saturday and it doesn't look like that pattern is going to change any time soon.  This offense has shown, in it's current form, that it is unable to put up points against Teams from BCS conferences.  We are now 6 weeks into the season and the team is still searching for an offensive identity.  Hopefully they find it soon.

Penn State has two weeks to figure things out and determine what type of season they want to have.  At this rate, the team could potentially finish 5-7 (and no, Northwestern is not a gimme W).  The players keep saying things about their teammates in the media, not something we have seen in years past, but losing seems to do that to every team.  That is not the Penn State way...

Final Grade: F

The atmosphere on Saturday was something that continues to be commonplace at Beaver Stadium.  A half-empty student section well into the first quarter, a lethargic fan base that is more than happy to yell and scream when their image is projected on the JumboTron and fans (not just the students, but alumni, fans, townies) that have no problem heading for the exits with time left in the third quarter.  What other pressing event did people schedule in the middle of the game (it's like a groomsman leaving your wedding early)?  If the game was close or Penn State was winning, I highly doubt we would have saw the mass exodus that happened on Saturday.  Sometimes I think we all have to remember that we are always Penn State and not just when we are having a great season.

We all have two weeks to get past this loss and look forward to the rest of the season.  Injuries are starting to take their toll, but the next guy in line needs to step up.  I said this last week and I'll continue to say it: this team has the potential to be special, it is just going to take some time.

The night is always darkest just before the dawn...

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