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Penn State Offense Grades Against Northwestern Wildcats

Wow, what a game.  First off, congratulations to Joseph Vincent Paterno on his 400th career win.  It's been said by just about everyone, but it is highly unlikely we will ever see this happen again.  JoePa has always done things the right way, and the Nittany Lion faithful should be very proud. With that said, let's talk about the offense baby!

For the first 29 minutes, it looked like the Penn State offense had thrown away any progress they made the previous two weeks against Minnesota and Michigan.  They were out of sync, no real direction and the execution was just not there.  The dropsy's made a reappearance during the game, but ultimately they didn't matter.

If Penn State's offense played every game like they did in the second half, it would be awfully hard not to compare them to the the 94' offense, the greatest in Penn State history.  Robert Bolden got the start and he should have, but it was the call to the bullpen and Matt McGloin that made all the difference in the world.  It's safe to say, at least for the rest of this season, that the Scranton Slinger is now QB1.


Rob Bolden started the game and played two series before being replaced by Matt McGloin.  Bolden finished 3-4 for 43 yards and a fumble.  Bolden did not have any trouble moving the offense, they just weren't able to score any points.  Bolden handled the QB switch with poise (we get paid $1 for every poise reference).  At one point, the cameras caught Bolden asking Joe to go back in the game, but it just wasn't to be. 

Matt McGloin entered the game on the third offensive series and did not relinquish the spot, despite some early struggles (4-10 passing on his first three drives of the game).  McGloin finished the day 18-29 for 225 and 4 TDs, one shy of tying the Penn State record.  Including the drive at the end of the first half, McGloin led 5 straight Penn State scoring drives, all TDs.  Every time I saw Mac get into the huddle I pictured him doing his best Joe Kane impersonation from "The Program", "let's put the women and children to bed and go lookin' for dinner", a line Joe used in the move before the most important scoring drives.

The biggest difference for this Penn State offense, besides the offensive line, has been the ability to score in the red zone with Matt McGloin at QB.  McGloin had the Nittany Lions in the red zone four times against Northwestern and all four times Penn State came away with a TD.  Flash back to the Illinois game and Penn State's offense was booed off the field after not being able to score a TD after they started the drive on the Illini 9 yard line.  The offense has a different kind of swagger with Mac in at QB.  I'm not sure if it his maturity, personality, knowledge of the playbook, or just the confidence he has in his abilities to make plays, but whatever it is, it's working. 

As of today, Matt McGloin is the best man to lead this offense.  He may not have the size or arm strength of Bolden or Paul Jones, but he is a winner - much like John Shaffer was before him.  All too often, fans seem to confuse college success with pro success.  Daryll Clark was the perfect trigger man for the Spread HD, while Pat Devlin will be drafted into the NFL.  The battle of looking the part and playing the part has been around for years.  For my money, i'll take the guy that can play the part.

Final Grade: A

Running Backs

2010 Evan Royster is starting to look like 2009 and 2008 Evan Royster.  Royster had all kinds of running room on Saturday and finished with 134 yards on 25 carries (5.4 a carry).  Royster looks like a completely different running back, especially from the skeleton we saw from weeks 1-7.  It just goes to show you what he can do when the offensive line gives him a crease.  Evan has still got it.  It's easy to understand why he was so frustrated when everyone kept saying he lost it.  He knew he had it still and in the past two weeks, we have seen it.  If he can duplicate his Northwestern performance against Ohio State this Saturday, well let's just say another chapter in the Evan Royster history book will be written.

As a whole, I think our fan base knew we were getting a special player in Silas Redd when he committed and signed with Penn State.  Losing Marcus Lattimore to South Carolina didn't sting as much because, from the look of things, Silas had the potential to be the better back.  So while Penn State fans saw (or read about) Lattimore carving up SEC (and non-SEC teams) week in and week out, they may have began to wish Lattimore was wearing his basic blues and black shoes instead of some forgettable Under Armour uniform.  Well folks, Silas Redd has arrived and he isn't going anywhere (hopefully for the next three years).  Redd had his best day as a Nittany Lion, showing exactly why the coaches couldn't put a redshirt on him.  Redd finished with 131 on only 11 carries and a TD (first of his career in both categories).  That is an astounding 11.9 yards a carry (and the average was even better before he carried the ball twice late in the game for 1 yard).  Some people have compared Redd to Penn State great Ki-Jana Carter, which seem a little premature as of now.  Ask me again in three years and i'll tell you we saw the first Silas Redd and not Carter 2.0.  Redd is a special player and it will be exciting to see what he can do in the future.  As for the present, it looks like the Buckeyes will be dealing with a 1-2 punch.

Stephfon Green has become a vocal leader this year, his fourth in Happy Valley.  It appears he has lost his grip as the number two back, but he hasn't let it shake his confidence one bit.  Green only received one carry on Saturday, but it was the most important carry and play of the game.  On third down, Green took a draw and broke it for 21 yards.  It appeared Penn State was ready to pack up their gear and head in to half time down 21-0.  Green's first down run took Penn State into Northwestern territory and set up the first scoring drive of the game for the Nittany Lions.  It's one of those game changing plays that we have grown accustom to.  In 2005 we had 4-15.  Well in 2010 we have 3rd and short

Final Grade: A+

Wide Receivers

Derek Moye is quickly becoming McGlon's favorite target, finishing the day with 85 yards on 5 cathes and 1 TD (on a perfect throw).  Moye's performance is not the surprise, more of the norm at this point.  Joe Shuey's emergence as the screen pass target has been developing over the past two weeks.  Shuey caught six passes for 67 yards and is the receiving fullback to Michael Zordich's blocking and running.

Graham Zug's reemergence continues.  He finished with 2 catches for 32 yards.  Brett Brackett made the most of his one catch, a 7 yard TD that got the scoring started.  Justin Brown was MIA this week, but some other guys got into the mix: Devon Smith (1-9), Royster (4-45, 1 TD), and Green (1-20). 

Nate Cadogan, a former offensive tackle (about 3 weeks ago) now turned TE shocked everyone not named Nate Cadogan and caught a three yard TD from McGloin on the opening drive of the second half.  First TD catch for a "TE" this season.

 Final Grade: B

Offensive Line

For the second straight week i'm extremely excited to write about our offensive line.  They weren't flawless (allowed two sacks) but they were pretty close.  This group has been solid all season in pass protection, it was the run blocking that was missing.  Well they found it, and in a big way.  Penn State ran for 260 yards on Saturday and had two 100 yard rushers (Royster and Redd).    McGloin and Bolden combined for 268 yards in the air against the 99th pass defense in the country.  The balanced attack makes Penn State extremely dangerous late in the season and the offensive line is a huge reason for it.

Final Grade: A

Offensive Coaching

For the first 29 minutes of the game, Penn State's offense seemed lost.  It's hard to say if it was the execution or the play calling.  Bolden played in two series and wasn't able to produce any points.  McGloin came into the game in relief but it wasn't all roses and sunshine.  McGloin struggled early on to complete passes, in part thanks to some drops and to play calling (going deep without setting up the defense).  The one facet of the game that did work was the running game, but when you are down 21, you need to score some points and fast.  McGloin and company were able to jump start the offense and the come back was on.

The second half was amazing to watch.  It seemed like everything the coaches dialed up was working.  The run game was working and the screen game was a huge part of the game plan.  McGloin is an outstanding play-action QB.  With the running game firing on all cylinders, the defense had to be honest and respect the run - and McGloin made them pay for it. 

The one mind-blower for me was that Shawney Kersey reverse play after the 28 yard run by Redd.  We seem to do something like that every game (the Justin Brown passes and double reverses).  Two plays later, Bolden was sacked and fumbled the ball but luckily Northwestern couldn't make us pay and missed a FG.  Let's put the gadget plays away, at least after huge runs.

Final Grade: B+

The call of the game was Joe's decision to make the switch at QB. After his performance in the previous two weeks, Mac deserved his chance and he made sure to make the most of it.  Now isnot the time to worry about the depth chart or hurt feelings.  Ohio State is up next and this Penn State, which was left for dead after the Illinois game, is peaking at the right time.