If there was ever a chance for the Penn State offense to get on track and have some success, this was the game. The Minnesota Golden Gophers came into the weekend with one of the worst defenses in the country. It was encouraging to see the Nittany Lions put 31 points on the board (two points came on a safety), but it wasn't all rainbows and lollipops. Let's grade out the offense.
Robert Bolden got off to a fast start in the game. Against Illinois it seemed like he was looking for his checkdowns as soon as he dropped back. This week he was more aggressive in attacking downfield and having success in doing it. He just seemed more confident and in control of the offense than he has all season, which is why it was such a shame to see him go down with the injury midway through the second quarter. Bolden finished 11-for-13 for 130 yards and a touchdown to Brett Brackett. My only knock on Bolden is that he looked hesitant when Minnesota showed blitz, and they did it often to him. There was a time or two when Bolden panicked and either tried to tuck the ball and run or he rushed his throw. Dare I say it? He lacked poise.
Everyone was shocked to see Matt McGloin to come in the game instead of Kevin Newsome, but Newsome had reportedly been ill all week and almost didn't make the trip. Normally when you have to resort to using the third string walk on backup on the road, you are in for a long afternoon, but not so when you have to play Minnesota. McGloin's 42 yard touchdown to Derek Moye could not have been thrown any better. It obviously gave him a lot of confidence, because he was going for another home run on his next pass which was horribly underthrown and picked off by the safety. One thing is for sure: McGloin is not afraid to chuck it deep. If he's the guy this week, he has to tone it down and go with his check downs when the deep throw isn't there. His second touchdown throw to Moye was a good throw, but it was a better play on the ball by Moye. McGloin finished 6-for-13 for 76 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT.
Kevin Newsome did manage to get in for a few plays, and we pretty much saw what we've come to expect from him. He had a couple of nice runs, but the coaches didn't want to let him put it in the air. Newsome in the game when Royster ripped off his 29-yard run, so maybe the defense was keying on Newsome there.
Final Grade: B
Evan Royster continues to look nothing like the Evan Royster from 2008 and 2009. Even his 29-yard run didn't look that impressive to me. It was one of those rare occassions when the offensive line was able to create a huge hole. He just walked through it and kept going, but I found myself waiting for him to hit that second gear and try to outrun the defense. It just wasn't there. He's basically turned into Tony Hunt, except he's not one-tenth as tough and goes down on first contact. Take away his 29 yard run through a hole wider than the Mojave Desert, and he gained 33 yards on 9 carries. That's not getting it done for a guy who is now just 31 yards away from holding the school record.
Silas Redd clearly needs to get more carries. I know Paterno says he makes a lot of mistakes and doesn't pass protect well, but the upside outweighs the downside at this point. When you have an offensive line that can't hold their blocks, you need a running back that doesn't fool around and just gets through the gap fast. And when the hole isn't there, he can bounce it outside and make something happen. Right now that guy is Silas Redd. Royster has lost that sidestep that made him so good in 2008.
If you're worried about Redd pass protecting, then roll the pocket or send him out into passing routes to draw the linebackers off the blitz. It infuriates me that Joe Paterno's solution to counteract the blitz is always to keep running backs and tight ends back in pass protection. This just gives the defense the green light to send more guys. The trend in football the past several years is to send running backs out of the back field to force the linebackers to cover them. When they're covering running backs they can't blitz, can they? This is one area where Paterno and Penn State have to get with the program the rest of the NCAA is on.
I'm absolutely loving Mike Zordich at fullback. He's a tough runner and he's making some key blocks. More please.
Final Grade: C+
Going into the game the Gophers were giving up over 200 yards rushing per contest. Against opponents like that, a team like Penn State should be able to gain at least 250 yards rushing and completely dominate, but that was far from the case as the Lions only gained 145 yards on 30 carries.
We've already covered the problems here. They get no push, and they don't hold their blocks. I watched Doug Klozacz push his man out of the way and just let him go so he could move on to block the linebacker in the second level, but the tackle he pushed out of the way just stepped back in the hole right behind Klopacz and dropped Royster for no gain. I watched Chima Okoli get beat on an inside move without barely touching the guy as he blew past him and dropped Royster for a loss.
Final Grade: D
I guess we're saving the best for last here. The Lions did a good job of spreading the ball around as six different wide receivers and tight ends caught at least one pass. Derek Moye was the headliner with two touchdown catches and 81 yards. He obviously also made the play that broke the game open with the 42-yard TD strike from McGloin. I'd love to see what he could do on a team that recognizes their play makers and feeds them the ball over and over. Unlike Penn State that seems more occupied in balance and sharing the touches.
But it was kind of impressive the way Penn State subtly adjusted their targets throughout the game. Brett Brackett was the early focus in the game and came up with a 19 yard reception on the first play. Then he hauled in that 21-yard TD pass on the second drive, and after that it was like he disappeared. Then Devon Smith comes in and catches 3 balls for 24 yards on Penn State's second scoring drive, and then he goes away. Then Moye stepped up with his two TD catches to break the game open.
While there is no bonafide super star in this group, their strength comes in numbers. There are so many guys with talent that as soon as the defense starts to key on one of them Penn State can shift focus to another guy and get him the ball. Defenses have to cover the entire field which increases the chances of guys like Moye or Smith to make a big play.
But the sad story in all of this is the continued demise of Graham Zug. The guy was money last year when you had a critical 3rd and 7. Now the only sure bet is that if you throw him the ball it will bounce off his chest.
Final Grade: B+
I can't think of any major complaints with the coaching other than their total failure to get the offensive line ready to play this season. But that's more of a long term thing. I thought it was curious that they came out throwing the ball on six of the opening eight plays. It obviously paid off as the first drive swung the field position, and the second drive finished off the unfinished business from the opening drive. But then they came out and ran the ball on first and second down on the third drive, and then Minnesota blitzed the house on third down which rattled Bolden into trying to run for a one yard loss on the play.
Looking at the boxscore, the trend is disturbing. When faced with a 2nd and long situation, Penn State ran the ball 8 times and passed the ball twice. When your offensive line can't open holes, this is asking for trouble. The coaches have to avoid running the ball on second down when they get stuffed on first down. Teams are going to blitz Bolden on third down to rattle him, and Penn State isn't doing him any favors by keeping his hot route receivers back in pass protection. Incidently, one of those two 2nd-and-long passing attempts resulted in a 30 yard connection to Moye on 2nd-and-11.
One plus for the day was the improved redzone execution. State made two trips to the redzone and came away with two touchdowns, though one was greatly aided by some pass interference on Minnesota's part. The Lions also scored on the 21-yard TD pass to Brackett which though technically isn't an "official" redzone attempt, but it may as well be.
But I keep coming back to the fact that this is a terrible defense and Penn State only managed 351 yards with 145 on the ground. That's pretty underwhelming.
Final Grade: B