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2006 Penn State Football Season Review - The Secondary

Well, Saturday wrapped up another football season. But don't think for one second this blog is packing up and going into hibernation until August. We have a bowl game in January. There is recruiting to cover. Then there is spring practice and the Blue White Game which is always interesting. We've got basketball season just starting up and all the spring sports. Then come summer time we'll start getting fired up for football again with previews and predictions. Plus we'll discuss other topics from time to time. It's going to be a fun off season even if there is no football on Saturdays so keep checking back and please join the discussions.

We still have a bowl game to play, but we're past the point where the games mean anything. Bowl games are more of a reward for a successful season. Unless you're in the championship game, you're just playing to have a good time and maybe make some noise going into 2007. In a few weeks when the bowl picture sorts itself out we'll take some closer looks at our opponent. But until then, let's take a look at the good and the bad of the 2006 season in review. There is much to discuss so I'm going to break it up into pieces so this post isn't too long. Today we'll start with the secondary and we'll work through other units in future posts.

The Secondary

One of the pleasant surprises this year was the play of the secondary. Losing Harrell, Zemitis, Phillips, and Lowry from last year, the secondary was a big question mark at the beginning of the season. Only Donnie Johnson had any playing time to speak of. Everyone knew Justin King was a big time recruit, but you had to expect it would take him a while to gain some experience. As far as Davis and Scirrotto, nobody knew what to expect from those guys. Up until opening day nobody knew who the starter would be between Scirrotto or McCready.

Justin King looked pretty shaky tackling in the Akron game, and looked lost at times against Notre Dame and Minnesota. King's official coming out party came on the first pass of the Ohio State game. Troy Smith tried to hit Ted Ginn on a deep pass. He thought he threw it out far enough ahead that only his man could get to it. But King outran the speedy Ginn and intercepted the ball with a spectacular diving catch. The rest of the day Ginn would only have two catches for 15 yards. Against Minnesota the coaches called a lot of soft zone and King looked lost. I'm convinced that game proved to them the best way to turn King into a shutdown corner is to let him play like one. Let him line up one-on-one with his man and attach himself to their hip. They did that and after the Minnesota game teams stopped throwing to his side of the field.


Sorry Ohio State fans, Justin King is only a sophomore

On the other side, Davis did a fine job considering he was picked on a lot by teams avoiding King. He looked pretty bad against Notre Dame in his second start, but there again the coaches left him in soft zone and didn't blitz to put pressure on Quinn, so he can hardly be blamed for having a Heisman type quarterback with all day to throw pick him apart. He gave up some jump balls to some tall receivers, but he knocked down more than he gave up. There were times, like the end of the Illinois game, when Bradley was clearly upset with him, and toward the end of the season he did share some playing time with A.J. Wallace. But overall Davis did a good job.

Scirrotto claimed the job at safety and turned into a play maker by the end of the year. He led the Big Ten in interceptions with 5. He missed some key tackles this season that resulted in some big plays, but another off season should fix that. On special teams he returned an onsides kick for a touchdown against Illinois and blocked a punt against Michigan State.


Hereafter known as "The Playmaker"

Donnie Johnson played a solid safety though not great. He was at his best playing up close to the line of scrimmage where he could support the run defense and blow up screens. He was easily the hardest hitter on the team. But his downfield coverages tended to be soft sometimes.

A.J. Wallace saw more playing time as the year went on and showed some promise. He took some heat when he gave up the touchdown to Arrington in the Michigan game. I was sitting right there in that corner of the stadium and I can tell you Wallace had great coverage. He outside protection so he gave Arrington the inside expecting safety help. His help was slow in rotating over, and though Wallace was on the outside, he was in Arrington's back pocket. It was just a perfect throw by Henne. I would be shocked if Wallace isn't starting either at safety or corner next year.

This group started off looking pretty average allowing 7 TD in the first 6 games. But in the last 6 games they only allowed 4 TD. They finished the season ranked #52 in passing yards, but #15 in defensive pass efficiency. In my preseason review I gave the defensive backs a grade of C+ based on their lack of experience. By midseason I upgraded them to a B. Based on their solid play in the last few games I'm going to upgrade them to a B+. This group has gotten better as the season progressed, and with only Donnie Johnson graduating this group should be a strength of this team for the next two years.