The New Year is almost upon us. This is always a time of reflection for the year that has just past as well as a time of looking ahead at the year to come. In that spirit we're going to do a little reflection over the next few days. Then we will turn our eyes ahead to 2008 to read the tea leaves and predict what may lie ahead for Penn State. Today we'll examine the five biggest disappointments of 2007. Going forward we will examine the five biggest surprises of 2007. Then we will list the five biggest reasons for concern and the five biggest reasons for hope in 2008. So without further delay I give you the five biggest disappointments of 2007 counting down from number five.
#5 - Austin Scott
The former all world high school player sat out the 2006 season after riding the bench behind Tony Hunt the previous three years. During the spring we heard glowing reports about the burst of speed he picked up after losing some weight. We heard he had finally figured it out and was putting forth the effort necessary to be a good football player. The high praise led us to believe Scott had turned the corner and was set to have a Larry Johnson-type senior year.
But once the season started we found out it was just more of the same. Scott didn't hit the line with authority and ended up taking losses rather than just getting the three yards. His blocking didn't improve. He wasn't a threat in the passing game. He couldn't even hold on to the ball with four fumbles in five games including an extremely costly one late in the game against Michigan that killed a possible scoring drive.
Then Scott's season ended after just five games after he was charged with rape a few nights before the Iowa game. Paterno showed no sympathy in cleaning out his locker and dismissing him from the team thus ending his troubled career at Penn State. The only reason Scott isn't higher up on the list is because of the fine play of Rodney Kinlaw and Evan Royster in filling in the void.
#4 - Anthony Morelli
The 2007 Outback Bowl reminded a lot of people of another game against Tennessee in the 1993 Citrus Bowl. That game saw a junior quarterback named Kerry Collins step up and give a performance unlike any he had ever displayed. The game served as a launching pad to an undefeated 1994 season and a seat at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City in December. It wasn't so much Morelli's stat line that impressed people (197 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) as it was just the way he carried himself. After a shaky regular season he seemed more poised. He looked confident. He looked like a leader in the huddle.
Nobody was asking him to be Peyton Manning in 2007. He just had to be John Shaffer. Be smart. Don't turn the ball over. Don't try to force things. Get the ball to your play makers and let them do the work. But once again we saw that some things never changed. After an impressive start against Florida International he came out against Notre Dame looking like the same quarterback that weakly tossed a pitch right into the hands of Tom Zbikowski in the 2006 game with the Irish. His second pass of the game was picked off and returned for a score. Then right before the half he was scrambling and instead of stepping out of bounds he dove for an extra yard and fumbled the ball away. Luckily the feeble Irish were no match for the Penn State defense that night.
The boneheaded plays continued all season and were really magnified in two key losses. The Michigan game started off horribly as Morelli fumbled the ball giving it to Michigan on the ten yard line setting up an easy score. Then later in the game he missed a wide open Deon Butler on a slant pass in the endzone. Penn State went on to lose the game by five points. Against Illinois Penn State had a chance to take the lead on four drives late in the second half. But each drive ended with an Anthony Morelli turnover: three picks and a fumble.
|A leader he's not.|
The Michigan State game seemed to be a fitting end to his Penn State career. After giving up a furious 17 point second half comeback to the Spartans Penn State still found themselves in a position to win it late. Down by four Morelli led them down the field to the MSU 24 yard line. Then Morelli threw four straight incomplete passes. When Penn State got the ball back with 0:15 to play and needing 78 yards for the win, he pathetically ran around in circles killing the clock and completed a three yard pass to Rodney Kinlaw. Fitting.
#3 - Andrew Quarless
Quarless caught fire the last five games of his freshman year in 2006 with 15 catches for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns. In his entire sophomore year he had 13 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
He started off the season on a bad note getting caught out on the streets for underage drinking at 4 AM during preseason practice. Paterno sat him down the first two games of the season. He caught two touchdowns in his first game back against Buffalo, but then he virtually disappeared the rest of the year. When questioned about him Paterno publicly questioned his work ethic and said he needed to decide he wanted to be a good football player. Quarless turned up once in a while to miss a key block, jump offsides, or drop an important pass, but he never showed the promise he showed as a true freshman.
|It's a bird! It's a plane! Oh no. It's Quarless dropping another pass.|
#2 - Coaching
For a guy that just got inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year, Paterno's squad certainly didn't look very sharp. Appalachian State and Oregon shredded the Michigan defense by spreading them out and attacking the middle of the field. Penn State came out with a conservative gameplan of running up the middle and throwing safe easy passes to the sideline. It resulted in nine points and a five point loss in Ann Arbor.
On defense they sat back in cover three all year long with the cornerbacks sitting ten yards off the line of scrimmage. Team after team for play after play picked us apart for six and seven yard gains. It was like bleeding to death from a thousand paper cuts. But we never adjusted. We never challenged quarterbacks to go down field. We never gave our excellent defensive line a chance to put pressure on them. I believe this was the direct result of the losses against Ohio State and Michigan State. It nearly cost us the game against Indiana and Purdue as well.
If there is one gleam of hope, it's that they appeared to have finally figured out Derrick Williams. After a disappointing sophomore year he wasn't looking much better in 2007. He was rarely a factor in the game and each week he saw his touches getting less and less. Then with a few weeks to go the coaches moved him back to the slot where he was so successful and explosive his freshman year. The result was 20 catches for 219 yards and a touchdown in his last three games.
#1 - The Secondary
Even when we sucked back during the dark years in the early part of this decade we could usually still count on the defense to keep it close. Going into the season we were returning three starters from last year and casting off arguably the weakest member of 2006 in Donnie Johnson. We had our concerns going into the season, but the secondary was the least of anyone's.
But 2007 was a very disappointing year for a Penn State secondary that looked just down right terrible at times. Sitting back in cover three play after play allowed quarterbacks to move the chains with a series of six and seven yard gains all day. We had no answer for James Hardy or Devin Thomas. Arrelious Benn and Adrian Arrington had good games against us. It didn't matter who Ohio State threw to. They were open all night.
The most disappointing part of the secondary had to be Justin King. Before the season he was considered an All American and first round draft pick player. But teams started picking on him midway through the season and they were having success. Most of the names mentioned in the previous paragraph were the assignment of King, and he seemed helpless at times to do anything right. It was just an all around disappointing performance, but in fairness to him he was playing almost the entire season with a shoulder injury he suffered in the Notre Dame game.
|Bend but don't break defense at its best.|
So that's my list of the biggest disappointments of 2007. Like said this series won't be all doom and gloom. We'll go over the biggest pleasant surprises and start looking ahead to 2008 in the coming days.