Brass tacks – that’s the name of (any) game.
So here it is the eve of the calendar year’s 10th month as well as Penn State’s fifth game of the 2011 season. For a football team which holds a record of 3-1 and boasts a defense that’s ranked in or near the top 10 of most major statistical categories – a feat not nearly strange to Tom Bradley – in the nation, there is certainly a lot of criticism surrounding the bunch.
Some of that criticism is certainly warranted. Some isn’t.
The offense has been sub-par for the course thus far. That is indeed a fact. Part of the problem is the uncertainty surrounding the identity of the starting quarterback, and as has been proclaimed in this space previously, Rob Bolden is the better choice. Sure, Matt McGloin has better statistics, but look at the matchups. When McGloin has been in action against Indiana State and Eastern Michigan, he looks like a decent signal-caller; nobody can deny that.
Against defenses such as Florida and Alabama, McGloin has been terrible. Yes, terrible. Not fair, not poor, not bad; terrible. Bolden has not been Joey Broadway by any stretch, but he’s certainly fared much better than his counterpart against legitimate competition. Not only does Bolden have the better skill set, he is much faster than McGloin, a talent which in today’s version of college football is very important. According to the head coach, however, a decision will most likely not be made in the near future. Hopefully Bolden can change his mind sooner than later.
Moving on to the running game, hello and nice to meet you, Curtis Dukes. Welcome to Penn State. Wow. Dukes, albeit against the Sisters of the Poor, looked like a version of Eddie George who actually goes to class. Dukes appears to have a much stronger burst off the ball than Brandon Beachum, and the combination of he and Silas Redd should gain solid yardage against any defense, a feat which is in no small part due to a strongly-developing offensive line. Quinn Barham in particular has been outstanding, both in run blocking and pass protection and the guards seem to be finding their way.
No mid-term exam would be official without a mention of the wide receivers. Through one-third of the season, this group has failed to live up to its potential due to key dropped passes, but the talent is clearly there. Derek Moye and Justin Brown are probably the best one-two punch in the conference and Shawney Kersey – who played the part of crybaby to perfection a year ago – looks every bit of the stud he’s been hyped to be. Add in now-healthy Curtis Drake, diminutive speed demon Devon Smith as well as true freshman Billy Belton and the overall depth cannot be matched by any team remaining on the schedule.
Imagine if only they had the unprecedented capacity to get accustomed to one and only one quarterback. Truly a foreign concept.
Defensively, it would be absurd to think that the loss of Mike Mauti for the remainder of the season does not hamper the defense’s ability to reach its potential. Mauti was on his way to an All-American campaign. The reason Mauti held a towel over his head on the bench before he walked into the locker room was because he knew right away – from experience due to a torn ACL two years ago on his other knee – that his season was over.
Nate Stupar, don’t forget, was actually ahead of Mauti on the depth chart at certain times. Stupar does not have Mauti’s skill set, but he’s not too far removed and will be included on an NFL roster in some capacity next fall. That’s the beauty of Bradley – he always has Plan B. The depth at linebacker will compensate for the loss of Mauti, even if that means Bradley shuffles the deck a bit in terms of personnel changes to Sam, Mike and Will. He’s one of the best in the business and has been for many years.
The temporary replacement who may in fact make the most noise is Adrian Amos. Throughout preseason practice, those in the know gushed over Amos and the early returns are better than the industry standard. Although D’Anton Lynn may return next week, whenever a player is carted off the field immobilized in a neck brace, all bets are off. The combination of Stephon Morris and Amos will spell Lynn and spell him well.
At safety, one can only cry about Malcolm Willis’ status as a backup so many times before there are no more tears to give.
That leads to the final portion of today’s mid-term: the defensive line. It’s only been four games and Devon Still has already solidified a draft spot within the first two rounds come April. Simply unblockable at times, Still’s size and strength along with the unheralded yet solid space-eating play of Jordan Hill have created one of the best tackle combinations in the country.
But as good as Still and Hill have been, the outside pass rush has not. Jack Crawford should never see another snap during his college tenure. Let’s repeat that: Jack Crawford should never see another snap at Penn State. He’s just not good enough. Eric Latimore is not much better. Sean Stanley is twice the player of both the former and the latter, but a starting duo of Stanley and Latimore for the rest of the season would suffice.
Tomorrow, Penn State will open its 19th season of league play in the Big Ten Conference. The Nittany Lions have never lost to Indiana, and that will not change this year. Weird things tend to happen when these two teams hook up; a weird special teams’ snafu, a weird trick play, a weird final score. It’s just been a weird series over the years. Weird and one-sided.
With four games down and eight to play, the real-real season begins at noon on Saturday in Bloomington. Don’t forget that the goal back in August for this team was a berth in the inaugural conference title game. That feat remains absolutely attainable.
Time’s up. Put your pencils down – that means you, Chainsaw.