Penn State Football: 9 Reasons Nittany Lions Will Rise from the Ashes in 2012

Rob GreissingerCorrespondent IIApril 11, 2012

Penn State Football: 9 Reasons Nittany Lions Will Rise from the Ashes in 2012

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    Penn State really did not go anywhere as far as football is concerned. Penn State will raise its public image out from the ashes. 

    Had the Jerry Sandusky scandal not happened, Joe Paterno would have been forced to retire because of lung cancer. 

    However, the team more than likely would not have made it to the Big Ten Championship because Wisconsin was just an incredible football team.

    Nebraska was also a team that Penn State probably would not have beaten. In fact, the score probably would not have been as close as it was. Penn State played with a chip on their shoulder that day against Nebraska, and that was why the game was so close. 

    There is no doubt that there were distractions in the Nittany Lions' locker room of the  this past fall. While many columnists voiced their opinions on whether or not Penn State should play in a bowl game, publicly, there has been word spread around Happy Valley that the team did not want to play in a bowl game for various reasons. However, the athletic department made the team go to the Ticket City Bowl. 

    The saying of “what a difference a year makes” is the ultimate understatement going into the 2012 season for the Nittany Lions. The magnitude of the Sandusky scandal, the horrible PR tactics used by the university and the events surrounding Joe Paterno’s death were storylines that no Penn State fan, alumni, student or faculty member ever thought could happen in Happy Valley.

    Again, from a football standpoint, Penn State never went anywhere. When it is the time of year for college football Saturdays again, Penn State will be out there playing solid and competitive football. It may be a little different style of play, but Bill O’Brien will continue the tradition of Penn State football: a winning tradition done the right way. 

Loyalty/Tradition

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    As long as there is football in Happy Valley, people will show up to watch games. People will always tailgate and honk the horns of their RVs when the team buses make their way from the Lasch building, up Porter Road to Beaver Stadium.

    The starting quarterback is always first off the bus. Who that will be is unknown at this point. 

    The Penn State Alma Mater will be sung louder than ever. Students will stand while the rest sit. The crowd will still jump to Zombie Nation. Shakers (pom-poms) will wave and shake. The call and response of "We Are! Penn State" will echo louder than ever. 

    Paternoville will stay with the same name. Students will camp out in tents a week before kickoff again. 

    Joe Paterno's name will be chanted as well. Those who hate do not and will never understand why Paterno is so special to everybody associated with Penn State. 

    One tradition that was changed, however, was the team coming out of the tunnel to a Penn State version of Gary Glitter's Rock and Roll Part II. Dr. Richard Bundy hideously and cowardly conformed to the haters by changing the song after the Sandusky scandal. It is one part that Penn State people do not need to be reminded of every time it is played. 

    Penn State is one of maybe a dozen schools who will not see their football and other athletic programs completely fall apart after such a disgusting scandal. In the long run, it will look like a scar from a past surgery. 

Bill O'Brien

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    Bill O'Brien first became famous for his screaming match with Tom Brady. When his name came up, people thought of another man with a similar resume. Charlie Weis was a Bill Belichick puppet. Everyone who pays attention knows what happened next. Other Belichick puppets have similar histories of failure as head coaches. 

    But that was not all O'Brien had going against him. His coaching record was with programs more known for basketball, where people were embarrassed to even talk about football.

    The resume was not that impressive. What made matters worse is that acting athletic director Dr. David Joyner made an example of some of the worst PR and media relations handling that anyone could witness. 

    To be clear, people were not upset or angry with O'Brien. The outrage was directed at at Dr. Joyner. It was the shock of it all.

    O'Brien said he has a hot Irish temper. Being a fiery guy does not necessarily mean that he is a good coach.

    Rumor had it that recruits liked O'Brien. When the media got a look at O'Brien in practice, opinions changed for the better. He is hands-on, he wants to win and he wants to be a role model. O'Brien has the support of the loyalest Nittany Lion fans. 

    The Lions have one of the best recruiting classes that they have had in years. Right now O'Brien has done everything right and has been a leader for the football program.

    He will call plays and utilize the air. It may be different, but fans are going to love O'Brien's offensive style. 

    From the defense looking at the new offense in practice, safety Malcolm Willis told the Patriot News that Devon Smith and Alex Kenney are catching the ball "'where they can turn a four- or five-yard pass into an 80 yard touchdown and be an athlete."

    It is also worth noting that Joe Paterno was famous for his nose. Bill O'Brien will be famous for his chin. 

Larry Johnson Sr.

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    Larry Johnson Sr. is the best recruiter Penn State had in the prior coaching staff. Johnson was retained by Bill O'Brien. Not retaining the defensive line coach would have been a move that has no better word to describe it than stupid. 

    The man has had player after player go to the NFL and have had decent careers, such as Tamba Hali, Jared Odrick and Courtney Brown. Devon Still is his latest player to head to the NFL. 

    Not keeping Johnson on staff would have knocked out a critical part of the foundation that keeps the football team intact. It is hard to find a better defensive line coach than Johnson. He was the best available, and O'Brien chose wisely. 

    There was a rumor going around State College that Urban Meyer was trying to get Johnson to go to Columbus. Johnson never commented on the rumor. Whether or not it was true does not matter now. Johnson is at Penn State and will be for a long time. 

Ron Vanderlinden

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    The former head coach at Maryland was another key recruiting figure for the Nittany Lions that Bill O'Brien was smart to retain.

    Vanderlinden is the linebackers coach and is entering his 12th year on the Penn State staff. He helped restore the "Linebacker U" tradition.

    Vanderlinden coached Penn State linebackers such as 2005 Butkus winner Paul Posluszny, Dan Conner, NaVorro Bowman and Sean Lee, all of whom have played in the NFL. Lee is currently an up-and-coming star for the Dallas Cowboys. Current linebackers include Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson. 

    Vanderlinden was the head coach at Mayland from 1997-2000. He even coached current Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald when he was an assistant coach at Northwestern from 1992-1996. Fitzgerald won two Bednarik Awards with Vanderlinden.

New Staff

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    Only two members of the previous staff are still on staff. Reports coming out of spring practice have been nothing but positive. 

    The most notable members of Bill O'Brien's staff are Defensive Coodinator Ted Roof and Offensive Line Coach Mac McWhorter. Both of them have national championship rings, Roof with Auburn in 2010 and McWhorter with Texas in 2005. 

    Roof plays a very aggressive defensive style. Some fans are concerned that the defense may become a former strength. Tom Bradley's defenses and (dare it be mentioned) Jerry Sandusky's defenses were Penn State's greatest strengths.

    The question will remain out there until it is seen in action how well the players will adapt to Roof's way of playing defense, which is a more risk-versus-reward system, according to Michael Sedor of PennLive.com

    As for MacWhorter, one of the reasons Texas won the national championship was because of his offensive line that protected Vince Young.  It set an NCAA record with 652 points and a school record with 6,657 yards. It finished No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 274.9 yards per game (stats via GoPSUSports.com). 

    Other new staff members include:

    Stan Hixon: Assistant Head Coach / Wide Receivers Coach (Buffalo Bills)

    John Butler: Secondary Coach (South Carolina)

    Charlie Fisher: Quarterbacks Coach (Miami Ohio)

    Charles London: Running Backs Coach (Tennessee Titans)

    John Strollo: Tight Ends Coach (Ball State)

    Craig Fitzgerald: Director of Strength and Conditioning (South Carolina)

Blitzing

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    Tom Bradley was often criticized for not blitzing enough. Ted Roof is a guy who likes a high-tempo defense that can get to the quarterback. Blitzing is just one way to accomplish that. 

    Bradley used a zone scheme. It also put pressure on the quarterback, but the defenses more often than not had trouble defending the pass.

    One of Penn State's biggest defensive weaknesses was defending the pass over the middle. Anytime Penn State fans saw an opposing quarterback drop back to pass, they would have to hope that someone would have to get in the quarterback's face.

    If no one got there, chances were that the pass was going to be completed and the opponent could advance up the field very easily if the offensive line could provide time. 

Safeties

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    Safeties will be given more freedom to make plays this year. 

    Under Tom Bradley, the two-safety system had one playing hero and the other at strong safety. Under Ted Roof, it will be a more traditional free safety and strong safety covering the middle of the field. 

    In the interview with the Patriot News, Malcolm Willis said that the biggest difference is the tempo. Penn State defenses in the past have always stayed put in their stances before the snap. Any movement would be done by a single linebacker. Under Roof, there will be lots of movement before the snap. 

    Willis also added that the safeties will have the freedom to make plays in space. The biggest key will be how the defense as a whole comes together as a single unit. Cohesion will be the most important component of Roof's style of defense. 

End of Quarterback Competition

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    Since Daryl Clark graduated, Penn State has lacked a solid starting quarterback. For the past two seasons Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin have failed to stand out as the better quarterback. Bolden was a 4-star prospect while McGloin was a former walk-on.

    After Bolden got injured his freshman year in 2010, McGloin took over and impressed everyone so much that he took the starting job for the rest of the 2010 season. Bolden tried to return but McGloin was outperforming him so much that Penn State had no choice but to give McGloin the reins.

    A poor bowl performance against the Florida Gators warranted the competition to heat up. Bolden wanted to transfer, but Joe Paterno denied Bolden's request. 

    Paterno put his faith in the young quarterback, and it continued until Paterno's final game against Illinois, where Bolden could not get rid of the ball quickly enough before getting sacked or forcing himself to get rid of it (he made terrible throws). 

    McGloin had the starting job all but locked up after Paterno was dismissed until a locker room fight knocked out McGloin literally. He could not play in the bowl game. Bolden played, and the Nittany Lions put in an absolutely miserable performance against Houston at Cotton Bowl Stadium. 

    Paul Jones is the guy Penn State fans have wanted to take a look at. He performed the best by far in the 2010 Blue and White Game. He was redshirted for his freshman year in 2010. In 2011, Jones was not listed on the depth chart due to academic problems.

    Jones has been since reinstated and now is the favorite amongst fans to be the starter. 

    The Blue and White game on April 21 will be the deciding factor for the fans. Ultimately it is just a small piece of the puzzle in deciding who will be first off the blue buses on September 1.  

Galen Hall

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    The number one reason why Penn State will be better is because of one man. His name is Galen Hall. 

    The best thing that the former head coach of the Florida Gators brings to the table? Him being gone. 

    Hall had been the strangest play caller known to mankind. The Nittany Lions are known for having power running backs that can run up the middle. On fourth-and-very-short against Ohio State in 2009, Hall called a play-action screen that required Daryl Clarke to throw the ball. Penn State had ground options in a full-back and a power back, but Hall, trying to be cute, called a screen.  

    Clark was a mobile quarterback who had space to run and pick up the easy first down. The pass was completed. The only problem was there was a corner right there to tackle the receiver. 

    Penn State ended up losing yards on the play because the play was designed to be thrown behind the line of scrimmage. The Lions turned the ball over on downs and lost the game. 

    Other examples of Hall's hideous play calling would be making two straight passes. If the passes were not completed, on third and 10 Hall would run the ball up the middle for only a short gain. 

    Bill O'Brien will call plays in 2012. It is already known that O'Brien is not a conservative play caller. Penn State is long overdue for a different play-calling style.