Thursday, September 07, 2006

Penn State Roundtable

Let's talk some Nittany Lion football, baby! This week, fellow bloggers Galen from The Nittany Line and Mike from Black Shoe Diaries took a minute to fill out my survey and break down their squad, the Irish, and beavers. Sweet, sweet beavers.

Thanks for coming out guys. Well, first thing's first. Who the hell are you, and why Penn State of all godforsaken places?

One of these guys is Galen Hall in 1962. Judging by his current appearance (and badass mustache), I'm guessing he's one of the two on the right.
Galen: Both my father and brother are Penn State alumni but much to my chagrin I am not. The first football game I went to as a kid got me hooked, and that was before two stadium additions. I’m a Penn State fan in general because “the Penn State way” isn’t something unique to the football team the entire athletic department carries the ideal of fair play and putting the student before the athlete, something that Notre Dame and PSU share. That and hey, I was named after Galen Hall, the current Penn State offensive coordinator and former PSU QB.

I am relatively new to blogging having just started at the beginning of July of this year. As most people are aware Penn State went through some lean times this decade and most of the garbage written by local hack journalists really ticked me off. After seeing some of the quality blogs out there, I thought with all the crappy writers out there, what’s one more crappy one going to hurt. I called my friend who was more then willing to lend me a hand and poof, The Nittany Line was born.

Mike: I graduated from Penn State in 1997 with a degree in Chemical Engineering. I grew up about an hour from Penn State so I’ve been a Penn State fan my entire life because that’s what you do growing up in central Pennsylvania. I started a political blog about two years ago but lost interest in it. I started up a Penn State blog after Penn State beat FSU in the Orange Bowl this year. Let me tell you it isn’t easy starting up a football blog in the offseason, but I’ve been having fun with it. I just joined Sports Blogs Nation in August.
And who is your mortal enemy?
Mike: Penn State has been in this weird limbo land where we have no natural rival. You guys have USC. Ohio State and Michigan have each other. Minnesota and Wisconsin have a rivalry. Why won’t anybody hate us?
If it makes you feel better, I'll hate you this week. After that, all bets are off. So, football. You've seen one game in the Anthony Morelli era and saw him put up video game numbers against a swiss cheese MAC defense. What's your read on the kid and how is he coming along toward meeting the lofty expectations set for him?
Mike: Actually I’ve seen Anthony Morelli in action four times now. I saw him play against Cincinnati and Illinois last year as well as the spring game. What we saw on Saturday against Akron was more of the same that I saw earlier. He’s got a gun for an arm and he can put it anywhere on the field. It’s his third year in the system so he knows the offense. As he gets experience reading defenses he’s only going to get better. Penn State fans have been taking a lot of heat for saying a guy who has never started is going to be pretty good. Nobody believes us. Maybe after Saturday they will.

Galen: He’s not at the stage where he’s going to single handedly carry Penn State to victory but I don’t think the coaches will put him in that situation. The only real criticism I have is he’s a beat off on his decisions; even the first long touchdown throw should have been a split second sooner but Deon Butler was so wide open he got away with it. Against better defensive backs that would have been broken up, but I think timing will come with experience. The other thing to note is he didn’t get sacked all day and the pressure was handled very well by PSU’s new offensive line, but Notre Dame’s front 7 will provide a much more difficult test. How will Morelli handle an athletic front in a hostile territory? I guess we will see.
Has Penn State's offensive playbook been revamped now that a different style quarterback is running the show? What changes have you seen and how confident are you in the transition?
Mike: The playbook is basically the same, but there are some big differences with the offense. I always tell people, Michael Robinson was the type of guy that could strap an offense on his back and carry them down the field with his ability to escape and rush. But Robinson overthrew a lot of wide open receivers. Morelli lacks Robinson’s scrambling ability, but he has a much better arm than Robinson. Morelli also has experienced wide receivers this year. I have no worries about the offense. In fact, I think this offense will be better than last year.
Allright, I heard it here first. Watching the Akron game, it looks like moving the ball on the ground is going to be a big concern, particularly with the graduation casualties on the O-line. Is there a chance that Penn State will develop a running attack in time for the Notre Dame game or is the plan to minimize the importance of the run and try to control the field with the passing game? How big of a concern is this in regards to this game?
Mike: Oh crap you found our weakness. You don’t suppose the Notre Dame coaches can figure that out too, do you? Are they reading this? If so please move on to the next question.

Yes, the rushing game is a big concern, and I don’t think they will be able to fix it by Saturday. But Akron really committed to stopping the run. They run a goofy defense with three down linemen and five linebackers. They blitz on almost every play and do a lot of stunting. It was a difficult team for our guys to get their first start together. They really struggled only getting 76 yards on the ground, and 42 of those yards came on one end around play. But had they not sold out on stopping the run I think we could have done better. Fortunately, our quarterback and wide receivers were able to adjust and make them pay. I think if Notre Dame sells out on stopping the pass, our rushing game will be adequate.
I've heard some pretty good things about the linebackers. Tell me why I should be terrified of them.
Galen: We all know that Paul Posluszny is one of the best linebackers in the country that’s why he won the Bednarik and Butkus Awards as a junior even though he played in the same conference as A.J. Hawk. Paul had an off day against Akron recording only 7 tackles partially because Akron went away from him. So in stepped Dan Connor, who was just named Big Ten Defensive player of the week, with a 13 tackle, 3.5 TFL, 2 sack, and 1 forced fumble performance. The linebackers are so deep the coaches have gone to a 3-4 to get the best players on the field. Tim Shaw, Connor, and Posluszny have been playing together for 3 years and complement each other very well. They all are fast (Pos ran down Ohio State QB Troy Smith from behind for a sack last year) and are sure tacklers. I can probably count on one hand the number of tackles all three of these guys have missed combined in their entire careers.

Don't try to hurt him. Pain arouses him.

Mike: Running a screen pass against these guys is a waste of a down.
Allright, you've succeeded in terrifying me. Let's play some hardball. Really and truly, what exactly is Joe Paterno's role in the day-to-day operations of the team? Is he still actively involved in gameplanning, preparation, and playcalling or has he moved toward a full-fledged figurehead role, a la Bobby Bowden?
Mike: I don’t know that I can really answer that. There is probably no program more secretive about what goes on in practice than Penn State. I know Galen Hall and Tom Bradley call the plays. Paterno used to jump in and call plays once in a while, but I think he has backed off on that. I suspect the assistant coaches draw up the game plans, but Joe probably has veto power. It’s still Joe’s team.

Galen: Since you’ll be luckier to get inside information from Area 51 then to get inside information from Penn State, one can only speculate. I think Joe isn’t the kind of person to sit on the sidelines and not have his say, a la Bobby Bowden. It’s been documented by those “in the know” that Joe has turned over game day decisions to his coordinators, but I would bet that during the week, Joe gets full say in game day strategy. I doubt this thing is on autopilot; Joe wouldn’t have it that way. Joe has never been a headphones on, micromanager type coach, but if you look closely you’ll see Paterno in the ear of his coordinators every now and then.
Personally, I wouldn't trust Joe Pa with a microwave, but I'll go ahead and buy in to the possibility he is still actually doing something with the team.

So, it's not finalized yet, but I'm planning on heading up to State College next year for the return game. Take a minute to convince me that my life won't be complete without seeing a game at Beaver Stadium.
Galen: Words can not describe the game against Ohio State last year, I’ve been going to Penn State games all my life and that was the best game I’ve ever been to. Looking down at the student section with every single person dressed in a white shirt was amazing. At one point after the defense intercepted a pass the stadium scoreboard operator queued up Zombie Nation and every person was hopping up and down to the beat shaking the place. People feared the structural integrity of Beaver Stadium, you could feel it sway.

Why am I not surprised that Paterno is a die-hard Zombie Nation fan? While we're on the subject, one last question: Quick, name three things that are older than Joe Paterno. No cheating.
Mike: Stonehenge, God, Dave Wannstedt’s mustache.

Galen: The Sphinx (barely), the Michigan playbook, and the press’s love for Notre Dame (couldn’t let that one slide).

Ba-Zing! Allright guys, thanks for your time. You're officially off the hot seat. Good luck this weekend and for the rest of the season. Keep in touch!

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