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Blog War: Maize-n-Brew Edition

Some time ago our SBNation Michigan counterparts Maize-n-Brew started a series of posts called "Your Hate Makes You Strong: Players Michigan Football Fans Will Learn To Hate In 2010." It's actually a pretty good series where Dave picks one star player from each Michigan opponent and highlights them. I've been watching intently until he got to Penn State. I would have bet money Dave would pick Evan Royster, and I was right. It's not hard to see why Michigan fans would fear Evan Royster.

Evan Royster vs Michigan Rushing Receiving
Rush Yards Avg TD Rec Yards Avg TD
2008 18 174 9.7 1 3 13 4.3 0
2009 20 100 5.0 0 2 24 12.0 0

For the most part, Dave's assessment of Royster is pretty good. MnB gives him ample props, though I think he gives Royster a little too much credit for toughness. Dave suggests Royster powers his way for the extra two yards at the end of the run. I would submit that Royster is actually better at getting sideways and deflecting the contact so he can fall forward for the extra yard or two, but that's neither here nor there.

I think Dave misses the mark a bit when he evaluates the contribution Daryll Clark made to the running game last year. (emphasis added)

What (Royster) is is a very solid Big Ten running back who pass blocks extremely well and doesn't shy away from contact. Watching him over the last few years it's readily apparent that he's benefited from running with Daryll Clark at quarterback in Penn State's version of the spread. Clark accounted for 7 rushing touchdowns last year and the treat of his wheels and elusiveness opened up some gaps that Royster gleefully rushed through. Without a senior QB running the offense and more importantly effectively running the ball, the offense has to run through Royster rather than whatever young quarterback takes the job. That makes this offense much, much less dangerous than it was the year before.

I have to strongly disagree with this. Clark was effective in the running game in short yardage situations. When the ball was on the one yard line or they needed one yard for a first down, Penn State usually opted to let Clark power his 240 lb frame for a quarterback sneak, or they would use a quarterback draw play if they were five yards out. This is why Royster only had 6 rushing touchdowns last year. Clark was stealing them all when Penn State got inside the five yard line. But Clark wasn't really that big of a threat to run the ball outside of short yardage situations.

Personally, I think they went to the quarterback sneak well a bit too much in this regard last year to the point it never surprised anyone when they did it. But other than short yardage situations, Clark was almost never utilized in the running game at all due to concerns about the depth on the bench behind him. He only gained 211 yards on 84 carries for an unimpressive 2.5 ypc. Unless Penn State was on the goal line, defenses were not worried about Daryll Clark running the ball. This allowed them to key on Royster when they expected Penn State to run without worring about what Clark was doing. 

The other issue I have with the MnB post centers around his discussion of the Penn State quarterback situation. (emphasis added)
While the Lions do return three fine starting receivers, their Spring Game and Spring Practices gave everyone the impression that there are some serious issues under center and no one ready to take the reigns of the offense. Think Threet/Sheridan, except with a MUCH better supporting cast and without the system change.

I know the quarterbacks weren't supposed to be the focus of MnB's post, but I have to comment on this. I don't know what it is about the Michigan blogs, but they are absolutely convinced the Penn State quarterback situation is going to be a complete disaster of Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan proportions this year.

Now, I'm not saying Kevin Newsome is going to win the Heisman, but I think it's a bit early to compare Penn State's situation to Michigan's in 2008. Threet and Sheridan are two guys who had no business playing Division IA football, let alone starting at the University of Michigan. They had dead arms and ran the Rich Rodriguez spread option like their shoes were made out of cement. They were basically both beat out of the job the minute Tate Forcier stepped on campus. That's a disaster.

Penn State, on the other hand, has three guys on their roster who were ranked in the top ten for quarterbacks in their respective high school recruiting classes. Newsome is in his second year with the program. It's a bit premature to write him off already. It's not like they are raiding the IM flag football field looking for bodies. There is plenty of talent to work with with Kevin Newsome, Paul Jones, and Robert Bolden. Someone will rise to the top. And like Dave says, Penn State has talent and experience in all of the other positions. They just need someone to step on the field and keep the car out of the ditch.

Newsome showed in his limited playing time last year that he can be explosive in the running game. At the risk of drawing some other very poor comparisons, I see the Penn State offense looking a lot like the 2007 Illinois offense. A proven NFL-caliber running back (Mendenhall) and a young quarterback that can run like a race horse and also throw like one (Juice Williams). Putting aside comparisons to Bad Juice later in his career, the 2007 Illinois offense led the Big Ten in rushing and finished last in passing, yet they upset Ohio State and went to the Rose Bowl (where they got clobbered by USC, but that's beside the point). Penn State has Royster and Newsome to go with a good group of receivers and offensive linemen. I think that's all the offense they need. Plus one for having more on defense than just J Leman. But then minus fifty for not having J Leman, because who doesn't love America?

I think what we see at play here is a little bitterness from the Michigan fans. Remember, Newsome was their man at one time. He had committed to play for Michigan, but when Newsome saw Rich Rodriguez actively recruiting Tate Forcier after being promised they were only taking one quarterback, Newsome saw through the snake oil and decommitted. Now Wolverine fans claim Newsome wasn't Michigan material and want him to fail. They desperately want him to be the next Anthony Morelli so they can go back to laughing at Penn State again and restore the Force to it's proper balance in the Big Ten. Especially if it's at the expense of a kid who rejected them. Newsome's performance in the Blue-White game made them giddy with anticipation that it's going to happen.

But I don't know how many times I need to say this: Spring games mean nothing. If spring games mattered, Knowledge Timmons would have been an All American and Chris Rogers would have been a first round draft pick. Who? Exactly. They didn't run Newsome once, and if the coaching staff doesn't use him in the running game this year they deserve to be fired. Royster didn't play at all and they were shuffling the offensive line around, so the defense pretty much had the upper hand all day. I'll say it a thousand times: Spring games are not an indicator of future success or failure. The Penn State offense will be just fine this year regardless of who starts at quarterback.