Penn State Football: Rose Bowl Review and 2009 Preview

Brett LissendenSenior Analyst IJanuary 3, 2009

Rose Bowl Review

Penn State came into their Rose Bowl match-up against heavily favored USC saying all the right things, but quickly proved nearly every college football fan outside of Pennsylvania right with their performance in the second quarter in Pasadena.

The USC offense put up 24 of their 38 points in the second quarter of action and Penn State’s Stephfon Green fumbled away any chance PSU had of mounting a comeback. 

The way Penn State came out and played this game reminded me of how they came out to play their game against Iowa, their only other loss on the season.  In both of these games I had difficulty recognizing the team I was cheering for.

But this wasn’t the offensive line that refused to block, the quarterback that couldn’t throw a pass, the kicker that missed a field goal, and the team that couldn’t execute that showed up against the Hawkeyes.  This was the Penn State team that lost their composure, feared their opponent, and ultimately a team that gave up in this game.

In Penn State’s biggest game of the regular season at Ohio State, the Nittany Lions had zero penalties and zero turnovers.  That was the team I expected to see against the Trojans.

But this Nittany Lion team had illegal shifts, late hits, offside penalties, fumbles, receivers running the wrong routes, safeties not doing their jobs, and just overall not the mental approach they needed to win this game.

Sure Penn State had a decent showing in the second half, outscoring the Trojans by a mark of 17-7 after the break.  But that’s exactly what Penn State was trying for.

All Penn State wanted to do after they got down was keep from embarrassing themselves.  They took the full play clock on every snap, continued to use simple runs up the middle, never used an onside kick, didn’t go for a short fourth-and-goal, and played their most lackadaisical football when they actually drew within two scores.

In some ways I am pleased with the game.  This Penn State team was every bit as good as USC and would win just as many (if not more) times as they would lose against them in the long run.  Even despite a career day from Mark Sanchez, the Penn State offense had the capability to move the ball at will against the vaunted USC defense.  The Penn State secondary was exposed for one of the few times this season, but it’s no secret that the PSU Cover-3 scheme has its flaws against a vertical passing attack.

But ultimately this result is extremely disappointing.  A Rose Bowl win would have meant the world to the Penn State faithful, especially the group of senior players and students of which I am a part of.  But this win would have meant even more for college football. 

The Big Ten has taken more undeserved criticism than any other conference this season, and anything but a win against USC from Penn State would have worsened that image.  Especially with only one win in the entire bowl season to date, the Big Ten will continue to be the butt of many jokes in the college football world. 

There remains only one team left that can salvage the name of the Big Ten for this season, and they play arguably the best team in the country.  Not a fair situation at all for the reputation of a conference, but for the first time in a very long time I will be pulling for the Buckeyes.

2009 Preview

Coming off of four consecutive winning seasons, it’s no surprise that Penn State should have high expectations heading into next season.  The Nittany Lions have another extremely weak non-conference schedule and a very favorable Big Ten conference schedule, meeting Ohio State at home later in the season.

Defensively, Penn State should have no trouble returning to the form of this season and possibly improving.  The only real losses due to graduation are the entire secondary, but as the Rose Bowl showed, this may not be a terrible thing. 

Drew Astorino and A.J. Wallace are ready to fill in at safety and corner respectively already, and the final two spots should be easily filled after the off-season.  Astorino played better than three-year starter at safety Anthony Scirrotto for nearly the entire year and A.J. Wallace is possibly the fastest and most athletic player on the PSU squad.

Penn State, living up to its reputation as Linebacker U., has more linebackers than it knows what to do with already.  Sean Lee, considered Penn State’s best defensive player heading into this year, will return from injury to resume his role at the linebacker position.  He will have his hands full trying to be the team’s best linebacker as Navorro Bowman established himself as one of the nation’s elite linebackers already this season.

The Penn State defensive line is one of the deepest and most talented in the country.  The return of star Aaron Maybin would make this group even more deadly, but even if Maybin chooses to depart for the NFL the Nittany Lion D-line will be a strength.

For special teams, Penn State loses kicker Kevin Kelly, who has started for four-straight seasons.  Sophomore Collin Wagner is the most likely candidate to take over the kicking duties, and should have little trouble taking over the role.  Wagner has performed well in mop-up action and occasional kick-offs during the past two seasons.

Punter Jeremy Boone returns next season as a current junior and has been more than satisfactory in his two seasons as the Nittany Lion punter already.

In the return game, Penn State loses Derrick Williams to graduation.  Williams has been one of the best punt and kick returners in Penn State history, but returning players Chaz Powell, Stephfon Green, and A.J. Wallace all have experience in the return game and tremendous speed.

The Penn State offense is the unit that loses the most heading into next season.  Penn State loses all three of its star receivers this season.  In addition to Williams, Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler are both seniors as well. 

There will be no replacing this group, but Graham Zug, Brett Bracket, Powell, and two solid tight ends in Mickey Shuler and Andrew Quarless are already enough weapons for Daryll Clark in the passing game.  Don’t forget that running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green are both dangerous in the passing game as well.

Penn State returns nearly all of their running backs from this season.  Evan Royster should be the best running back in the Big Ten next season, and Stephfon Green could be the best back-up tailback in the nation.  Brandon Beachum will also be looking for a way to get into the lineup. 

The Nittany Lions do lose Dan Lawlor, their fullback.  PSU will look to replace him with either junior back-up Larry Federoff or a player new to the position.

Penn State star and difference-maker Daryll Clark also returns at the quarterback position.  A second season in the offense should only make Clark better as both a runner and a passer.  Clark may be relied on to make more throws in the passing games as the receivers won’t have the same abilities in the open field as he enjoyed this season. 

Penn State lost back-up quarterback Pat Devlin to transfer, but highly-touted incoming recruit Kevin Newsome should be able to fill in immediately as Clark’s back-up.

Perhaps the largest question mark for the Nittany Lions heading into the 2009 season is the offensive line.  Penn State loses three starters on the offensive line, including center captain A.Q. Shipley.  Even though Clark is extremely athletic and able to avoid a lot of pressure, he will need sufficient protection and blocking just like any other quarterback next season. 

PSU has a lot of young lineman they have been grooming already, and I expect that the future O-line will be fine especially after a weak opening schedule.

Barring a big surprise, Joe Paterno will be head coach again next season and the coaching staff will remain intact.  Paterno still has the ability to motivate players and still has the football knowledge necessary to fulfill his role, and the Penn State assistants are among the best in the country.

The 2009 Penn State football team has every chance to be just as good as the 2008 squad, and that will be good enough to challenge for a Big Ten and National Championship. 


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