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Penn State Offense Grades Against Alabama

It just wasn't meant to be for Graham Zug and the Penn State offense. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
It just wasn't meant to be for Graham Zug and the Penn State offense. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Getty Images

While the result wasn't unexpected, we were all hopeful the offense would have put up at least some meaningful points.  It wasn't pretty, so let's get into it.


It appears Rob Bolden is not impervious to growing pains.  Coming off an outstanding game against 1-AA Youngstown State, a lot of people incorrectly assumed Bolden would carve up the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide defense; that just wasn't the case.  Bolden threw the same number of passes against Alabama (29), but the outcome and production did not match that of his Youngstown State game.

Bolden completed 13-29 for 144 yards, no TDs and 2 INTS(and 2 fumbled snaps, both recovered.)  The first INT, in the red zone was on Bolden.  He received heavy pressure up the middle from Don'ta Hightower and threw it up for grabs - a freshmen mistake, something we expected would happen at some point this season.  The second was under thrown to Zug and in the red zone again.  If he hit Zug in stride, he could have possibly been in for six.  The post-corner route, which Bolden had big success with against YSU was scouted perfectly by Alabama and was unsuccessful.

Bolden wasn't nearly as sharp as he was last week (as expected) experiencing an array of low throws, under throws, and over throws.  But for every bad throw, Bolden would show you why the coaches made him the starting QB.  The poise word has been beat to death (and it's only week 2) but there is no denying the maturity of this true freshman.  Bolden's statistics weren't indicative of how he played overall.  His teammates let him down on multiple occasions, but Bolden never overreacted or visibly should displeasure with his teammates.  On Penn State's opening drive ( on 3rd down) Bolden set up a perfect screen pass to Evan Royster who caught it and fell down (a reoccurring them for him this season.)  Had Royster been able to keep his feet, it could have been a first down, big gain, and potentially got the ball rolling for the freshmen.  Royster's play doesn't even compare to what Graham Zug did.  Late in the second half, with Penn State trying to save face, Bolden throw a strike to a wide open Zug who just flat out dropped the pass.  From all appearances, had he made the catch, it appeared he would have been off to the races.  A senior needs to make that play to pickup a young QB, and Zug did not deliver.

Something to look for the rest of the season is the continue success for Bolden in the play-action and roll out passing game.  He seems to do an outstanding job in this area, and had some success against Alabama.  The future is bright for Robert Bolden and he has no reason to hang his head.  Saturday was the day Rob Bolden showed he will be the next great leader at Penn State.  His first season will have highs and lows, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Kevin Newsome entered the game late in the 4th quarter, an outstanding move by the coaches.  He was 1-1 for 12 yards and rushed for 9 yards on two carries.  Newsome entered the game a little to late to make a real difference.  He once again had an outstanding 5 yard carry for a first down on a play that looked like he was going to lose yards on the play (made possibly by and outstanding Zug block.)

Final Grade: C



Running Backs

Nine carries for 32 yards.  2010 Evan Royster is not the same player as 2009 Evan Royster.  In the first two games, he has looked tentative, sluggish, and continues to go down with minimal contact.  This is not what we have been accustomed to over the past three seasons.  Unless Evan wants to stretch out the 431 yards he needed to break Curt Warner's rushing record, he will need to find his groove again and fast.

Stephfon Green (5 carries, 13 yards) did the best he could to spell Evan Royster, but he couldn't find much running room.  The best run of the day belonged to WR Shawney Kersey on an end around for 24 yards and could have had more if Derek Moye finished a block down field.  Devon Smith took a hand off lined up in a tight formation for a gain of 7 yards and finished the night with 8 yards.

For the second straight game, Silas Redd entered the game late in the 4th and looked like the best RB on the field for Penn State (Trent Richardson was no doubt the best RB and player on the field for either team.)  Redd finished with5 carries for 26 yards.  He also displayed some excellent passing block skills, something most true freshmen struggle with.  Alabama may have called off the dogs by the time Redd saw the field, but there is no denying his explosiveness and potential.  For the season Redd has 46 yards on only 8 carries.  In comparison, Royster has 72 yards on 20 carries.  Penn State fans got a glimpse of the future (and end of the rebuilding years) when Redd joined Bolden on the field late in the 4th.

Final Grade: C- (only because Silas Redd gives me hope)

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

We'll start with the ugly first.  It appears Penn State does not have a viable option at TE.  Garry Gilliam has been extremely underwhelming during the first two games of the season.  He has more penalties than catches and missed a key block on Saturday that negated what could have been a big run for Green and instead was a 2 yard gain.  It's the little things that matter and Gilliam doesn't seem to do them.  He is the perfect example of a paper powerhouse - 6-6, 263 but doesn't know how to utilize his gifts.  His play is more maddening than Andrew Quarless' sophomore and junior seasons.  He is still young, so hopefully he can figure things out.  It's all part of this rebuilding process.

Derek Moye is the unquestioned #1 receiver for the Nittany Lions.  His play making ability gives Bolden the confidence to throw into double coverage and believe Moye will come down with the ball.  Bolden was solid but not spectacular against Alabama finishing with 69 yards on 3 catches.  Moye is proving he is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, just not in the same class as Julio Jones.

Captain Brett Brackett came back down to earth against Alabama finishing with just 1 catch for 12 years.  'Bama seemed to key on Brackett on the short routes that he had success with againstYoungstown State.  Penn State tried to utilize the SEC speed of Devon Smith, and it showed.  Smith had 5 catches for 47 yards, mostly on short passes that got Smith in space.  This seems to be the best way to utilize the water bug.  Smith has improved greatly since his freshman season but still has a way to go if he wants to be a consistent threat in the passing game.  Chaz Powell (2 catches for 9 yards) and Justin Brown (1 catch for 20 yards) were not much of a factor in this game.  Kersey has a ton of speed and it looked like the coaches were going to go back to him after that long run, but that wasn't the case.  Powell's redzone fumble was one of many offensive low-lights in the game.  Somehow, after a mad scramble, Penn State ended up with the ball all the back at their own five yard line.  Kudos to Brackett Moye who busted it down the field to strip the Alabama defender.  The fumble, like the redzone INT, were deflating for the offense.  On this evening, the Penn State offense derailed itself.

The biggest disappointment so far has been senior Graham Zug.  Zug dropped a perfect pass from Bolden (who stood tall in the pocket and waited till the last minute to deliver - a veteran move), very uncharacteristic of the sure handed former walk-on.  After two games, Zug has yet to make a catch and is not making the sort of impact expected of the number two receiver.  Hopefully he can avoid a Brackett-like disappearance (circa 2008), because withall the depth and young talent behind him, Zug can't afford a season long slump.

Final Grade: D+ (B for Moye)

Offensive Line

And the shuffling continues.  For the second straight week, DeOn'tae Pannell was subbed out of the game on the third series in favor of Johnnie Troutman.  Troutman played the majority of the game.  At some point, the coaches need to just make the switch permanent and not do it in the middle of a road game against the number one team in the country.  If Troutman is the better player, he should be able to beat Pannell out in practice.  I understand they are trying to find the best combination, but if you don't know what it is by now, you're not going to know all season.

For the second straight week the pass protection was visibly better than the run blocking.  Alabama has an outstanding defensive line and for the most part the Penn State pass blocking held up.  The Hightower blitz that forced the first interception was the big miscue.  He came right up the middle of the line and got the pressure on Bolden.  Stephfon Green should have made the block but did not.  Bolden did a nice job of moving around the pocket to avoid the defenders and was not sacked.

The run blocking continues to be a major concern.  The currernt line combination does not seem to excel at run blocking.  The draws and outside runs seem to work the best (especially when Silas Redd is in the game), but after two games, Penn State still does not have a 100 yard rusher (Royster doesn't even have 100 yards on the season.)  Alabama made it a point to stop the run and succeeded.  If teams continue to follow this blueprint (expect Iowa and Ohio State to) the growth and development of Rob Bolden will dictate the success of the season.  By seasons end, Bolden will need to win a lot of games for the Nittany Lions.

Final Grade: C

Offensive Coaches

The play calling was a mix of conservative running and some Spread HD.  It was increasingly disappointing watching the coaches continue to call inside runs up the middle on 1st down only to gain 2 yards or less each time.  The coaches did their best to protect Bolden, but once they were down three scores, they needed to dial it up a notch.  The only problem was that the players did not response and did not make the necessary plays.

It was a great move to get Newsome and Redd some playing time late in the game.  It would have been nice to see the coaches use Newsome earlier in the game with some type of Wild Lion package.  Alabama had success with this formation all game and Newsome might have as well.  Bolden did get his number called a few times on the ground and he had minimal success.  It was nice to see the coaches show that wrinkle and hopefully in the future Bolden will be able to run for 30 to 50 yards a game.

I think many of us are still scratching our heads about the Justin Brown reverse pass that resulted in an INT.  There was absolutely no reason what so over to call that play.  Alabama called off the dogs and Penn State was moving the ball down the field with Newsome and Redd.  If they continued, they could have potentially scored a TD or at the very least attempted a field goal.  Total bone-head call. 

Final Grade: C-

With Kent State on the docket for next week, expect Galen Hall and Jay Paterno to run the ball...and then run it some more.