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Grading the Penn State Offense Against Syracuse

Reading the Sunday papers and listening to the post game reactions you would never know that Penn State won by 21 points and held their opponent to just one score. Maybe it's a good sign when you don't play your best and still win by three touchdowns. Or maybe it's a sign that this season is going to be harder than we thought once we get into the meat of the schedule. Let's look at how the offense performed this week.


You wouldn't know it by all the love for Tate Forcier this week, but Daryll Clark had another solid game. He did have one interception where the defender stole the ball away from Derek Moye as Moye was hitting the ground. You could say that one wasn't Clark's fault, but he would probably tell you he underthrew that ball. If he leads Moye by another two or three steps that's a huge play and maybe even a score. Clark seemed to struggle on his deep throws all day. Earlier in the game he overthrew Graham Zug who had beaten his man deep by several steps.

There were a few misfires here and there where Clark would heave one to Canolipants, but for the most part he looked sharp on hitting anything under 15 yards. The 49 yard slant pass to Royster was a risky throw into coverage that paid off. Really, Clark only had one terrible throw all day when he hit a Syracuse linebacker standing in space by himself right in the hands. Fortunately it was dropped.

vs Syracuse / 9.12.09 Passing Rushing
Comp Att Pct Yds TD Rush Yds Avg TD
Daryll Clark 20 31 60.0 240 3 2 -1 -0.5 0

Kevin Newsome got in the game late and looked horrible. He stared down his receivers and took two sacks. The second sack resulted in a fumble that gave Syracuse impeccable field position allowing their only score.

Final Grade: B

Offensive Line

Much of the frustration with this offense is centered around the offensive line for the second week in a row. Penn State had some success running the ball to the outside. Their two best runs went outside left tackle behind Dennis Landolt. Those were Royster's touchdown run and Stephfon Green's near touchdown run (that should have at least been reviewed, because it looked to this blogger like he got in). But every attempt to run between the tackles was like trying to run through a brick wall.

Fortunately, for the second week in a row the pass protection looks solid. Lou Elaides missed his assignment a few times letting the pressure get through to Clark. He, along with Matt Stankiewitch, was pulled in the second half in favor of Johnnie Troutman and Quinn Barham. The results were pretty much the same. After the game Paterno admitted that both guard spots are basically up for grabs. This is an upsetting thing to hear after week two of the season. We could be in for a bumpy road.

Like I said in the game recap, the tell-tale sign of the frustration with the running game came with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Holding a comfortable 21 point lead this is normally the time when Paterno elects to hand the ball off to Evan Royster who gains yards in four and five yard chunks while running out the remainder of the clock. But on this possession, Clark came out throwing on first down. The first play went to Moye for 13 yards and a first down. So do you think they would pass on the next first down? Nope. They came out throwing, and the result was the almost-pick where Clark hit the linebacker in the hands. On the next play, they tried to pull Barham on a sweep to the left, but Barham was slow getting down the line and Royster got stuffed. Clark overthrew Brackett on 3rd and 10 and Syracuse got the ball back.

The sad fact is we are starting a redshirt freshman at left guard and a true sophomore at right tackle. And our center was playing guard last year. There are growing pains we are going to have to work through. But if Penn State can't solidify the ground game soon, they are going to give some team a shot to make a comeback.

Final Grade: C


Running Backs

vs Syracuse / 9.12.09 Rushing Receiving
Rush Yards Avg TD Rec Yards Avg TD
Evan Royster 12 41 3.4 1 2 61 30.5 1
Stephfon Green 8 26 3.3 0 0 0 0 0

It's tough to imagine they could have done any better given the blocking they had to work with. There was just nothing between the tackles all day. The big thing is there were no fumbles. But they did have some success running outside, most notably to the left behind Landolt. I remember one run in particular by Green that gained about nine yards up the middle. I remember he made a cut inside at the end of the play right into the defense. I think if he had cut that outside he probably would have scored.

The intriguing part of the performance of the running backs was how well Evan Royster did running passing routes. His 49 yard touchdown run featured a juke like something you would see on Playstation. And Joe Suhey once again proved to be a sneaky option slipping out of the backfield. Right now if Penn State needs eight yards, that naked bootleg toss to Suhey in the flat is about as money as it gets.

Final Grade: B



vs Syracuse / 9.12.09 Receiving
Rec Yards Avg TD
Graham Zug 6 79 13.2 1
Derek Moye 3 35 11.7 0
Andrew Quarless 4 35 8.8 0
Chaz Powell 1 12 12.0 0
Mickey Shuler 1 1 1.0 1

For the second week in a row it seemed like Clark had no problem finding targets to throw at. Graham Zug had a career day, and he could have gone over 100 yards on the day if Clark hadn't overthrown him on a deep pass down the seam. The deep middle post touchdown pass was a thing of beauty. Derek Moye could have also easily added on another 40 yards if Clark hadn't underthrown him on his deep pass.

The big news is Hello Mr. Quarless! It was nice of Joe to let you out of your two year exile to the doghouse. It might have been No. 10's best day since his freshman year. He looked like a real football player out there making blocks and catching passes. If he can keep this up he will be a welcome addition to the passing game.

I would also like to point out that Zug and Brackett each threw key blocks on Evan Royster's touchdown run. But something isn't right with Brackett. Last week he fumbled after making his only catch. This week he let his best chance to catch a pass go right through his hands.

Final Grade: B+


Offensive Coaching

It's tough to evaluate the playcalling in this game. At times I just wanted them to go shotgun, abandon the running game, and let 'er rip. Other times I wanted them to stick with it to see if they could get SOMETHING going. I think the coaches opted to go with toughing it out to try to establish something good they could point at. But you have to be careful in how far you are willing to take this. Getting stuffed on four straight plays at the goal line can be more demoralizing than productive. It's worth noting that after getting stuffed on four plays after first and goal in the first quarter, when faced with first and goal in the fourth quarter the Lions went another route. After Stephfon Green came up short on first and second down, the coaches called a play action bootleg toss to Mickey Shuler in the back of the endzone.

I was intrigued to see Devon Smith and Curtis Drake out on the field on the first drive. I was looking forward to seeing what these guys could do given considerable playing time, but they were virtually non-existant after that play. I'm thinking when Paterno senses the offense is struggling he's going to stick with the upperclassmen.

I have no complaints with the way the offensive coaches handled this game, but they're not off the hook. This week these guys need to earn their money on Monday through Friday.

Final Grade: B